Camden's downtown problem
Downtown Camden has a problem few seem to acknowledge.
Nearly every morning, Main and Bay View streets — and probably others nearby as well — are reduced to one lane and sidewalks are often blocked by large trucks making deliveries to businesses.
We understand the businesses need to have the deliveries. We understand the delivery drivers need to have a place to unload that is relatively close to the business receiving merchandise. We understand it is difficult to maneuver large vehicles through narrow streets and small parking lots.
What we do not understand is why, during discussions of redesigning the public landing, there has been no talk of a delivery zone behind the main block of businesses or any discussion of the issue at all.
There is mention of the problem on page 93 of the 2012 Downtown Master Plan, which suggests establishing designated delivery zones via a curbside cutout or end-of-street centralized delivery location. However, those solutions are cited in the Downtown Master Plan as problematic due to a need to retrofit the street infrastructure. A distance of 30 feet is recommended for loading or delivery zones as well.
"Ideally, there should be one loading zone per block, oriented to support “front-in, front-out” travel that does not require the driver to back up," recommends the Downtown Master Plan.
The plan goes on to describe how major cities such as New York have restricted deliveries to off-peak hours — but then notes that likely would not work for Camden's many small businesses. We agree, asking deliveries to take place after 7 p.m. but before 6 a.m. might help traffic flow but it would hurt small business owners.
Last week, when there was a report of smoke inside Lord Camden Inn, fire trucks blocked half of Main Street for a short time; that too, is understandable.
But a few days later, when a car crash was reported between Camden and Lincolnville on Route 1, fire and ambulance crews were forced to negotiate stopped traffic on Main Street that was trying to get around a delivery truck. Lights and sirens do not make a difference in that type of a situation and if the crash had been serious, those lost minutes could have turned tragic.
Taking side roads is often not an option for emergency crews, as side roads can be narrow with sharp turns the large vehicles have trouble navigating. Because of the location of the public safety building on Washington Street, downtown travel is nearly unavoidable.
Compounding the problem, often, are pedestrians. Many choose not to use marked crosswalks and venture into downtown traffic, assuming vehicles that have been crawling along will see them. Some step out from behind delivery trucks other drivers are negotiating around.
Camden would be a delightful place to experiment with pedestrian-only downtown business blocks but, like Wiscasset where bypass proponents have struggled unsuccessfully for years, we do not think it is a realistic vision. In this day and age, people are in too much of a hurry to get where they are going.
Currently, those who work or visit downtown and walk a distance after parking are forced into the street when a large delivery truck has been parked on the sidewalk, creating a dangerous situation not only for pedestrians but also for other drivers. And pedestrians are not always that careful when stepping out into traffic in the first place. Adding a large delivery truck blocking sight lines for drivers is an accident waiting to happen.
Other nearby cities and towns do not seem to have this problem — traffic in Rockland and Belfast flows freely through downtown, despite pedestrian interference and delivery trucks. Perhaps Camden officials would be wise to take a look at the design of those cities to see what options, if any, might alleviate this problem in Camden.