PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Changes to the traffic pattern on a major artery into the city have Portlanders buzzing about their commute.
"I don't think it makes it safer, because you are changing lanes too many times," stated Clarence Rhodes, as he sat having coffee with friends at Tony's Donuts.
He'd prefer it if the Maine Department of Transportation and the city's traffic engineers had added lanes on Congress Street and put restrictions on left hand turns during rush hour, rather than have the number of through lanes reduced to add turning lanes and room for bicyclists.
"It is like spending 90% of your time on 2% of the problem," he added.
In June, the city and DOT agreed to make major changes to the Congress Street corridor between Stevens Avenue and the Portland Jetport. When the state tore up the road surface to get ready for a paving project, the city stepped in and made the modifications.
Traffic engineers studied the results for a month, and invited people who drive through the area to submit their thoughts. Respondents to the survey were decidedly against the changes, with 71% of those surveyed requesting the traffic pattern be changed back, but the city says their data supports keeping the changes, and making even more in the future.
"We know there is some change, we know that it is going to take folks just a tiny bit longer to get in or out on that corridor, but we feel this is now a foundation for even more improvements in the future that will help particularly the non-motorists," explained Kathi Earley, the City of Portland's Engineering Services Manager.
Earley says the changes are designed to improve safety by getting traffic to slow down. She says the corridor was not safe for bicyclists and pedestrians, and the improvements seek to change that.
"We are going forward based on what we know today, and we know that we don't know everything today," she said. "We don't know precisely how people are going to react in winter conditions to this new striping. We frankly don't know once school gets back in session how and a different commuting pattern takes place again what the reactions and the operations may be out there, so we will be monitoring, we will be watching, we will be collecting more data and we will be responsive."
The MDOT plans to finish repairing the roadway over the next two weeks, and the city will make some adjustments to the traffic patterns based on input from motorists. Earley says the city will move some of the merges to make them easier to see in advance, and will be adding overhead signs so people will know about the changes.