Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Streetcars in Portland, Maine Slideshow

Check out this slideshow that was presented by Councilor David A. Marshall at the event, "Green Evolution: Streetcars in the 21st Century in Maine."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Portland Ice Arena reopens after renovation

Portland Ice Arena reopens after renovation

Photo: William Hall / The Forecaster
City Manager Mark Rees, left, City Councilor David Marshall, second from right, and young skaters celebrated the opening of the renovated Portland Ice Arena on Saturday, Sept. 15.
PORTLAND — After a four-month renovation, the Portland Ice Arena opened for the season Saturday by treating skaters of all ages to a free afternoon on the ice.
City Councilor David Marshall and City Manager Mark Rees joined children and parents at the reopening celebration.
The renovation was funded with $625,000 from energy efficiency bonds authorized by the city last year. This was the first major upgrade of the arena since it was built in 1984.
The project included new refrigeration equipment, rubberized flooring and a fresh coat of paint. For skaters, the biggest change may be the replacement of heating and chilling loops beneath the ice, which is expected to eliminate leaks in the system that had created frost heaves and an uneven skating surface.
Beside improving the ice, the changes to the heating and chilling system will save the arena 67,000 kilowatt-hours in energy use, according to the city.
The Portland Ice Arena offers recreational skating to the public and is home to hockey teams from Portland, South Portland, Cheverus and Cape Elizabeth high schools. The arena is open through April, seven days a week, with hours usually running from 5 a.m. to midnight.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.

Portland residents say another USM-area intersection needs attention

Portland residents say another USM-area intersection needs attention
2 Oakdale Street, Portland, Maine
PORTLAND — Just a block away from a notoriously dangerous six-way intersection in the city's Oakdale neighborhood, another intersection is threatening drivers and pedestrians, residents say.
City Councilor David Marshall and city engineers met with them Sept. 12 to discuss ways of improving safety at the corner of Falmouth and Oakdale streets.
The streets meet in a T-shaped intersection on the western edge of the University of Southern Maine campus. In response to resident requests, the city is considering the installation of three stop signs or other traffic controls there to better manage the flow of vehicles and pedestrians.
"This intersection is important because it's the gateway to the neighborhood, and on any given day a lot of students are walking down Oakdale (Street)," said Carol Schiller, president of the University Neighborhood Organization, which coordinated the meeting.
Concerns about the intersection echo those about the "six-corners area" where Falmouth Street meets Brighton and Deering avenues, barely 200 yards away. That junction has seen 25 accidents over three years, making it a "high-accident location" according to the Maine Department of Transportation.
Both areas have grown more congested in recent years, especially as the USM campus has expanded and become a more popular traffic destination.
No accident statistics are available for the corner of Falmouth and Oakdale streets, but that's no reassurance for residents.
The intersection is especially dangerous for drivers turning left from Oakdale Street, a Fessenden Street resident said. Because of vehicles parked close to the corner and a slight hill on Falmouth Street, drivers must pull far into the intersection before they can even see if turning is safe.
"I want to make a left-hand turn without getting T-boned," he said.
The problem is compounded by a steady stream of pedestrians crossing Falmouth Street to the USM campus. Because of the placement of sidewalks and a campus bus stop, pedestrians often take a dangerous diagonal path across the intersection.
"At a minimum, we need a crosswalk there before someone gets hurt," the resident said.
Falmouth Street resident Steve Leighton also supported the use of crosswalks and called for the installation of stop signs.
"My initial thought was that I didn't want a sign at the corner, because of the noise that would be created by traffic stopping," he said. "But the noise is already there anyway." 
Other possible solutions mentioned at the meeting include installing traffic mirrors that would give drivers and pedestrians better visibility, making part of Oakdale Street one-way, or even creating a dead end that would eliminate turns completely.
But a first step may be forbidding street parking within 25 feet of the intersection, as required by city traffic rules, according to Director of Public Services Michael Bobinsky. He said the buffer zone often is violated because of the demand for parking and the lack of street signs.
"This is takeaway from tonight. We may need to remove a parking space or two, but that would improve sight distances at the intersection," Bobinsky said. "That's something we can do rapidly."
Meanwhile, city engineers will prepare recommendations for the intersection over the coming weeks, and another neighborhood meeting will be scheduled to discuss them, Schiller said.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Trains, streetcars regain momentum as travel options

