Stop Chicken Little: The Truth about Traffic Calming  in Portland, Maine



 Stevens Avenue

Stevens Summary



Public Concern

Air Quality

Curbs, Medians, Tables

Pedestrian Accidents

Vehicle Accidents



Muskie Institute

Legal Aspects


MDOT data

SAP Lies


Opponent Petition

ATC Brochure

 Kane letters


Deering Oaks

Brighton Avenue

Capisic  Street


Stop Signs


          Stevens Avenue Project: Kane Letters

Thomas Kane was Mayor of Portland at the projects inception, a Portland City Councilor, and Democrat. Big friend of Paula Craighead, Charlie Harlow, and Fellow Councilor James Cloutier, soon to be mayor when Kane stepped down.



Department of Public Works    
William J. Bray, Director


October 29, 1999

Mr. Brian Peterson
229 Prospect St.
Portland ME 04103

Dear Mr. Peterson:

Thank you for your letter of October 19, 1999. In response to your inquiries I have the 
following comments.

The City will continue to monitor/study the Stevens Avenue project. Should any 
intersection, portion of Stevens Ave or all of Stevens Ave warrant a review, the City 
will make that determination as it deems necessary.

I am attaching with this memo a letter to you of December 4, 1998 from then Mayor 
Tom Kane which addresses your concerns regarding accidents, air quality, etc. All of his 
comments are quite applicable, pertinent and relevant to your most recent questionaire.

Finally, I would say that as traffic engineer I would be your first point of contact on 
questions related to the Stevens Avenue Project. However, as you are certainly aware, 
you may contact any of your elected or appointed officials at any time. Please call me 
as you feel necessary.



Larry Ash
Traffic Engineer


Cc:    Tom Kane, City Council, District 3
Bill Bray, director, Public Works
Bruce Bell, Operations Manager, Public Works
          John Dorrity, MDOT
          John Duncan, PACTS

                                                                                            Back to Top



This following was enclosed by Mr. Ash, attached to the above:  Allegedly from Mayor Kane,  it has a few mistakes, as I have pointed out.  It was written on DPW letterhead. It makes me wonder just who wrote it!
 The "editorial comment" is mine.
There are so many mistakes in this.....Of course, it was at the start of the whole mess, and we have learned a lot since. 

Original letter is in black; ITE sections are in BOLD; my comments are in blue.

Department of Public Works 
William J. Bray, P. E., Director


December 4, 1998

Mr. Brian Peterson
229 Prospect Street
Portland, ME 04103

Dear Brian:

Thank you for your letter of concern and interest regarding the Stevens Avenue Project 
(SAP). I shall address my answers to your questions in the order in which they were presented.

Questions 1, 2, 3: With respect to speeds and accidents I will quote the following resource: 
Guidelines for the Design and Application of Speed Humps,
prepared by the Institute of 
Transportation Engineers (ITE) Traffic Engineering Council on Speed Humps, Task Force 
TENC-STF-01, page 2.

Where designed and installed with proper planning and engineering review, speed humps 
have generally been found to be effective at reducing vehicle speeds without increasing 
accident rates. In fact, some studies indicate that speed hump installations have actually 
reduced accident rates on residential streets. Additionally, there is no evidence in the 
source materials reviewed for this report indicating that properly designed and installed 
speed humps have caused or contributed to accidents or increased accident rates.  

Looks like he missed a few things by not reading a little further than  page 2!   Page 6 of the Guidelines:

Guidelines for Speed Hump Use

    Section 2.01: "Speed humps should only be installed to address documented safety or traffic 
concerns supported by traffic engineering studies"
.....sorry,  that support's  not there: The study 
said that the proponents thought cars were speeding, but the 85th%ile refuted that. The Phase I Study
presented NO incidences of speeding causing either vehicle or pedestrian accidents.

    Section 2.02: "Speed humps should only be installed on those roadway facilities functionally 
classified as 'local' streets......"
  Stevens is a major arterial, "minor arterial", according to the city 
itself, which is wrong anyway. 16,000 cars a day make it a major arterial. Just 5,000 would qualify it for the majors.
Stevens was a major arterial until downgraded in 1992.

