Pedestrian safety grant funding called 'welfare'
A transportation enhancement grant intended to improve pedestrian and bicyclists' safety sparked discussion by Camden Select Board members July 31, one of whom described the potential grant as “corporate welfare.”
Select Board member Leonard Lookner said Camden as a town is well-off and can afford sidewalk maintenance and improvements without the assistance of the federally-funded grant administered by Maine Department of Transportation.
Lookner said, “I almost feel like a welfare cheat...If we need something we can afford to do it.” He said “grovelling” for money because it's available is comparable to him applying for food stamps.
He also questioned the need for sidewalks to be extended in certain areas.
“We've never had a problem with people finding The Waterfront,” Lookner said. “People find their way without life and limb askew.”
Earlier in the meeting, Lookner noted his retirement as co-owner of The Waterfront restaurant after 34 years; in part due to “people in town [who] don't agree with me philosophically or politically and essentially created a boycott [of the business].”
Select Board Chairman Martin Cates said extending sidewalks in certain areas could be beneficial.
“People will stop where there's not a path to follow,” he said.
Camden Economic Development Director Brian Hodges said the areas that are likely to be addressed include Bay View Street behind the post office as well as the area from the end of the sidewalk and Camden Yacht Club. The steps in front of Peter Ott's restaurant also would need a “rework” to increase pedestrian safety and come into compliance with handicap accessibility, he said.
Lighting in downtown affiliated with any new portions of sidewalk also will be addressed, Hodges said. In addition, “stamping” faux brick sidewalks — similar to the recently installed crosswalks — or installation of bollards on Commercial Street, located between Cappy's Chowder House and New England Real Estate, to direct pedestrian traffic to and from the public landing will be considered, according to Hodges.
Extension and improvement of Washington Street sidewalks near the public safety building are another issue that could be addressed, he said.
“These are project proposals,” Hodges said. “Design is definitely at a later date.”
Select Board member John French asked why the alley-way between the public landing and Main Street couldn't be encouraged for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
“It's better to get people off Commercial Street,” he said.
Hodges said Maine Department of Transportation officials did look at the alley during a site visit June 29 but did not recommend including the area because there is no vehicular traffic hazard to eliminate.
Hodges said curb extensions are included in the grant application at the southern and northern gateways — by Stop'n'Go and High Mountain Hall — as well as the downtown five-way traffic hub. Select board members at first balked at the idea of curb extension, also known as “bump-outs,” citing issues with plowing in the winter. Town Manager Patricia Finnigan said the new style is “not extreme” and designed to allow large vehicles such as those driven by public works and public safety crews to pass over safely.
“I think downtown is wonderful the way it is,” Lookner said, adding he spends a lot of time walking in the community. “We're genuine and this stuff is pretend.”
He said sidewalks in Camden are well-maintained and “Grade A fantastic,” particularly when compared to neighboring communities. French did not agree with Lookner's assessment of Camden sidewalks and said, “There are a lot of sidewalks that need attention.”
Hodges said the grant application, if approved, does not set projects in stone. He said ultimately Maine DOT and the community will have input. Hodges said proposed projects and costs are broken down into smaller sections within the grant application, offering the town “flexibility” when designing the final projects.
Previous sidewalk work was paid for by corporate donors and taxpayer money, Select Board member Jim Heard noted.
Because the grant application was due Friday, Aug. 3, select board members were asked to approve its submission at the July 31 select board meeting. Town officials will be notified in spring 2013 if Camden is awarded the grant; money will be made available as part of Maine DOT's 2014-15 budget process, Hodges said. If Camden is awarded the grant, the town will be required to pay a nearly $124,000 match, or 20 percent of the cost, according to a previously published story.
The request was approved with Looker the only member of the board opposed to applying for the funding.
The Camden Herald Associate Editor Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 236-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.