Portland Daily Sun

Trains, streetcars regain momentum as travel options

"We've got the train!"
Those words from Wayne Davis, chairman of Train Riders/Northeast, an advocacy group for Amtrak service in Maine, followed Wednesday's announcement by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority that the Amtrak Downeaster will start traveling north from Portland to Freeport and Brunswick on Nov. 1.9-13-train-ride-1
"A big sigh of relief," Davis said Wednesday, describing his reaction as he organized meal orders and other details of TrainRiders/Northeast's 24th anniversary dinner, taking place Thursday at 5 p.m. at The Harraseeket Inn in Freeport.
"It's great for our 24th anniversary," Davis said of the news of the expansion of service.
For seven years, TrainRiders/Northeast has worked to get the extension of passenger rail service from Portland to Brunswick, Davis noted. Next year, when TrainRiders/Northeast celebrates a quarter century of advocacy, passengers of the Downeaster train should be used to the idea of traveling north from Portland to Brunswick, with stops in Freeport.
For now, it's uncharted territory.
The proposed schedule calls for morning and afternoon departures from Brunswick; if a person wanted to ride the train out of Brunswick at 7:05 a.m., they could arrive in Boston at 10:30 a.m. From Portland to Freeport, a passenger could leave at 12:35 p.m. and return from Freeport at 6:05 p.m.
"The most avid shopper would like that schedule," Davis noted.
Proponents of alternative transportation lauded Wednesday's news.
"It makes Portland much more attractive," said Richard Arena, president of the Association for Public Transportation Inc., a Boston-based group that supports high-speed rail, regional rail and commuter rail.
As Amtrak expands service, the region is seemingly gravitating to forms of transportation that years earlier were relegated to museums.
The reason isn't a mystery. "The roads are congested, the airports are congested. There are going to be 100 million more people by 2050," said Arena.
Councilor David Marshall, chair of the city's Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee, is resurrecting a form of transportation that brings to mind nostalgic summers from nearly a century ago. On Sunday at 5 p.m., the Maine Green Independent Party is hosting a plate dinner at the Maine Irish Heritage Center, 34 Gray St. in Portland, and the dinner will featured a presentation by Marshall on the history and future of streetcars in Maine.
"I'm putting together a presentation that talks about the history of streetcars in Portland and in Maine in general," Marshall said Wednesday.
In July, Michael J. Bobinsky, director of public services, sent a memo to the committee with a recommendation to create a task force to discuss the feasibility of a streetcar in Portland. Marshall said the city is looking for funds to conduct a study on public transit, including a streetcar system. In February, there's a deadline for federal funding for this type of study, he said.
Marshall will talk about the history of streetcars, including the period of "urban renewal" which involved demolition of Union Station and removal of tracks in the city. He will look at other cities involved in using streetcars.
"I know that all the trends that we're seeing as far as the downsizing of the number of cars for each famliy, the decrease in the number of cars that people own in the city of Portland, that are registered ... Portland is in a good position to really look at public transit," Marshall said.
"Streetcars is one of the ways that we could really make our city a magnet for urban development," he added.
"We're at a point where we need to make a game-changing investment in public infrastructure and specifically in public transit," Marshall said.
Streetcars could dovetail with the Amtrak rail line, he said.
"What you want to do is have all your transit systems to work together," Marshall said.
When a city invests in streetcars and rail in general, the public will see a return in investment, as private developers build around these networks, Marshall argued.
Arena said streetcars could work alongside passenger rail.
"When you bring these high speed trains in, you need to get the people around. You don't want them to just be renting cars," he said.
Arena said the extension of Amtrak service in Maine is "great" but also called it a "baby step," noting that other barriers remain.
"Maine is still separated from the rest of the Northeast corridor," he said.
A north-south rail link is needed in Boston to extend rail throughout the Northeast, Arena said.
"We think it should go all the way up to Portland at minium and it should go further south to Richmond and Charlotte," he said of the rail service.
"It's going to be a critical time for Amtrak, obviously, They have some big plans for the Northeast corridor. It's $150 billion and no way to fund it," Arena said.
Marshall said the tide is turning.
"When the decision was made to extend Amtrak in 2008 that was really a watershed year for the state of Maine; not only did we see rail get extended in the state for the first time in a while, we also saw the Portland region not request an earmark for the I-295 widening," he said, referring to a proposal to widen the interstate through Portland.
Also challenged was a Maine Turnpike widening through suburban sections of Portland, which was estimated at $70 million, Marshall said.
Davis said Train Riders/Northeast simply wants to see the Downeaster service to Brunswick beefed up so it's useful to the public. Now the goal is to establish five trips, he said.
For more about the TrainRiders/Northeast, visit For the Downeaster schedule and the Downeaster's expansion to Freeport and Brunswick, visit For more about the Green Party dinner on Sunday, see

