Bangor’s Pickering Square is a public space problem. How the city of Bangor is dealing with the Pickering Square problem is a problem.
And both need to be fixed.
While much of the city’s downtown has benefitted from a wave of public and private investments, Pickering Square has been left behind to become a collection of concrete and clatter.
Bangor city staff are eager, able and ready to design something great. But their actions depend on clear direction from Bangor’s City Council, which for years has been lacking.
For the past 30 years, the sidewalk of Pickering Square has been the default hub for a five-community, seven-bus system called the Community Connector.
Thirty years ago, municipal planning and economic development efforts were focused away from downtowns and more toward outward sprawl development.
Those efforts, replicated in many communities across the state and nation, destroyed much of the character we now cherish in downtown and riverfront communities. Those efforts made Pickering Square a left-behind space and the Community Connector an inefficient transportation system.
In the past, the Community Connector’s operational and planning decisions were not the sole responsibility of the city of Bangor. They are now. The city of Bangor lacks internal public transportation planning experience and expertise needed to make decisions for decades into the future.
Like Pickering Square, the Community Connector is also in need of a makeover that will serve us into the next 30 years. Its current routes, hours and hub system no longer fit the regional economy we have today.
The Bangor City Council’s primary responsibility should be making decisions in the best interest of the Bangor taxpayers, businesses and residents. Sacrificing opportunity to add tremendous value to prime downtown real estate is not in the best long-term interest of Bangor.
But having served on the council for six of the last 10 years, I understand the reason there has been no clear direction.
The logistical and planning oversight of the Community Connector should not be the responsibility of the city of Bangor alone. The five-community system needs to form a transit authority with representatives from each of the participating communities serving to make financial and operational decisions.
I believe both Pickering Square and the Community Connector will have an important place in Bangor’s future.
Downtowns with desirable and well-planned green spaces are attracting visitors and inspiring investment in cities throughout the country.
Well-designed public transportation systems consistently rank high on lists of attributes residents are looking for when considering communities to live in.
Wanting to move the bus hub away from Pickering Square should not be viewed as an anti-bus sentiment. Unfortunately, however, in many of the public and private conversations I’ve been a part of, that’s exactly the polarization that has emerged.
And that polarization has impacted the city council’s ability to give clear and focused direction to city staff about what to do with Pickering Square.
The city of Bangor will continue to grow and thrive. And that means our public transportation system will need to as well. Let’s not invest public taxpayer dollars squeezing new infrastructure between permanent buildings with no room to expand.
Rather, let’s develop the hub in a space that has capacity to grow as our community grows. Let’s look past trying to Band-Aid the current problems and craft a plan that has the future in mind.
Let’s turn Pickering Square into a green space that can be enjoyed by all for years to come, and not be threatened by the need to accommodate more buses, routes, and travelers. Doing so will help boost downtown economic development and connect a revitalized downtown to a bustling waterfront, busy with entertainment, recreation, and commercial investment.
Our city has a history of making decisions that change the status quo for the greater good. We can do that here and continue the trend of moving Bangor forward.
Cary Weston is a partner at Sutherland Weston Marketing Communications and a former member of the Bangor City Council.