   Section 2.03: Speed humps should only be used on streets with no more than two travel lanes,
or where the overall pavement width is not greater than 40 feet."
Well, they got one right: it is just two lanes, 
 but it is also 43 feet wide!

   Section 2.08:"Speed humps should typically be installed only on streets with an average daily 
traffic volume of 3,000 cars or less"
Stevens had 16,000. It's still at 14,500 after the humps.

    Section 2.09: "When installed to address documented or anticipated vehicle or pedestrian accidents, 
the causes of those accidents should be susceptible to correction by speed humps."
  Accidents were caused 
by people slowing down, stopping, or backing according to the Phase I Study. 
 If he had bothered to read the original report, he would have known this.

    Section 2.10: "Speed humps should not normally be installed on streets that carry significant volumes 
(greater than 5 percent) of long wheel-based vehicles unless there is a reasonable alternative route for 
those vehicles...."
  Well, according to the city, long wheel-based vehicles make up 7.5% of the traffic, and 
there isn't really any reasonable alternative route, unless you want to clog up Forest Ave. more than it is already.
According to the 1994 CMAQ application to the Feds for funding, the humps were to divert truck traffic to 
"less congested streets". The City has said they really don't want that truck traffic using the local side streets. So: 
they don't want it on the locals, or the connectors, or Stevens, and there is no "reasonable" less congested alternative. 

  Section 2.11: My favorite, in its entirety: "Speed humps should not be installed on streets that are 
defined or used as primary or routine emergency vehicle access routes.

Is there anything we don't understand about this?

    Section 2.12: "Speed humps should generally not be installed along streets with established transit routes."
Those big boxy things running back and forth on Stevens are called "busses", Mayor.

Section 2.13: And lastly, "When speed humps are installed in response to citizen requests, a 
documented majority of the residents along the affected portion of that street should ideally support their

We must be on the old Superman's "Bizarro World": about 30 people wanted humps.  526 were on petition 
against them, including every single business and house on Stevens. Obviously the "people" wanted them! Or 
maybe it was just the members of the Deering Center Neighborhood Association, who didn't have to live with 
them out in front of their homes.....
and who had friends in City Hall.

Further, page 3 states that "Speed humps have not been found to pose a traffic safety 
when designed and installed at appropriate locations. In fact, accident experience generally 
remains stable or decreases due to reduced speeds and volume, thereby improving the 
inherent safety of a particular street or residential area."  
Stevens is not an "appropriate location" (see above), and considering that the problem was traffic slowing 
or stopping, this is contradictory. 
Remember too that this was 1998 --in 1999 the FHWA / ITE came out with a year-long study of traffic 
calming: "Traffic Calming, State of the Art" by Reid Ewing.  Reid loves humps. 
He looked at TC projects all over the U.S. , looked at all the statistics, and guess what!: there is no change 
in the accident rate! Any difference gets lost in the statistical "noise" from year to year.

In 2000, "The Effects of traffic Calming on Motorist and Pedestrian Behavior" was published. That said traffic 
calming created  no decrease in accidents, or increase in pedestrian safety. 

In 2003 FHWA did another survey of calming, to replicate the 1999 study, with the same results: no change in accidents.

MDOT records report that accidents immediately increased 58%, even with 2,500 fewer cars per day on the road!

As the Stevens Avenue Monitoring Report stated: "Valid conclusions cannot be reached 
from this data since accident statistics generally are derived for longer periods." It has
long been my understanding from many engineering consultants as well as the DPW that 
at least 3 years of accident data are used to investigate and evaluate accident history 
before any conclusions may be arrived at.  
It's a good thing that we don't have to have 2-3 years of new experience with house fires to know they 
are dangerous! Seeing that we have learned over the last 4 years that accidents have gone up, 
this might need to be rethought.

In view of the above reference and the short time (5 months) for which data has been 
available, I do not believe it constructive to draw conclusions correlating speed and accidents.  
Maybe hitting yourself over the head with a hammer will feel better the longer you do it, too.

