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



SAP Lies

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:


                      This page is very similar to the SAP FAQ, but there are differences.

         There are many what might be termed gross “inconsistencies”, “misrepresentations”, or flat out-and-out LIES involving the Stevens Project.  The general public doesn't have a clue .
          What a majority of the public
thinks has happened isn’t what really has happened.
          Here are some of  the many lies:

            1.      Speeding was causing a lot of accidents and pedestrians accidents on Stevens Avenue. “This is why the SAP was started, and needed”.  

            FALSE: What got the whole project started was the statement: “The common thread with accidents seems to be the turning, therefore, slowing driver OR the stopping driver (usually to turn; in a few cases, stopping for pedestrians).”; this according to a letter from Paula Craighead, the initiator of the SAP, in a letter from her to George Flaherty, head of Portland DPW, on Feb. 6, 1992,  published in the 1993 PACTS Phase I Report (Technical Supplement, pages 2-3).

            About a year later, speeding was then somehow the alleged cause, but how that radical change came about has not been explained by the city. Something had to be changed to make sense, most likely.

2. According to the 1994 PACTS Pedestrian Phase I Report, speeding was causing a lot of car and pedestrian accidents on the avenue.

            FALSE: That’s what supporters said, but that was not true. It sounds good though.

             Just 2 ½ % of all the vehicle accidents presented for the years 1988-1993 were caused by “excessive” speed. This is 2 accidents out of 62, as determined by the city, and 7 accidents out of 275 (still 2 ½%) for the years 1993-1997, according to supporters of the SAP.

            Five pedestrian accidents (average one per year) were presented as “speeding” evidence. Four of those took place at under 5 MPH; the fifth took place at under 20 MPH.
of them took place in the Longfellow school zone. This is not speeding. This alleged  “speeding problem” doesn’t get mentioned anymore.

              3.Vehicles were speeding in front of Longfellow School, doing an average of 28 MPH, while children were going to and from the school.


No, they weren’t . What the PACTS Phase 1 Report  (page 7) said was that cars were doing an average of 28 MPH in the Longfellow School zone. That specific speed was measured 275 feet away from the Longfellow crosswalk, and somehow “moved” to in front of the school.  This figure is also the average speed, which is made up from all the traffic that passed through from 730am to 905am, which is when the school zone lights are flashing, whether or not children are around the street. . Sounds good and scary though!

Because of the confluence of the signal light at Stevens and Pleasant, and the crossing guard in front of the school, traffic may be able to get up to 15 MPH if it’s lucky. 5-10 MPH, just where it should be, is more likely.

            4. The people in Charlie Harlow's district at the north end of Stevens, wanted the SAP, didn’t they? He should have known, as he was the Public Safety Committee head and a city councilor.

            FALSE:  That’s what HE said. He would not name one person in support, when asked to; nobody knows why. It could be because all of the businesses and residents on Steven's north end, every single one, didn’t want it. They were polled individually in July 1997, and everyone said “NO”. Charlie was told this, and his reply was to say, “The people want it”, and walk away. Charlie was either stupid or lying, and we know he’s not stupid don’t we?
             The residents at the Park Danforth assisted living facility had their own petition. They didn't like it either, as didn't the manager. Ditto the original 526 opponents.

            5. Councilor Harlow also stated to the Portland Press Herald and Channel 8 News (Sept. 1998) that the City Council had agreed to maintain the Stevens Avenue project for another 2-3 years, to study its effects on the area. Isn’t that true?

            FALSE:  According to Gary Wood, Portland City Corporation Council, such an agreement is something that to be legal had to be voted upon in public by the Portland City Council. According to the City Managers office and Mr. Wood, such a vote has never taken place, as of April 2005. This leaves us with one of three things:

        A: An illegal agreement had been cobbled up in City Council to maintain the project.

        B: Charlie didn’t know what he was talking about.

       C. Charlie was lying.

Well, if he wasn’t lying, we do have two other choices….

           6.        The project was funded as a safety project wasn’t it?

            No. It’s a clean air project. In 1990 the Clean Air Act was enacted by Congress. An offshoot of that was the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA :“ice tea”) of 199l, and a program within THAT was the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality program (CMAQ), which provided guidelines for funding of clean air projects. By federal regulation, CMAQ funds must be use only for projects that will create cleaner air. Safety projects are not eligible for funding.

A perusal of contemporary news articles, letters, and city documents (such as Paula Craighead's letter) from the time of the SAPs inception shows a general public belief that the SAP was for safety purposes. “Clean air” is not mentioned at all, or in passing, in communications from the city to the general public, either in the media, or in public meetings.

            Clean air arises only when the city is talking to the state or federal government for funds.

            SO: What we have here is a situation where the city was extolling safety from the local government level on down, and air quality from the local level up. The city seemed to be lying to both the public and the federal government, playing both ends against the middle.

