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South Portland hires first ‘sustainable transportation’ staffer

South Portland has hired its first “sustainable transportation coordinator” to help provide greener ways to get around the city.

Cashel Stewart’s first day is Wednesday, and his goals include helping guide the city’s transition to an all-electric bus fleet over the next two decades.

South Portland Sustainable Transportation Coordinator Cashel Stewart.  Photo courtesy of Cashel Stewart

Stewart will be part of a three-member sustainability team for South Portland. He’s believed to be the first local official overseeing sustainable transportation issues in Maine. Stewart said the state Department of Transportation has someone overseeing sustainability issues, but he knows of no other local officials with the title.

Stewart will tackle a wide range of issues, including looking for ways to expand the number of charging stations for electric vehicles, said Julie Rosenbach, South Portland’s sustainability director. Rosenbach said the city’s appointment of a three-person team – Lucy Perkins is the program coordinator – to work on sustainability demonstrates its commitment to the issue.

Transportation is a critical environmental issue in South Portland, she said, and about a third of the greenhouse gases generated in the city are related to emissions from cars, trucks and buses. The majority, she said, is generated by buildings and energy use.

Stewart, 25, said sustainability has been at the core of his work with the city of Portland over the past three years, although he was officially assigned to the Planning and Urban Development, and Public Works departments. A key project was building a parking-separated bike lane on Park Avenue, a first for the state.

He grew up in upstate New York and has a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from the University of Vermont with a focus on sustainable transportation planning.

Stewart said transforming the city’s bus fleet from diesel to electricity will take planning and time – the goal is to complete the switch by 2040.

He said a typical electric bus can cost twice as much as a diesel bus, which typically runs about $400,000, “but the operating costs are significantly lower for electric buses making the life-cycle cost comparable to diesel and the benefits to the environment undeniable.”

Rosenbach said the change in the bus fleet will send a clear message to residents about South Portland’s commitment to sustainability.

“The city likes to lead by example,” she said.

Stewart also will focus on land-use policies, Rosenbach said, with an emphasis on expanding bike paths and walking trails in addition to beefing up public transportation. Because South Portland is an urban environment, she said, an emphasis on reducing the use of personal transportation can be more effective than in many of the state’s communities.

Stewart said an example of that has been building in Knightville, just across the bridge from Portland. The neighborhood has long been a commercial hub for the eastern part of the city, but now housing is being built on upper floors of buildings. That means residents can bike or walk to work and shopping, he said, reducing the need for a car.

“The Knightville pattern makes a lot of sense,” Stewart said, and can provide a model for other development in the city. “You have to start now and start ticking away.”

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2021-01-05 16:58:00

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