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





Stevens Avenue

Stevens Summary



Public Concern

Air Quality

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:
                               Safety Considerations


            Fire Chief Thomas was quoted in the Portland Press Herald May 21, 1998 as saying  that there were “no negative impacts” upon his trucks response time or performance along the avenue. He verified this statement to me in person when I visited his office to question it.

            Testing was done by the fire department one day in early May 1998. Various trucks and ambulances were run over the humps at various speeds to see what the effect of the humps would be.

            Testing determined that fire trucks could go no faster than 15 MPH without discomfort or danger to the personnel. Each hump slowed the vehicle about 5-9 seconds, or about one minute total for the street length.

      Ambulances could take the humps at 20 MPH, but found that at just 32
     MPH the stretchers in the back would
bounce off their racks onto the floor.

     The Chiefs of Rescue of Falmouth, Yarmouth, Windham, and Cumberland
     all feel that the project is a "threat to patient transport", in the words of one. 

            Discussions with fire department personnel at the time determined that everybody in the department other than Chief Thomas (deputy chiefs and line firefighters alike) thought that the project was a detriment to their operations.

          In 2011 they still do.  

           Engine 3, located near Stevens and Brighton Avenues, is now arriving 1-3 minutes later at scenes of crisis than it used to.
             It used to use Stevens as its main route North to areas like Canco Road via Walton St.  Now it usually goes down Woodfords St., then left and out on Forest to Canco. They used to beat Engine 8 all the time to the far end of their service area because Stevens has less traffic to contend with. Now  they do not.
  They avoid the direct route on Stevens because  of the effect of the humps on their response time and damage to their trucks.

            Chief Thomas stated that his departments response time had not been affected : his trucks still showed up within the same times that they used to before the projects installation. What he did not say is that Engine 3s  response time had not been hurt. His staff said it was.

            When a fire call comes into the central office, a determination is made of which station to send out. That station is notified, and a ticket is punched at that station. When the engine arrives at the scene, a notation is made of the time it took to get to the crisis.

            Engine 8, from Riverton, has constantly been beating Engine 3 to the far ends of it response area (e.g: Canco Road) by 1-3 minutes, whereas before the projects installation, Engine 3 used to beat Engine 8 most of  the time.

            So, while it is true that the total response time has not changed, as Engine 8 still shows up on time, Engine 3s response time has been radically hindered. This delay was and still is supported by the personnel of Engines 3 ,8, and 9, contradicting the Chief. The line firemen don’t like it.

            This delay may not be a problem, at least until something happens to Engine 8 on the way to a crisis. A slow emergency response can be lived with (or died by), but remember, by city ordinance, fire trucks are required to pull over and stop if they are damaged for any reason, such as an accident. If Engines 8 or 9 are disabled for some reason, Engine 3 will still get there - just when is the unknown. 

             Berkeley, California has over 950 humps on its roads. A councilman there, talking about the delay caused by each hump told the press "We will still have an emergency response; it will just be slow".  Don't believe me? See here.....if you want more, see what Montgomery County, Maryland had to say.  And, Portland, Oregon's Fire Department, here.
              Portland, Oregon was the big city that OUR Portland DPW people talked to for advice about speed humps on arterials. That Portland told ours not to do it, but the fix was in, so the humps were too....  This  of course didn't stop our DPW from telling people that they'd got expert advice from the people with the experience.  They just ignored it.
              The Montgomery people had a problem at the time because they responded late to a fire in a house basement on the other side of a 5-hump project. Two kids burned to death because of a 30-second delay. They would have made it except for the humps.

            Engine 9 blew out its entire front suspension one night when it hit the hump by the University of New England with a full load of water on board. Sounds like a "negative impact" to me!

            Engine 3 got a brand new ladder truck in 2002, weighing 32 tons. It replaced the old one, which lost its front suspension 3 times in 9 months. Three times in 20 years is the usual replacement cycle for a suspension. The humps exercised the suspension of the truck when it hit the humps, and the firemen were afraid they are going to damage the new one by going too fast, so they slow down, drastically. They will get there. " will just be slow".

           I had a short discussion with Fire Dept. personnel in 2009. They still felt the Stevens tables were hurting their response times.



            I had the chance to talk to a Portland Regional Transportation mini-bus driver one day, the guys who drive handicapped people around the city. This is a service that provides  disabled people the chance to get out and move about the city. He told me that the humps on Stevens cause some of his wheelchair patients, those with scoliosis or back problems , pain when they bump over the humps.  The drivers therefore avoid  Stevens whenever they can.

          This situation is a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

           Public roads have been determined by the courts to be "public facilities" , and as such, the city is not compliant with the Act. But they don't care.                                                            


            Generally speaking, the public thinks that the project is “stupid”. The consensus is that the project is unneeded, and that it will be removed sometime in the future. The public of 1998 didn't realize that the city planned to leave it on the street for another "2-3 years to collect accident and environmental data", which was a lie in itself. A woman called the DPW in 2000 to ask about the hump project removal, and was told "They were never meant to come off the road".  Finally, the truth.

            Supporters of the plan consider it to be a success, as traffic has generally slowed down
4 MPH. Remember the original problem was that it WAS going too slowly! Their contention all along has been that it is safer to be struck at 25 MPH than 30 MPH. 

            According  to the Federal Highway Administration, there is a 5% improvement in survivability between 30 MPH and 25 MPH:  85% of the people struck at 20 mph and above will still die or suffer serious injury. 90% will die or be seriously injured at 30 MPH and above. As I've said elsewhere, this is like maintaining that a 500-lb bomb is safer than a 1000-lb bomb if it goes off in your lap. Really?

            Project opponents like me feel that there is simply no safe speed to be run over at, and that more concern might be directed to teaching people in general and children in particular to treat the street as a dangerous place to be in and be careful of while crossing.

            Streets by state law are not playgrounds, pedestrian walkways, or lounging areas. They are pathways for the movement of vehicular traffic, and therefore are inherently dangerous.

         Supporters also ignore the massive amounts of air pollution created by the project.  It's pathetic. See Air Quality.


to:  MDOT Accident data

      Pedestrian Accidents

      Vehicle accidents