CAMDEN — Students walking to Camden-Rockport Middle School can now activate flashing LED lights to warn drivers before they cross the Mechanic and Knowlton streets intersection on their way to and from school.

The layout of this crosswalk was redesigned to meet safety and accessibility standards. Previously, the crosswalk ran diagonally across the street, one side ended in the driveway of a commercial business, and parking spaces were right up against the crosswalk.

The sidewalk, road painting and installation of the rapid flashing beacon alert system was done in mid-August by the Public Works Department, according to Director Dave St. Laurent.

The new crosswalk leads straight across the street and lands at the sidewalks at right angles on both sides, which are now graded to be accessible. The spaces up against the ends of the crosswalk are designated as no parking.

The lighted crosswalk signals and redesigned layout is the follow-through town officials promised, after  Pedestrian Safety Forums were held in Camden in early 2020 by Maine Department of Transportation and Bicycle Coalition of Maine. Town government has received funding and other assistance from the state transportation department for pedestrian safety improvements.

At those forums, officials heard from participants that Camden’s crosswalks and intersections are some of most dangerous locations for students, employees of downtown businesses and anyone walking through the downtown area.

In February, the Select Board unanimously voted to adopt a Pedestrian Safety Resolution, which states that the town “places a high value on the year round ability of students to walk and bike safely to the multiple schools located within our downtown.”

The resolution recognizes pedestrians “as equally important as motorists when redesigning and reconstructing roads/streets in the town of Camden,” and prioritizes pedestrian safety “over parking optimization on Camden’s streets and roads.”

Town Manager Audra Caler, Vice Chair Alison McKellar and St. Laurent have long discussed concerns about parking spaces up against crosswalks, which do not meet Maine Department of Transportation standards.

Middle School Principle Jaime Stone has pointed out that during annual walk and bike to school days, she has observed that crosswalks at the intersections of Mechanic and Knowlton, and or Elm Street and Free Street, are two of the most dangerous crosswalks.

The crosswalk at Mechanic and Knowlton stood out as more dangerous than most for middle school students and others because of the diagonal layout leading into the driveway of a commercial property, and visibility blocked by parked vehicles.

The problem with the Elm and Free streets crosswalk is the proximity of the Elm and Union intersection. The view of the Elm Street crosswalk is often blocked for drivers heading into the downtown, by drivers on Union turning right onto Elm, and southbound drivers on Elm turning left onto Union.

Stone has pointed out that parking spaces on either side of crosswalks which blind drivers to pedestrians who enter them are particularly dangerous for middle school students in the lower grades, who are more difficult to see than adults.