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Council accepts recommendations to improve bus, traffic flow on Congress Street

The Portland City Council on Monday approved a series of recommendations that aim to improve the traffic flow along Congress Street by modifying the bus system.
The council unanimously voted to implement a series of recommendations that came out of the Congress Street Bus Priority Corridor study, which yielded several suggested improvements that could be made to improve the quality of the bus and traffic flow.
The study looked at the Congress Street corridor from State Street to Franklin Street, according to a memo, and found several infrastructure improvements that could be made.
The recommendations of the report include:
• Remove the traffic signals at the intersections with Brown and Casco streets and make crosswalk enhancements.
• Coordinate the traffic signals between State and Pearl.
• Improve signage, including mast arms at High and Temple streets.
• Add five new bus shelters.
• Revise curb lines and pavement markings.
The improvements to the bus corridor are expected to cost about $428,000, with the largest expenses being improvements to crosswalks at Casco and Brown streets and five bus shelters, according to a staff memo.
Part of the funding would be offset by the potential for a $100,000 grant from the Federal Transportation Administration to improve the bus shelters and the remaining $328,000 has been included in next year's capital improvement budget.
Councilor David Marshall said he sees the recommendations as a way to improve the operations of the bus system and ease congestion on Congress Street.
Resident Robert Haines said he's unsure of the effectiveness of having the buses stop in traffic rather than pull off to the side of the street. He said for people visiting Portland, they could be dissuaded from coming back if they hit traffic that's backed up while the buses are stopped on Congress Street.
Haines questioned the proposed cost to implement the recommendations.
"It sounds like an awful lot of money," he said.
City senior planner Bill Needelman said most of the cost for the crosswalks is to create a quality pedestrian experience since the lights at Casco and Brown were primarily used to help people cross Congress Street.
"The first step is to paint out the area for the bus stop, see how it works, make sure it's safe and implement," he said.
Needelman said based on the recommendations, four of the stops will be turned into in-line stopping and keep the buses from being delayed later on their route if they cannot leave the bays and enter traffic. The configuration for in-line stopping would be tested using painted lines before any curbing adjustments are made, he said.
Councilor Kevin Donoghue asked if there would be any safety precautions designed into the test phase to minimize the danger of people standing out in the street.
Needelman said where people would stand during the test phase and the protections for them haven't been designed yet.
Councilor John Anton said people have a tough time traveling Congress Street now and the changes could improve the driving experience. He said there might be some instances where traffic might have to stop for a long boarding session but the overall improvements will be helpful.
Anton said these are investments that will make Congress Street more functional than it is now.
Earlier in the meeting, the council recognized Officer Eric McCusker as the Portland Police Department's officer of the month and Peter McFarland, of recreation and facilities management, as the city's employee of the month.

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