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Portland Phoenix

Does Portland desire a streetcar?

Transit Alternatives  

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  September 12, 2012
Imagine hopping onto a streetcar downtown and being whisked in the direction of your home, whether that be on the East End or in an off-peninsula neighborhood. Imagine riding an electrified streetcar past old-school transit-oriented developments along Forest Avenue and thumbing your nose at idling cars and buses.
It could happen. City Councilor David Marshall, a Maine Green Independent Party candidate up for re-election in the West End this year, will give a presentation this Sunday at the Maine Irish Heritage Center on the history and possible future of streetcars in the Forest City, including potential funding sources and economic impacts.
Portland is no stranger to streetcars. From the 1860s through the 1920s, lines were built and ran along various routes, including:
• From India Street to Middle Street to Monument Square to the West End;
• Along Preble Street to Portland Street to Forest Avenue to Woodfords Corner;
• Down Congress Street, from Longfellow Square to Atlantic Street;
• From Woodfords Corner to East Deering;
• Along Commercial and Pearl streets to Congress; and
• Stretching into South Portland, Westbrook, and Cape Elizabeth. (You can, for a time, see some of these tracks in front of South Portland city hall right now, uncovered during road reconstruction.)
During the winter, horse-drawn sleighs filled in for rail cars; horse-drawn service lasted until the late 1800s, at which point overhead wires were installed and electrified streetcars became the norm.
But cars soon became the preferred mode of transport in Portland, streetcars were replaced by buses in the 1930s and '40s, and we've struggled to develop a robust public transportation system ever since.
Now, Marshall and others are considering the streetcar as a way to revitalize that system. The city's director of public services, Mike Bobinsky, addressed a memo in July to the council's Transportation, Sustainability, and Energy Committee, recommending the creation of a task force to discuss streetcar development. The committee opted not to act on the recommendation, at least not right away. According to a report in the Bangor Daily News, councilor and committee vice-chair Kevin Donoghue (also a Green Independent) suggested funding a feasibility study before establishing a task force. The committee will discuss applying for funding through the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System for transit planning projects at its next meeting.
And on his Rights of Way blog, writer Christian MilNeil offered a few reasons why refocusing on bus rapid transit (a kind of dressed-up service with dedicated streets or lanes for buses) might be a better solution — for now. It costs less, for one thing, and it's more flexible. But Marshall notes that buses don't have the kind of power to spur economic development that streetcars or commuter rail do.
"I'm open-minded to all modes of transit," Marshall said, pointing out that streetcar development was one suggestion put forth in the Portland Peninsula Transit Study of 2009. "But what I do see is that there are fewer people who can afford [car ownership] and people are more reliant on public transit as a result."
"Green Evolution: Streetcars and 21st Century Maine" | Sunday, September 16 from 5-8 pm | Maine Irish Heritage Center, 34 Gray St, Portland | $20 includes homemade Peruvian dinner |

Read more:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Big Turnover at City Hall: Problem or Opportunity?

