Residents cite crosswalks and long stretches of Route 1 in downtown Camden as the most dangerous places for pedestrians.

That determination came at a Pedestrian Safety Forum organized by the Maine Department of Transportation and Bicycle Coalition of Maine, held Feb. 25 at Camden-Rockport Middle School.

Patrick Adams of the Transportation Department said the forums are a response to a spike in pedestrian deaths around the state. That spike was most noticeable in 21 communities in Maine, including Camden, Rockland, Orono and the state's larger cities and towns.

Many of the 50 or so residents attending the Camden forum said visibility is poor because of cars parked closely on both sides of the crosswalks.

A Transportation Department official's remark that the agency's policy is 20 feet of clearance on either side of a crosswalk drew reactions of surprise from many in the audience.

Downtown crosswalks top the list of concerns for Allen Insurance and Financial employees in Camden, according to Stephanie French of the agency. The company has 80 employees, with about half working in Rockland and half in Camden, she said.

With each employee crossing Route 1 in downtown Camden at least 1,000 times each year, that adds up to 35,000 crossings a year for all employees, she said. French surveyed the company's employees about working in the downtown area, and nearly every employee said they were almost hit in a crosswalk, she said.

French emphasized that as an insurance business, Allen does not only identify problems. "We identify solutions," she said. She said a signaling system is needed to let drivers know someone is entering a crosswalk.

Jim Tassi of the Bicycle Coalition, who led most of the meeting, identified a button-activated rapid-flashing-beacon as one solution to alert motorists that someone is entering a crosswalk.

The top five most dangerous areas for pedestrians in Camden were compiled from lists participants made during the forum. Participants gathered in five groups to list what they considered the most dangerous areas of the town. At the end of the meeting, presenters looked over the lists to distill the top five.

Three stretches of roadway chosen as most dangerous for pedestrians encompass all of Route 1, from Maritime Farms gas station and Hannaford grocery store plaza, through downtown Camden to Mountain Street.

All of John and Mechanic streets also topped the list, as well as the intersection of Free, Elm and Union streets, near the Stop-N-Go gas station and convenience store.

Some residents disagreed with how the top five areas were determined. One man expressed disbelief that Mountain Street was not on the list, citing the high speed limits and crashes there, as well as use of the road by children. He said Mountain Street was on the list in his group and pointed out that groups were not asked to prioritize the areas listed.

Tassi assured those who attended that their input was valued and their full lists would be reviewed.

Jamie Stone, the Camden-Rockport Middle School principal, said one of her greatest concerns is the intersection of Knowlton and Mechanic streets, and the crosswalk across Mechanic. When she gets calls from parents that their children "almost got hit," this is the intersection they mention, she said.

Stone asked if the school zone could be expanded to both ends of Knowlton, and flashing yellow lights used when school opens and ends for the day.

The Free and Elm streets intersection is the most dangerous in town, she said, and is used by students and staff at Coastal Opportunities. She has observed cars rushing by on the school's two walk and bike to school days, even when she was wearing a yellow safety vest and with students, she said.

Etienne Peret is concerned that for many years, Camden's sidewalks have not allowed those in wheelchairs to operate around town. "It's high time we make our sidewalks accessible," he said.

Camden officials were represented, with Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell, Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin, Public Works Director Dave St. Laurent and Select Board members Alison McKellar and Marc Ratner in attendance.

Caler-Bell said the input from residents alerts town staff "to work we need to do in the town" and is very important to the town's capital plan.

St. Laurent was credited for working with the Transportation Department on pedestrian safety in Rockland's downtown, while he was that city's public works director.

McKellar asked Transportation Department officials why the policy of maintaining a 20-foot barrier from crosswalks is not being incorporated into a major drainage project planned for Elm Street, which will require paving, repainting parking spaces and some sidewalk work. This generated discussion among department officials in attendance about the difference between law and policy. Some states have laws requiring visibility around crosswalks, they said.

Adams said he spoke with Caler-Bell and St. Laurent and will go back to the Transportation Department's project manager to attempt to come up with a consensus.

As the meeting wrapped up, Tassi said that the forum was the beginning of a conversation about pedestrian safety, focused on hearing from residents and getting their input. The lists of dangerous areas would be reviewed, along with data on crashes involving pedestrians, he said.

A follow-up meeting will be Tuesday, March 31.