Every five years, we get a glimpse at the newest vision for Southern Maine’s transportation future when the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS) updates its long-range transportation plan. This year’s iteration, Connect 2045, arrives during an exciting time of major investment in transportation innovation from the state and federal level.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act contain unprecedented levels of federal funding for climate and clean energy initiatives, including major investments in electric vehicles, public transit, and infrastructure for walking and biking.
At the same time, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) is also in the process of creating its own statewide long-range transportation plan, which includes a Statewide Strategic Transit Plan and a Statewide Active Transportation Plan. It is clearer than ever that Maine is prepared to revamp its approach to transportation by providing greater access to people who use our transportation system in all kinds of ways, reducing tailpipe emissions in the process.
The Connect 2045 Plan will help guide decision-making in the Portland region for where we make investments and why. The plan sets guidelines for Maine’s most densely developed area, with the 18 municipalities covered comprising more than 20 percent of the state’s population.
A draft of the Connect 2045 Long-Range Transportation Plan is now available for public review and comment through November 20. The PACTS team has already included several public engagement opportunities as the draft plan was created, and this will be the last opportunity to make your voice heard before the plan is finalized.
The full plan is extensive, so we’ve pulled out a few pieces to highlight:
- Connect 2045 is guided by three overarching principles provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation: tackling the climate crisis, ensuring equity by directing 40% of all funding to underserved communities, and focusing on a “Complete Streets” design that ensures access and safety for all users.
- The plan acknowledges that the transportation sector is the leading contributor to climate change in Maine. It identifies strategies to both reduce the total miles vehicles travel in the region and to electrify our transportation system so we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
- The plan encourages a shift away from a focus on personal vehicles and toward communities connected by public transit and safe trails and sidewalks for people who walk and bike. By improving village centers, increasing transit frequency, and investing in active transportation, the plan aims to reduce suburban sprawl and provide more ways for people to get around the region safely without negatively impacting the environment and public health.
- Safety is a major priority for the region. 2021 was the most dangerous year for pedestrians in Maine, and the “Vision zero” element of this plan outlines an approach to eliminate traffic fatalities completely by reducing vehicle speeds and improving pedestrian safety.
- The plan includes six explicit goals based on feedback from residents in the region: Provide Equitable Access, Expand Choices, Support Great Places, Protect the Environment, Improve Safety, and Optimize Infrastructure.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine believes the components of this plan and the vision outlined by the PACTS team align with our vision of Maine’s transportation future. Connect 2045 recognizes that our transportation system is about getting people, not cars, to where they need to go, and promotes a shift toward active transportation and public transit to reduce emissions. The plan rightfully centers safety, equity, and climate action over moving personal vehicles quickly through the region, which is a refreshing perspective in a car-dependent state like Maine.
As with any plan proposing transformational change, there are questions about how these changes will be funded and prioritized. The plan acknowledges that the region’s needs exceed available funding. This perennial concern underscores the need to think differently about transportation investments.
As the plan notes, our transportation system has been overbuilt and centered around car traffic at the expense of other more people-centered alternatives. With once-in-a-generation new funding available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, the region, and Maine as a whole, has an opportunity to fully leverage resources specifically aimed at climate, safety, and equity to shift toward a more sustainable transportation system.
Please join us in applauding the PACTS team for providing a hopeful vision of a safer, healthier, more connected Portland region while encouraging them to ensure that the elements of the plan that include public transit and biking and walking infrastructure are fully funded as soon as possible.
—Josh Caldwell, NRCM Climate & Clean Energy Outreach Coordinator
Dave Cohen says
There are many ideas and suggestions I have for this excellent and comprehensive draft (it’s actually pretty amazing), but I’m going to focus in on one area.
In my opinion, while nice to see in this draft, the sections mentioning e-bikes need way, way more meat on them. What is presented here is the humdrum, basic run-of-the-mill notions about e-bikes with little perspective on what they are, what is coming and the massive utility of e-bikes, e-cargo bikes and commercial human/electric powered vehicles for families, business, municipalities and last mile delivery. There is a revolution in bike mobility happening worldwide, but one would barely notice that in this draft..
First off, if this is a vision for 2045, then the treatment of e-bikes is wholly inadequate. That’s because the current-day sophisticated innovations are so far reaching and especially the coming developments in terms of technology and design that are destined to massively reshape the bike and its role are truly light years beyond really anything indicated in this draft. In the draft, one gets that there have been tech improvements with batteries, you can go further, e-bikes are useful, families will use them and do errands, young people like them and studies show that people will ride more.
One of my biggest issues with the draft is the exclusion of the “cargo bike” and/or “e-cargo bike” terminology. This, dare I say, is a very typical American attitude toward e-bikes and bikes in general. You really have to name e-cargo bikes because they are shifting the form and function of bike transportation around the world. I would even venture to say that they are going to become a prime force for change as we reach the ecological and social limits of hyper-motorization. Not only are e-cargo bikes a game changer for families, but there are an entire range of lightweight human/electric vehicles and even electric-assisted trailers that are already in action all over the globe that are replacing trucks and vans. Also, innovations such as belt drive and internal gearing, while they may sound “bike geeky”, are transforming e-bikes into a low-maintenance and with a virtually trouble-free riding experience (no lubricating bike chains or cleaning out rear gears or any degradation of them). This will make e-bike and e-cargo bike ownership significantly more approachable with far less mess, way longer lasting parts and a totally smooth experience. Within 5 years, about 50% of e-bikes and e-cargo bikes will have this technology and by 2045 perhaps almost all e-bike will have them,with profound implications for bike mobility. What any of this will look like in 2045 is not in any part of this draft and what I have mentioned here is only a piece of what is on the horizon. There’s lots more.
It is my opinion that in the greater Portland area and in Maine, in general, we will absolutely retard the deployment and potential of this mobility revolution because there is little expertise in the state and perhaps even a lack of imagination around the implications for the trajectory of bike techology and design .And these sorts of vehicles are especially going to shine if we rein in absurd development and sprawl and reconsider outdated and destructive things like R1 zoning. But on the other end of this, this reinvention of the bike and its widespread adoption has a great potential to drive much of our rethinking and redirection toward intelligent planning and zoning.
So, my recommendations are simple for our region! Invest massively in demonstration e-bike mobility projects that will encourage families, individuals, business owners and municipalities to become bike literate by having access to the cutting-edge e-assist bike and cargo bikes on the market as well as innovative (exotic to us) examples that are being deployed in Europe. This could take the form of a vehicle lending library, a lab for innovation and a range of other possibilities. We also absolutely need a free bike consultation program for residents, businesses and organizations that want to go in this direction to guide them through every aspect from purchase to the wheels on the ground (this is part of what I do in Vermont – see vbikesolutions.org/free-bike-consultations). And certainly essential to this is funding for significant subsidies and rebates to propel these solutions (especially for low-income households). Finally, if we are to really take this seriously, we undoubtedly need a regional website that contains all this information and that projects a vision for transportation solutions that encourage the use of our bodies, reconnects us to our neighborhoods and that promotes sensible community development practices.
I would be glad to talk with anyone at GPCOG about the work I do regarding bike mobility for the State of Vermont and how Maine and our region can catch up and even excel at the lead-edge of solutions that are about envisioning the future we really want.