Public Statement: Connect 2045 plan falls short of transformative action

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine is pleased at the opportunity to make a comment on the Greater Portland Council of Goverment’s Connect 2045 plan. It’s a comprehensive document, but it is not a transformative plan that will meaningfully change transportation behaviors towards more active transportation and transit. And in that, we are disappointed. 

We are impressed at the thoroughness of the analysis of current conditions, and we largely agree with the goals the plan sets out.  

However, we are struck by the tension between the plan’s frequent (and welcome!) assertions that more needs to be done to reduce dependency on cars and to improve safety and access for vulnerable users and the list of planned projects that appear to continue to place an outsized emphasis on automobile needs.

What this plan considers important is revealed by where the money is spent, not in its aspirational recommendations. For example, in the period from 2026-2030, we estimate that less than 5% of the total projected expenditures on the “fiscally constrained projects” list will go toward stand-alone projects primarily focused on improving conditions for people walking, bicycling, or accessing transit. While some bike/ped improvements may be embedded in other work, such improvements tend to be minimal and in many cases don’t meet what Federal Highway Administration guidance recommends.  

Some critical regional multi-modal projects, like connecting Westbrook and Portland via the Mountain Division Line, are delayed until at least 2031, despite being projected to cost less than $2 million–a comparatively modest amount in this plan. Over half the funding for each of the five year periods listed goes to pavement preservation and bridge work, taking between $237 and $320 million off the top of each period’s available funds. These projects rarely incorporate changes in design that would improve vulnerable user safety, such as narrower travel lanes, wider shoulders, sidewalks, new crosswalks, or bike lanes.

The plan states that projects are presented in order of priority, so we are also struck by how “Complete Streets” projects and stand-alone bike/ped projects are included well down the lists, suggesting that they are comparatively low priority. And they are included with caveats about them being built “as funding allows,” providing plenty of room for these projects to be stepped back from in a few years. While BCM is a strong proponent of Complete Streets, we too often find that these words are included in transportation project titles without creating big improvements on the ground.  The current state and regional Complete Streets policies offer lots of poorly-defined “feasibility” loopholes and exemption mechanisms that enable project managers to cut or reduce bike/ped features when the time comes. 

We feel the plan would be strengthened by calls to apply specific design controlling criteria on transportation projects (e.g. every travel lane in an area posted 30 mph or under should be no larger than 10 feet), and to strengthen Complete Streets policies so that they really make streets complete.  We also feel the plan would benefit from a clearer  “up front” breakdown of what categories money is being spent on so that the automobile-centric focus of the plan would be more obvious. And most of all, we believe that more of the money discussed in the plan needs to be spent on bike/ped and transit projects, for safety, for equity, for the climate and to encourage the kinds of shifts in behavior the climate action plan says we need to make. 

The BCM feels that in the Greater Portland region, a transformative plan would help lead the rest of the state to a different transportation future.  Unfortunately, we do not feel this is such a plan.  

Share OnEmail this ArticleShare on TwitterShare on Facebook