            It should be remembered that various city officials at that time repeatedly stated that they had many years of experience in traffic engineering. They knew what they are talking about, and they will tell you that if you ask.

            Reading the CMAQ funding request from the city to the federal government tells you about what the city wanted to do, the scope of the project, and expected results.

            It says on page 5 that the city “agrees to maintain the temporary measures for a 24 month period. If a subsequent grant is not approved, then the city agrees to remove the temporary measures”.

            In the Fall of 1998, the Federal Highway Administration stated that the SAP was creating more pollution than was extant prior to the project, and therefore they would not fund it further, rescinding $140,000.

            The city backed off on its promise to the feds to remove the project, as the city stated that it had to “study the effects” of the project for a longer period. Everybody other then the experts in city government seemed to know what the “effects” were going to be though.

             6.     “It’s going to be removed soon; the city is just dragging its feet in getting it off the road”

Sorry, it’s going to stay, as it stands now. A call was made to the DPW in the Fall of 2001 by a woman who asked when the humps were to be removed. She was told that “they were never meant to be taken off the road’.

This led some people to question just how many lies the DPW created in reference to this project.

Remember that the city wanted to “study the effects” of the project. No studies were under way at the time, or were planned for the future.

 The city  didn’t really care what the public thought, or about the detrimental effects of the project on Portland or Maine.


           7.      “The slower traffic is cleaning up the air, as slower cars make less pollution”.

                   Wrong. Slowing traffic down increases pollution, especially volatile organic compounds. The most efficient speed for vehicles is between 30 and 55 MPH. The 85th percentile, the official determinant of speeding on a road, was 34 MPH before the hump project (which is not to say that all the traffic was going 34 MPH. The figure represents the percentage of cars travelling at a specific speed or slower. Out of 100 cars 84 of them could be travelling at 5 MPH, with the 85th travelling at 34 MPH, and the 85%-ile would still be 34 MPH).

This statement of “less pollution with slower traffic” had been the contention of Portland's “experienced engineers”. They were wrong, or lying. The air model produced by the state DEP in 1997 confirms this. Information from the EPA that is readily available also says this. One has to come to the conclusion that the engineers didn’t know what they were talking about or they were lying. They say they did know what they were talking about, and there’s only one other choice, so…..

8.      “Stevens Avenue is a minor arterial in Portland, and thus is eligible for traffic calming”.

Wrong, factually. It’s actually a major arterial, meeting all the requirements for such under the federal guidelines as stated in the American Association of State Traffic Highway Offices (AASHTO) Green Book. It was a major arterial (principal arterial) in Portland up until 1992, and was on a short list of 10 streets to go to the state for classification that year as a major arterial until Paula Craighead, the inceptor of the SAP, got herself on the PACTS roads classification board sometime that year. Shortly thereafter Stevens was taken off the “majors” list. She or DPW must have found out that it’s a very bad idea for major arterials to have speed humps put on them, and they worked to get the street downgraded to “minor” status.

Roads that are carrying 16,000 cars a day, are 43 feet wide, are transit routes, and emergency vehicle access routes are not “minor arterials” , according to the Federal Highway Administration. Actually, any road with just 3,000 cars a day qualifies for major status.

Somebody at PACTS/Portland rolled over for her on this little item.

“It’s safer to be run over at 25 MPH than 30 MPH”.


False. Actually, this is partially true, though pretty stupid! It’s about 5% safer. Federal Highway Administration figures state that 90% of those hit at 30 MPH or above will be killed or injured, while just 85% of those hit at 25 MPH will suffer the same fate. Anybody want to go first?

It might be better to say that it’s not safe at all to be run over, and avoid the problem entirely! After all this is a safety project, isn’t it? (OOPS!  See Question #6.

 There are fewer accidents now because of the project, and more pedestrians using the sidewalks to walk to places like Deering center. Must be more bikes too!


False: The accident rate had gone up 58% in the 5 months following the projects installation, and pedestrian usage dropped 8%, as did bicycling. These figures don’t get mentioned much by the promoters of the project.

When they do get mentioned, it’s usually followed with “We want to study this for another two years, to see what happens” which again, is a lie, as they knew no studies were planned.


MDOT in August 1999 released  the accident figures for the stretch of road the SAP covers. Remember that 8 accidents on a specific stretch of road within a 3-year period denote a “high accident area”. The length of road that the SAP covers was a high accident area before the project’s installation. There are now 8 more accidents per year than before it was installed. You could say that it’s “High Accident Area times 2”!  (MDOT accident data page)


The accident rate increase since 1997 has maintained itself over the years at minimum level of 35-40% over years prior.   That figure is calculated on there being 14,500 cars a day on the street, not the 16,000 there were before the project went in.

                 Serious injury accidents have gone up about 300%, according to MDOT.

                 We, the public, get to be the City Councils hapless victims.