Mainely Planning

Why plan for an uncertain future? Our world is changing in ways that we can hardly comprehend. The planning we have been engaged in over the last 100 years, is geared to a world with abundant energy, a stable climate, and a dwindling natural resource endowment that is reliant on cheap energy for extraction. That world is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Oil price spikes due to supply/demand and geopolitical concerns, water shortages (Google Lake Mead, Central Valley, CA or the Ogallala Aquifer for details), and soil depletion are just a few of the problems we face. As we move forward, the notion that we can continue with business as usual (BAU) is not going to sustain us.

Thinking creatively and making difficult decisions will test our abilities, push our cultural boundaries and hopefully shape a world where these uncomfortable realities can be dealt with in an equitable and meaningful manner. I write about things I see, think, and work on as I transition from being a planning student into the world of planning. I am neither a technological optimist, thinking we can invent our way out of all our problems, nor a doomer, believing in returning to a world much like pre-industrial times. I believe that our creativity combined with the lessons from the past will be instrumental tools for laying the foundation for the path forward. Some of my ideas may seem radical, others are just based on common sense and keen observations.

Links of Note

Mainely Rural
The Old Pine Tree
Strong Towns
Project For Public Spaces
Streets Blog
Cap'n Transit Rides Again
Human Transit
Pedestrian Observations
The Broken Sidewalk
Maine Architecture
The Vigorous North
Depot Redux
Reason and Rail
Car Free Maine
Walk Around Portland

Transportation for America State Fact Sheets

A Reason to Plan

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Posts tagged "GIS"

For my planning activism with the Greater Waterville Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, I have been looking into a lot of crash data, trying to learn about the nature of accidents in and around Waterville and how they could be mitigated.

I happened upon a story that I didn’t expect to find, but did. Waterville is looking into fixing a 5 way intersection at the corner of Western Ave., Lincoln Ave., and 1st Rangeway. The intersection can be a bit difficult to navigate, but in looking at the crash data for the Waterville area, it appears that the intersection is quite safe compared to other parts of town (Interstate Interchanges & Downtown).

While the perception is that the intersection is unsafe, what generally tends to happen is that people navigating that intersection approach it with some level of hesitation and a heightened awareness. Because everyone knows it is a “bad” intersection, it is made safe because people treat it as if it were a place to be respected. In the list of projects for the City of Waterville and Maine’s DOT is a redo of this “unsafe” intersection. While the improvements may in fact change the perception of the intersection as an “unsafe” place, the data suggests that this is a gross miss-allocation of resources. 

Waterville has a downtown business environment that is fighting like hell to remain a viable center of business activity. People take economic risks here by opening up businesses, the downtown development group spends considerable energy building up the downtown, but what is clear to me is that the street network that supports downtown isn’t doing an adequate job.

By the numbers, a two block section of downtown has had 84 accidents in the last 8 years. Most of those are rear-end/sideswipes between people backing out of diagonal stall parking were rear-ended or parallel parkers were sideswiped. As a planner, I know the value of downtown on-street parking to downtown businesses. People need to get in, conduct a transaction, and leave. Eliminating on-street parking is a looser for these businesses and will make traffic even faster due to greater roadway widths. Stories here and here.

What is needed however is a traffic calmed environment that will be a more inviting place for patrons of downtown businesses, families spending a weekend strolling along the shop lined streets, and as a result will slow traffic down, leading to less crashes.

I rail (no pun intended of course) on about fuel prices, sustainability, and changing how we do business with regards to transporting ourselves. As I have noticed in Maine, we are lucky because the State has done a good job of preserving rail corridors. These will be instrumental to our transition to a more sustainable existence and density along those corridors is a big part of that. When crunching 2010 census figures, I found that within 20 miles of arbitrarily chosen (I looked at towns with rail and towns with people in them) station areas, over 900,000 or Maine’s 1.3 million people reside.This is a tremendous opportunity for conventional passenger service and allowing for people to have some great mobility options other than cars.

The map below is a view of the Southern Maine Portion of a proposed route map showing station locations, 20 mile buffers around the stations, and population density of census blocks within those 20 mile buffers. 

This map (below) is more of the same with 5 mile buffers around the proposed rail stations. More than 560,000 people live within census blocks 5 miles from these stations. At some point I will crunch the within 1 mile of stations numbers and get back to this, but regardless, this represents a great opportunity for both commuter travel and conventional longer distance service.

As we seek out ways to keep our population mobile and provide opportunity for employment, I think rail will play a big role in that mobility equation. For now I just wanted to talk about density, show a picture (map) of where Maine is at in terms of some initial feasibility. At a future point in time, I would certainly like to talk about current rail infrastructure, transit oriented development, rail vehicle technologies, and a few other important ideas related to this.

Here are some other maps that I created with station towns identified. Again, these aren’t official anything, just a boy, some data, and some ideas. Northern Maine above, Southern Maine below, just like it is on the map.

Enjoy. Comments welcome.

