Bénédicte Wonganombe Photo | Tom Bell

In the past, urban planning initiatives generally have reflected the needs of privileged communities. That narrative is beginning to change in southern Maine, however, as people of color, people with disabilities, recent immigrants, the elderly, and those with low incomes have been invited to play a significant role in transportation planning for the region.
To make this happen, the regional planning agency, the Greater Portland Council of Governments (GPCOG), and its transportation planning arm, Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System (PACTS), have created the Inclusive Transportation Planning Project with the goals of supporting underrepresented communities to become involved and promoting inclusiveness in decision-making.And so it was that throughout the fall, a 23-member group comprised of people of color, older adults, people with disabilities, immigrants, and refugees – plus interpreters – gathered weekly for a six-part Community Transportation Leaders training program.

Funded through a grant from a national initiative called Transit Planning 4 All, GPCOG and PACTS hope to offer the training again. Participants who complete the training receive a $250 stipend and certification. Rides to the sessions (or reimbursement for transportation costs) as well as lunch, are provided. Those who took part in the pilot program submitted an application in response to an open call from GPCOG. That open call was publicized through various networks, including Amjambo Africa. “Mobility Liaisons” with lived experience of transportation challenges, and experience working with municipal government, partnered with staff to guide the work.

Participants in the Community Transportation Leaders training program Photo | KGH





For many participants in the pilot program like Cecille Bitondo, an immigrant, the opportunity to tackle important issues at City Hall was deeply meaningful. “We immigrants have been through so much, so much hardship. It gives me joy and courage to be included, to be treated as a person again, for my
opinions to be welcomed and valued. I feel reborn.”

Participants shared their “transportation passion issues” – what they cared most deeply about – in the fourth of the six-session series. These “passion issues” formed the basis of research and recommendations. Participants will present their findings to the PACTS executive committee on Tuesday, January 7, from 8:30-9:45 a.m., in the State of Maine Room at Portland City Hall.

These “passion issues” ranged from the need for bus operators to better understand the challenges of those using walkers and wheelchairs to the inadequacy of transportation lines from Portland to outlying communities such as Yarmouth, Freeport, Gray, and South Portland. Other issues included uneven – and therefore unsafe – sidewalks, insufficient pedestrian crosswalks, and buses that chronically run late.

Cecille Bitondo Photo | Tom Bell

Bénédicte Wonganombe’s passion issue demonstrated the importance of allowing members of different communities speak to their own concerns. She focused on the #8 bus in Portland. “My main issue is that bus #8 goes by the General Assistance office, but it doesn’t stop, and it’s the number one place where immigrants go upon their arrival. Especially for disabled people. Why doesn’t the #8 bus stop there? It’s important for me because of safety of newcomers with disabilities, such as the danger of slipping on ice in winter.”

Program planning was led by Zoe Miller and Marcel Ntagora from Greater Portland Council of Governments; Kate O’Brien from Catalyst Collaboratives; and Mobility Liaisons including Mireille Kabongo, Karen Perry, Mike King, Derek O’Brien, David Lawrence, and Bud Buzzell. Some curricular content for the pilot program was translated into French and live interpreting was provided at all sessions. PACTS is the federally mandated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Portland region and, as such, follows certain federal and state rules, regulations, and guidelines.

Program co-leader Marcel Ntagora Photo | Tom Bell