Down East 2013 ©
Portland Press Herald
New Parking Rules
Maine’s largest city ponders a carless future.
Downtown real estate in Maine’s largest city — its cultural and commercial center — is too valuable to be used to store cars. That should be the guiding principle behind changes to city policies now under review by the Planning Board.
The proposals result from last year’s Peninsula Transit Study, which recommended improvements to intersections and lane stripes that would make the city’s streets work better for pedestrians, cyclists, and people who ride buses, decreasing motor vehicle traffic and congestion. The study also recommended changing the relationship between new development and parking.
Among the changes on the table is removing the requirement that developers create a specific number of parking spaces for every office or dwelling they build. Instead, a commercial developer would have the option of contributing to a fund that would make it easier for people to get around without a car.
Residential development would be completely free of parking requirements. Residents would pay less for housing that comes without parking and would have the choice of finding it in the marketplace or looking for alternatives.
In the short run, it would lower the cost of development, helping build out still-empty or underused properties that stretch right through the heart of the peninsula, from the eastern waterfront to Marginal Way. If it works, over time, it could create the density needed to make mass transit a viable alternative in ways that it now is not.
Breaking the link between development and parking harnesses the market principles of choice, competition, and incentive to work on the city’s transportation problems.
A worker who receives a parking voucher from his employer could use it toward space in a garage but might find that it would go further in a carpool, bus service, or by riding a bike into downtown from an off-peninsula satellite lot. There are attractions other than cost. Exercise from walking or cycling would be seen as a good option for more people if it was perceived as safe and convenient.
If options are available, people can choose the ones, including paying for parking, that work best for them. Sadly, options are not now available for most people who work or shop in downtown Portland. A car is often the only way to get one person to work.
Opponents of the transit plan can be expected to claim that market-priced parking will drive business and visitors out of Portland, but this doesn’t match the experience of other cities, large and small. Some of the most valuable commercial real estate in the world, as well as some of the most popular tourist destinations, are also among the least car-friendly. A few people may come to Portland because it’s an easy place to park, but many live, do business, and visit here because it has a walkable downtown.
Morning Sentinel, Waterville
The draft report by a task force commissioned to study and recommend changes to the operations of the University of Maine system as it faces dramatic financial challenges is a remarkable document whose authors pull no punches.
Among many pointed criticisms, the authors say the system lacks a coordinated agenda to serve the educational needs of Maine students as well as the economic needs of the state. They say university leaders act incrementally and avoid change — the system, they note, tends to “repose in inertia.” They detail wasteful duplication of programs and services on the many university campuses that results in diminished educational quality.
The task force members take system leaders to task for their failure to hold down tuition in the last few years. They assert that too much authority has been delegated from the central system office out to individual campus heads, and that for the past forty years, the formula for distributing the state’s appropriation to the system’s campuses has remained “unchanged by priorities, performance, or public policies.”
Strong stuff, especially since many of the task force’s members come from the system itself. But strong stuff is what’s needed when the system is facing a fifty million dollar hole in its funding over the next four years — a structural deficit that accounts for 10 percent of the general budget.
The plan offers many worthwhile recommendations that should be implemented, ranging from eliminating course duplication at individual campuses to better coordination in recruiting students and faculty. But these address almost minor issues compared to the even more arresting problem pointed out in the report, one that should alarm anyone concerned about Maine’s future. The task force quotes a study commissioned from the National Center for Higher Education Management: “Maine, like the United States as a whole, is becoming the first post-industrial society in history where the parents will have achieved a greater average level of education achievement than their children.”
Maine is going backwards, along with the rest of the country.
That means trouble for Maine and the rest of the country. Diminished education levels for successive generations mean diminished earnings for successive generations and diminished prosperity for the state.
There are ways to stem this trend and turn it around. Higher education, and thus the University of Maine system, should be at the center of any strategy to do that, which is why the recommendations of the task force are so important: they offer the promise of change not just for the university, but for all of Maine.
But a system that reposes in inertia isn’t easy to turn around. The task force has an answer to that: Give the system’s chancellor more centralized power. Send him or her to Augusta to set up shop. And then have task force members who went beyond their charge in this recommendation give the chancellor a very big brief: Make him or her the point person for pushing the legislature, the governor, business leaders, and Maine’s educational establishment to adopt a long-term strategy to revitalize the state’s economy.
David Flanagan, who led the twelve member task force, and his colleagues on the task force have done the state an immense public service. They have bluntly outlined the problems that plague the University of Maine system. They make the essential connection between the university’s fate and the state’s fate and provide dramatic measures to reform the former in order to help the latter.
Now, of course, the chorus of naysayers will weigh in. But this time, the stakes are much higher than when previous reform efforts went unheeded or were watered down — nothing like a fifty million dollar hole to steel resolve. So we have hope that the recommendations of the task force will gain traction and the fundamental change the state needs to prosper will begin at the University of Maine system.
Cause for celebration
As lifelong conservationist Bill Townsend of Canaan put it, if the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) did not exist, the state of Maine would look very different. Townsend was one of the original members of the organization, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in June.
He and other pioneers in the environmental organization (which certainly wasn’t called that fifty years ago) worked to stop a scourge of billboards from littering the Maine landscape, pass a landmark bottle-return bill, derail state plans for construction of dams on major rivers, clean up Maine’s air and water, and conserve the landscape that distinguishes our state.
The battles were often long and often bitter. They left scars, certainly, but they also left the state a better place. We have huge parcels of undisturbed forest in Maine because of the NRCM, as well as long stretches of coastline that have been conserved. Our highways are lined with trees, not enormous commercial signs, and fish swim in rivers that for too long were filled only with sewage and industrial pollutants. The organization spawned the development of many other conservation groups with which, ironically, it must now often compete for support and funds.
So on its fiftieth birthday, we congratulate the NRCM for giving a loud and clear voice to an environmental ethic that has had an important, and visible, impact on the state of Maine.
Maine Sunday Telegram
Hopeful Fishing Rules
Commercial fishermen are an independent lot. They take great risk, both financial and personal, to ply the ocean in the hopes of bringing in a big enough catch for it all to pay off. But as the industry struggles to survive while waiting for fish populations to rebound, these independent men and women may have to rely on each other more than ever.
The first step was taken in Portland in June by the New England Fishery Management Council, which voted fourteen-to-one to recommend setting a total allowable catch limit for specific geographic areas. The catch would be shared by members of fishing cooperatives, called sectors, who would trade some of their independence for more flexibility.
Under days-at-sea limits, fishermen were under pressure to make every hour count with the biggest catch they could haul in. The sector approach doesn’t let them catch more fish but permits fishermen to maximize their time on the water. That flexibility is important. With declining fish stocks and increased regulation, their
numbers have dropped from about 350 fifteen years go to only seventy today.
Something different needs to be tried, and if some cooperation among fishermen can give them flexibility and still
prevent over-fishing, it could be a welcome