Bangor Daily News

Big turnover at Portland City Hall: Problem or opportunity?

New Portland School Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk, flanked by Lyman Moore Middle School Principal Stephen Rogers (left) and school board member Justin Costa, speaks at a press conference after being confirmed by the board Monday night July 9, 2012.
New Portland School Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk, flanked by Lyman Moore Middle School Principal Stephen Rogers (left) and school board member Justin Costa, speaks at a press conference after being confirmed by the board Monday night July 9, 2012.
Posted Sept. 07, 2012, at 9:14 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 08, 2012, at 4:57 a.m.
Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck
Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck
Portland City Manager Mark Rees (left) and Mayor Michael Brennan absorb discussion surrounding the city's fiscal year 2013 budget proposals at the end of a Monday, May 14, 2012, workshop in the council chambers.
Seth Koenig | BDN
Portland City Manager Mark Rees (left) and Mayor Michael Brennan absorb discussion surrounding the city's fiscal year 2013 budget proposals at the end of a Monday, May 14, 2012, workshop in the council chambers.
PORTLAND, Maine — Mark Rees started his job as Portland city manager in July 2011. Less than 14 months later, he has racked up more experience at his post than the people holding at least seven of the most visible leadership positions in Maine’s largest city government.
Since Rees started, Portland has either replaced or hopes to soon hire a new fire chiefpolice chiefsuperintendent of schoolsmayordirector of planningattorney and deputy city manager.
The questions city officials face now is: Why has that happened? And do those changes offer Portland more challenges or more opportunities?
“The opportunity is you have new people coming in with new ways of looking at things and new ideas,” said Mayor Michael Brennan. “But the downside is that sometimes it’s hard to keep things moving forward … when you have a lot of leadership changes.”
In addition to there simply being new faces in City Hall, there have been changes in some of the positions themselves. The mayor job famously changed last November in accordance with a slate of city charter reforms voters approved the previous fall that made the post popularly elected at the polls for the first time since 1923, rather than a default position linked to the chairmanship of the City Council.
During the most recent budget cycle, Rees combined two assistant city manager positions — one of which had remained unfilled since Pat Finnegan left to become Camden’s town manager in late August 2011 — into one deputy city manager job.
“Every week we’re navigating new waters,” Brennan said. Rees “and I am constantly talking about what [responsibility] falls on his side of the fence and what falls on mine. I feel very fortunate that the city manager and I have a great working relationship.”
District 2 City Councilor David Marshall said he “thinks all the changes in staff at City Hall really indicate that the city is in a transition phase.”
So where is everybody going? Former mayor and veteran City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones said the massive turnover is not a case of institutional housecleaning by the council or new city manager. Rather, a lot of retirements and new job opportunities popped up for several Portland leaders around the same time, he said.
“Any time more than one or two people leave an organization, people ask questions, and they’re reasonable questions,” Mavodones said. “One can say a lot of people have left, but I don’t think there’s one smoking gun causing everybody to leave. It’s a big organization with more than 1,000 employees, and there’s going to be turnover.
“I think it’s worth looking at [the positions] more at the individual level than by saying, ‘Oh, there are a lot of people leaving,’” he continued. “I think it would be inaccurate to say, ‘A lot of people are leaving City Hall, there must be something wrong.’ To me, it’s kind of important to break it up and talk about why each person left.”
Previous City Manager Joe Gray, Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne and Corporation Counsel Gary Wood — each with decades of experience — respectively reached retirement age and stepped down.
“Joe Gray was over 65, Gary Wood, 63; that’s when people retire,” said at-large City Councilor John Anton. “The average employment span for a city manager is somewhere around five years. The nature of these things is that you typically don’t have someone occupy the position forever.”
Finnegan, who had been passed over for the Portland city manager job in favor of Rees, was given an opportunity to take the top administrator job in Camden, and prior Police Chief James Craig was lured away from Maine by an offer to head an even larger force in Cincinnati.
Craig has since starred in a widely aired commercial for the University of Phoenix, in case any Portlanders had forgotten their short-term police chief.