 Question 4-9: With regard to air quality, vehicle emissions, air pollution, etc., again it 
may be premature to draw any conclusions about the SAP so soon after implementation.  
Only in Portland- every other source known thought it was going to be a big problem.

Actually, on page 29 of the Final Monitoring report, the city's own calculations spell out the increase in
pollution output, so they knew it was there. 
That number is wrong in itself, as they used  35MPH as the base speed for the calculation, when they
wanted people doing 15-20 mph!

The true benefits and long term impacts may not be available for years and the project 
should not be abandoned hastily. It should be evaluated carefully and properly studied over 
The "long term impacts and true benefits (?)" have been known in other cities for a long time.
The models allegedly contacted by the city told them this.  The city ignored what they didn't want to hear.

The "careful evaluations and proper studies" are not happening, and will not be, according to  
City Traffic Engineer Larry Ash, MDOT, and the Federal Highway Administration. (Jan 2003- 
and never have, even now.)

In the reference cited above, page 4, it states that "the need to reduce speeds for speed 
humps tends to have a negative impact on air quality and energy consumption assuming 
traffic volumes remain the same. For comparison purposes, this impact is typically less 
than the effects of a stop sign installation."
This suggests there are not "massive" 
amounts of air pollution occurring due to the SAP.  
Once again, we have learned differently since, haven't we? (Maybe not: You can lead an official  horse
 to informational water, but...) DPW itself says that pollution has increased a minimum of 47%, while the 
Federal High Administration says increases due to the constant braking and acceleration are more like 400-800%, which equates to 125-400 extra tons of pollution a year.

March 2011: So, in retrospect, one could say that the illegal stop sign installations the city has done since (2/3rds of them since 2000) is making lots of pollution?

Question_10 (a-c)

I do not intend to speak for Chief Thomas. I fully respect his dedication, professionalism and 
devotion to his job and the City of Portland.  
The Mayor forgot to mention the Chief's devotion to the City Council, too
(Oct. 2000- not to mention his easy slide into retirement at the state fire planning office this year)

If you have specific questions for Chief Thomas, I suggest you address them to him directly.  
Did so. Got ignored.

Question 11-14:

The City Traffic Engineer, Larry Ash, is investigating what impacts or consequences would be
 involved should traffic calming occur on any principal arterial in Portland.  
Uhhh, no he is not, other than finding out that if the city takes a street out of the the National Highway 
System, the city then forfeits all future federal monies for street improvements.
If they had done this to Rte.77--State St.--before the new bridge was built to South Portland, then the city 
would have been responsible for half the tab for the bridge: $30,000,000! Think it would have been built 
at that point?
(In this year 0f 2011, we now know that the only thing stopping the Deering Oaks project was the state and feds refusing to pay for the "project" (read: disaster),  combined with the downturn in the economy: $8,000,000 is something the City can't afford. )

In conclusion, I refer to the Test Program Questionnaire that was conducted as part of the 
Stevens Avenue Monitoring Report. This questionnaire indicated that those who "strongly 
support/support the SAP clearly outweigh those who are "opposed/strongly opposed" by a 
2 to 1 margin. (92 to 47), and that the environment as a whole is much safer. Based on 
the positive responses I received at the public meeting at Catherine McAuley High School 
in May, I agree with the monitoring report that the SAP has had an overall positive effect.  
The questionaire was handed out by supporters of the project. This is a bit "iffy", if you ask me.
They got to pick who they gave them to. I sure didn't get one.
As for the McAuley  meeting, the crowd ran about 25-1 against the project, but like he says, 
he based his opinions on the positive responses he got--ignoring  the negatives--which  makes sense, 
considering later events.

Again, thank you for your concerns and inquiries.




Tom V. Kane, Mayor


cc:         City Council Robert B. Ganley, City Manager
              Nadeen M. Daniels, Assistant City Manager
              Gary Wood, Corporation Counsel
              Joe Thomas, Fire Chief
              Michael Chitwood, Chief of Police
              William J. Bray, P.E., Director of Public Works
(ghost writer extraordinaire, I think! Why would the Mayor 
                                                                                                 be writing on a DPW letterhead?!)