PORTLAND, Maine — After a lull of four years, the city is once again looking at plans to revamp Franklin Street, the 3/4-mile thoroughfare that runs between Interstate 295 and Commercial Street.
The second phase of a design study kicked off in June with the meeting of a 19-member public advisory committee. The study’s goal is to come up with a design that improves the street for multiple modes of traffic — transit, cyclists and pedestrians — while opening up adjacent land for residential and commercial development.
Planners have been trying to figure out what to do with Franklin Street for decades.
In the 1960s, it was converted into an arterial designed to carry high volumes of traffic. But the expanded roadway severed the east and west sections of several cross streets, and 100 houses and other structures were demolished. Areas such as the India Street neighborhood were left without direct access to downtown.
“Today, nobody would design a roadway like this,” said Markos Miller, an Atlantic Street resident who chairs the committee. “It’s being used like a highway, but it’s an urban street, or at least a street in an urban context.”
In 2006, further expansion of the arterial was considered. The city’s Peninsula Traffic Study recommended doubling the width of the street to four lanes in each direction. But the study was based on a worst-case scenario of traffic growth at a time when the street was actually experiencing a decline in motorists.
After that study was widely rejected, the city began looking more closely at Franklin Street with a $40,000 grant from the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System.
The result was an idea-gathering process that concluded in 2009 with the development of three general design concepts for the corridor: an urban street, an urban parkway and a multi-way boulevard.
The project then stalled while the city, PACTS and the state Department of Transportation figured out the scope of a larger second phase and struggled to find funds for it.
Now backed with $500,000, city planners, consultants and the advisory committee are preparing to hone the Phase 1 concepts, based on closer analysis of data and further public input.
“Phase 2 will help us determine what’s most feasible,” Mike Bobinsky, the city’s director of public services, said. “It moves us a little more into the science.”
The outcome may be a recommended design based on one of the concepts or a design that combines elements of all three.
The urban-street concept includes the narrowest roadway of the three. In this design, the existing median would be eliminated. Franklin Street would carry two lanes of traffic in each direction between Marginal Way and Congress Street, and one lane in each direction between Congress and Commercial streets. The design calls for three- and four-story development lining each side of Franklin Street, with parallel parking.
An urban parkway would emphasize public green space and parks. Lincoln Park would be enlarged to its original footprint of 2.5 acres, and the Franklin Street median would be preserved and possibly used in the future for public transit. The roadway would also include bike lanes and a parallel bike path along its entire length.
The multi-way boulevard would include the widest roadway of the three designs. Lanes would carry traffic in the middle of the boulevard, with local traffic and cyclists using smaller access roads on each side. The access roads and the through lanes would all be separated by medians, and five-story buildings could be sited along the boulevard.
Phase 2 is expected to take about a year, and the public will have a chance to weigh in at a hearing to be scheduled in January, according to Miller. The final recommendation will be presented to the City Council. More funding would then have to be found before construction could begin.
Miller said that while he originally preferred the urban-street concept, he’s now more interested in finding a consensus.
“There are huge opportunities to make this [street] into a higher and better use. But there’s no way we can go through a project this large and make everyone happy,” Miller said. “I’m a champion of the process.”