Previous Portland Public Schools Superintendent James Morse announced last October he would not seek an extension of his initial three-year contract when it expired at the end of June this year. Morse, who has since accepted a job as superintendent of the Durham, N.H.-based Oyster River School System, explained his decision by saying the administrator to bring dramatic change to a district — as he did in Portland in the aftermath of 2007’s $2.5 million school budget overrun crisis — should not be the same one to maintain the reformed system moving forward.
Former Director of Planning and Urban Development Penny St. Louis, who had worked in the city’s legal department, left municipal government work for the private — and generally more lucrative — sector about two weeks after Morse made his intentions known. That was also the path of former city attorney Mary Costigan, who left her public job to take a post with the Portland law firm Bernstein Shur.
“I wouldn’t say that any of the changes were moved through hostility,” Marshall said. “I can say that I’ve had a desire to see changes in City Hall since I was elected … so I’m excited to see new leadership in City Hall. We’ve had a lot of great people working for us in the past, but we have a lot of new challenges facing the city now and it’s good to have fresh sets of eyes to look at them.”
Those eyes belong to folks such as Emmanuel Caulk, former Philadelphia public schools administrator who took over as the new Portland superintendent on Aug. 20 after a lengthy nationwide search, and Jeffrey Levine, who jumps in as former development director St. Louis’ permanent replacement after previously heading the planning staff in Brookline, Mass.
Former longtime state lawmaker Michael Brennan won a crowded 15-person race to be elected as the city’s new mayor last November, and department veteran Michael Sauschuck was promoted to become Portland’s latest chief of police.
“I think this presents a tremendous opportunity, largely because I think the hires we’ve made have been great,” Anton said. “The planning director hire is great, the city manager hire was great, the police chief hire was great. Any time you have this type of change, it’s an opportunity for culture change, which is healthy.”
Permanent hires to fill the deputy city manager, corporation counsel and fire chief posts have yet to be made. The city search committee’s top choice for the fire chief job pulled out of the runninglast month, and the group has had to advertise for a new batch of candidates.
“I very seldom, if ever, come in with a preconceived candidate, or somebody I have in mind ahead of time for a job,” said City Manager Mark Rees. “I always want to hire the best candidate for the job, the best candidate [being] somebody who will work for Portland.
“You don’t want to have such turnover that things become chaotic or unorganized, but if you have certain positions where people retire or move on, it’s a great opportunity to see who else is out there in those positions and what new perspectives we can add,” he continued. “One of the nice things about Portland is that it’s a very nice place for people to come and work, so we tend to attract the top tier of candidates for these positions.”
And even with the regular announcements of retirements and departures over the last year, Rees said the city has the luxury of having time to be patient and making the right hire.
“I don’t think the turnover has been as dramatic as someone might think,” he said. “Right now I have about a dozen department heads who report to me directly, and a lot of those people still have years and years of experience in the city. And obviously, as a newcomer coming in, I’ve relied on those people for their experience in learning about the city.”
Rees said he still has City Hall veterans such as Finance Director Ellen Sanborn and Assistant City Manager Anita LaChance, as well as Sauschuck — relatively new to his current job, but not to the force — to lean on. He said the mixture of fresh perspectives and in-house experience has provided his office with a happy balance.
“There’s immense pressure to do more with less,” Rees said. “The demand for services is always going up, but at the same time, people are always concerned about paying more taxes. The major change is you’ve got to bring in managers who are thinking outside of the box in terms of delivering services.
“Having people come in who have worked in different operations and organizations, and having their insights has been beneficial, but on the other side of that, we have an experienced finance director who understands how things have worked here for a long time,” he continued. “We have a $220 million annual budget and there are a lot of moving parts in it. So we need that combination of having new ideas and fresh viewpoints, but also the availability of someone who can say, ‘Well, wait a minute, if we do this over here, it may have unintended consequences over there.’”

View District Two: A Work in Progress in a larger map