Bowdoinham is a small Maine town 30 miles or so between the state’s largest metropolitan region of Portland, and the state’s capital city of Augusta. Bowdoinham is largely a rural place taking up approximately 34 square miles and has about 2,770 people residing within its boundaries, as of the 2010 census. As Bowdoinham embarks on their comprehensive planning process, they began by envisioning who it is they are and want they want to be. For the residents of Bowdoinham who are actively involved in the planning process, they clearly stated that they hope Bowdoinham maintains its charming rural character.

Students of Mark Lapping’s, Introduction to Community Planning Class have been “contracted” to work with the town of Bowdoinham, ME, to conduct Land Use Planning, GIS Mapping, Forestry & Agricultural Resources Analysis, in an effort to help them develop an updated Comprehensive Plan.

My role was primarily technical in nature, conducting GIS mapping and analysis for the land use planning and the forestry resources group. Along with another student,  I set about to conduct a build out analysis of the town. Bowdoinham has no actual zoning, but does have a town-wide land use ordinance in place. This ordinance specifies large lot sizes (about an acre) for development throughout the town, which they classify town-wide as a residential/agricultural district.

The first scenario that was conducted looked at the preservation of Bowdoinham’s rural character, natural resources, existing forest and agricultural lands. The goal was to show the town of Bowdoinham what their town could look like, preserving what the citizen’s feel Bowdoinham should be, in light of the town’s current land use ordinance, with restrictions on development in these areas.

In a GIS, the appropriate land use data layers were merged including: soil suitability, current agriculture lands, unsuitable soils for development, protected lands, and other layers conducive to protecting the rural integrity of Bowdoinham. A symmetrical difference function was performed with this merged layer against the town’s parcel layers, giving us a pretty clear picture of what lands could be developed, if the town chooses to maintain their rural character and develop policies aimed at preservation. 

A no-holds-barred scenario which only discounted areas that were unsuitable to building structures and lands with special easements on development (transportation right of way, Shore-land Zoning, etc.). The differences are astounding.

Bowdoinham, which currently has about 1,200 residential structures could be looking at ten times that amount of structures under the current land use ordinance and with no vision for how it wants to protect open space and rural character. By protecting open space, forests, habitat, and agricultural lands, Bowdoinham could be looking at the potential for growth in habitable structures of only four times, the amount that it currently has now.

A third scenario was proposed that takes advantage of Bowdoinham’s Downtown Water Service District. What if this area was the focus for growth in Bowdoinham, and the rest of the town was preserved as much as possible, through zoning or land use districting measures that help Bowdoinham accomplish it’s goal or rural preservation? How would this scenario look? Bowdoinham could be only looking at an additional 1,000 structures developed all within a somewhat dense (dense is a relative term here) downtown core area. Limits to this type of development would be the water service districts capacity as well as the minimum area needed for parcels on a septic system, and not a city-wide sewer system, something I don’t think Bowdoinham could nor should afford, regardless of where the funds came from.

These are some of the map products I created in the process.

Bowdoinham Composite Land Use Map

Buildout Scenario 1

Buildout Scenario 2

Buildout Scenario 3 - Downtown Focused Growth

From the perspective of someone “from away”, the Town of Bowdoinham, Maine is what I would call a fair representation of Maine outside and away from the big towns of Maine, the tourist regions of the coast, lakes and mountains, as well as the three metropolitan regions of Bangor, Portland, and Lewiston/Auburn. Surprisingly there is a lot more of the Bowdoinham, Maine than the big city, touristy places of Maine. 

As places like Bowdoinham seek to define themselves through the comprehensive planning process, the role of their forests and natural areas will be a major consideration. The towns people have placed a high priority on the preservation of these resources, but as growth pressure mounts and the sale of the family forest or farms becomes more lucrative, these lands become threatened by fragmentation. Each of the areas in the map below in cross hatches represents lands that have been split in some way or another since 2004. Parcels in green or brown are enrolled in state land preservation programs. Those with both cross hatches and program enrollment represent land use patterns that are threatened in some way or another, whether they are agricultural or forestry oriented.

As a planner, I feel my role is to inform the people for whom the planning process is being conducted,  of what lies ahead for the place that they call home. Although Bowdoinham is growing slowly, it does experience some growth pressure, albeit at a snail’s pace. As they seek to match their shared values as a town, with the land ownership rights and economic realities of individual land owners, they should bear in mind that there are often other decisions that can be made in lieu of the splitting and further parcelization of rural properties. 

For now, we have made the observation that Bowdoinham has experienced some parcelization and that some of  those splits occur on lands that were at one time enrolled in programs designed to prevent the fragmentation of these lands. Whether they decide to work with an active land trust, or develop policies geared to restricting land use rights in Bowdoinham is up to them. Some combination of the two might be the best, working to preserve lands through transfer of development rights, restrictions of how much or how often land is split and developed, and growing the awareness of land-owners of what their land means to rural Maine way of life and how best to preserve it.