Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Plank

This is the neighborhood of Portland where Congress Street crosses under the freeway. According to the city, the neighborhood is "Libbytown," but I call it "the Plank" because of the hazards involved in walking it.

This picture is taken from Congress in front of the bus and train station, looking toward downtown. Suppose that you're a hapless pedestrian who's recently arrived by train in the Forest City. Downtown is only a twenty minute walk away. But first, you'll have to traverse the Plank's dozens of acres of on ramps, which the Department of Transportation (motto: "Death to Pedestrians!") has thoughtfully designed to punish anyone who doesn't use a car all the time.

The photo shows the first of four freeway-style crosswalks that an eastbound walker must navigate. Cross the first lane of turning (but not stopping) traffic to gain the relative safety of a tiny traffic island, where you will be surrounded on three sides by rushing traffic. After that, there's a four-lane crossing and another island, then a hop across another turn lane, then a dark underpass, two more freeway ramps, and that's the Plank.

At the other side, treat your injuries at Maine Medical Center, only six more blocks ahead (ambulances pass through the Plank frequently, and if you're lucky, that's the kind of vehicle that will hit you).

The Plank is even more staggering when seen from above: here's the link to the Google satellite image. The Plank is in the middle of a central-city neighborhood: dense residential neighborhoods to the east and north, a growing cluster of medical offices to the west, the future site of Mercy Hospital to the south. The dozens of empty acres that its loopy ramps occupy are probably worth millions of dollars, and it could be a thriving employment district, the home to hundreds of offices and homes within walking distance of hospitals and the train station. Instead, it's a barrier that forces everyone in those surrounding neighborhoods to get into their cars in order to get to the other side. The Plank exists to move traffic, but by taking up so much space, it creates a lot of traffic, too.

What were those traffic engineers thinking when they built this thing? I'd like to hear from them - perhaps on a rush-hour walking tour of their creation. Let's go, traffic engineers. Get into that crosswalk you designed. I'll be right behind you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not that it fixes the pedestrian issue, but there is a lot of talk about extending rail service to Brunswick, and one of the routes proposed would go through downtown Portland, offering a walkable train station, instead of the Portland transportation center.

I hope you urge readers to support that effort, especially with the downtown route for train service.