Maine Voices: With the city at a crossroads, Congress Square redraws a step in the right direction

As Portland grows, we have the opportunity to choose a path to a beautiful and fair city. And to do this, we must recognize the link between the design of our streets and public spaces, the cost of housing and our quality of life.

The redesign of Congress Square, one of Portland’s busiest downtown intersections, is slated to begin in July and largely end in November. The first phase involves the reconfiguration of the intersection of Congress, High and Free streets. Rendered courtesy of WRT and She Studio

At present, housing is expensive and it is difficult to build new housing. This has led many people to choose to live in more affordable outlying communities with long journeys and the costs of owning a car. As more people are forced out of town, Portland faces pressure to provide parking for people who work here but cannot afford to live here. The construction of additional parking spaces directly competes with space for housing, further exacerbating our already strained housing situation.

With more people driving, many streets in our city are unpleasant and dangerous, especially for children, the elderly and the disabled. This means that even local residents, who could walk or cycle, choose to drive because it seems like the only safe option. This in turn increases traffic congestion, vehicle noise pollution and dirty air. These disadvantages disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people.

If we want Portland to be a city that everyone can afford and enjoy, we need to focus like a laser on affordable housing and public transit, and also prioritize walking and cycling so that people have a viable and safe way of getting around the city. does not require owning a car. We also need to create spaces for people to enjoy and come together, which is an essential part of city life.

That’s why we fully support the new Congress Square redevelopment plan featured in the Portland Press Herald on March 23 (“Portland to renovate busy downtown intersections starting this summer”).

The redesign will support local businesses by making it easier for people to cross the street, which has proven to increase the customer base of nearby retailers. The redesign will also make it safer for people who want or need to walk or cycle in Portland by appeasing one of the peninsula’s most nasty street crossings, High Street. Relatively simple changes like reducing pedestrian crossing distances and creating a simpler entrance to Free Street will significantly slow down vehicle speeds, improving safety for everyone, whether driving, cycling, or riding. foot or wheelchair.

The redevelopment of the Place du Congrès will remove some parking spaces. As a compromise, we will benefit from three enlarged public plazas that create community spaces all year round with new seating, shade trees, plantings, lighting, a sculpture by artist Sarah Szea, a landscape of natural play and a playground. This will allow people to have chance encounters with friends or strangers, enjoy the trees and birds, and provide another reason to live and visit the city center.

As Portland welcomes more people, we must appropriately balance the needs of humans and cars. This redesign of the intersection will help us move towards a future that supports everyone and makes our downtown core a more vibrant part of our community.

We must continue to work together to make Portland a beautiful and welcoming city.

We have already made significant gains over the past year to facilitate housing construction with new secondary access rules and reductions in the number of parking spaces required for new housing. Our next opportunities are to make the redesign of Brighton Avenue greener and safer for walking and cycling; lobby for a broader scope of the ReCode zoning process; support city and state initiatives to eliminate the redundant cloverleaf from Congress Street and Interstate 295; make Congress Street at Exit 5 accessible on foot and support the redevelopment of Franklin Arterial to a pedestrian street. We also need to support groups that advocate for people experiencing homelessness and find additional proactive strategies to provide more housing at all costs. Together, we can innovate our city for the better.

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