PORTLAND, Maine — When long stretches of Portland’s Baxter Boulevard closed during the summer for construction, nearby residents made use of the suddenly car-less area for informal gatherings and block parties.
Now, even with construction complete, those events will continue to be weekly attractions in the future.
The City Council on Monday voted 5-1 — with councilor John Coyne opposed and councilors Cheryl Leeman, Nicholas Mavodones and John Anton absent — to close a mile-long stretch of Baxter Boulevard for seven hours every Sunday from Earth Day in April until Veterans Day in November.
Supporters of the move — a coalition that includes the Back Cove Neighborhood Association, Portland Trails and the Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Committee — hope the newly enshrined “Sundays on the Boulevard” festivals will become as popular as the city’s bustling First Friday Art Walks.
The motion for the weekly road closures was co-sponsored by city councilors David Marshall and Kevin Donoghue.
The shutdowns will block traffic on the sometimes busy commuter thruway from Vannah Avenue to the entrance of Payson Park from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from late April through mid-November every year. With the council’s approval Monday of a standing festival permit for the weekly events, city food trucks and other vendors would be allowed along the stretch for the occasions.
According to a documents distributed to city councilors in advance of their Monday night meeting, many neighborhood residents began to take advantage of eight months of road closures on the boulevard as work crews installed two underground stormwater storage tanks there.
Making the most of the inconvenience, the locals held weekly block party-like socials along the cordoned-off boulevard and lobbied the council to let the parties continue — at least during months when the weather is good.
“With part of the boulevard closed for construction, it’s been an opportunity for Portland residents and visitors to enjoy the roadway as a recreation space without automobiles,” wrote Michael Bobinsky, city director of public services, in a memo to the council. “Since the Baxter Boulevard storage conduit project has [been] completed, there is a desire to continue the Sunday closure program.”
The idea wasn’t without detractors Monday night. Coyne, echoing concerns heard by two members of the public who addressed the council in opposition to the move, said the weekly parties will be an unnecessary inconvenience for drivers trying to use the boulevard to reach Interstate 295 nearby.
“I still go through that area quite regularly because my mother lives there, and that closure was quite inconvenient when it was closed down,” he told his fellow councilors.
But Marshall and Donoghue disagreed, describing the traffic disruption as minimal. They said adding another regular attraction to Portland’s vibrant social scene is worth the risk.
“Although there will be some people who will be commuting that day, I don’t think this will be too big an inconvenience for people,” Marshall said. “There are plenty of alternative routes available and we’re only talking about closing about a mile of roadway. I don’t think this will be an undue burden to the public. I think this will be widely embraced.”