Rockland is “Walkland”

In 2002, my husband and I rescued a near-teardown 1850’s house in Rockland. Harold Simmons from code enforcement told us he had thought he would not live long enough to see one of these old homes fixed up properly. Remember, in 2002, the Strand had not been renovated, CMCA was still in Rockport and the Farnsworth closed for part of the winter. And yet, we liked Rockland, respected its history and liked the hard-working, independent people we met. Today, I see Rockland in the midst of being discovered and victim to change, both before the city has prepared adequate policies and sound long-term planning. Rockland is changing. We benefit from people who live here and move here, bringing their voice to that change.

My nickname for Rockland is “Walkland,” which fits what a lot of what people like about the size of this small-town city: walking. Broadway has the potential to be a terrific, attractive feature of the city for pedestrians as well as being Route 1A to move traffic without congesting Main Street and Union Street. I want to share Broadway with lots of people and vehicles for the health of our city. I want to see it used for lots of reasons, including: Admiring its architecture, gardens and sense of neighborhood, and taking a simple, pleasant, healthy walk. Another reason is to restore Broadway’s value as a central street serving a distinguished residential neighborhood. A wide, straight, heavily trafficked highway divides our neighborhood. Could it be designed differently? Yes.

The posted speed limit (often exceeded) is 30 mph on Broadway. Speeding on Broadway is invited by its straight, wide travel lanes, narrow or missing sidewalks, lack of street landscaping and only a few crosswalks. I even find myself driving too fast sometimes. But when I walk on Broadway, I want to feel like it is my neighborhood street and wish vehicles drove as if we were a neighborhood and not just the fringes of a highway dividing our neighborhood. But the design of Broadway communicates “highway”.

I would love street landscaping with trees and a strip of grass between me and a car as I walk. It is scary when the cars travel quite close to pedestrians on the sidewalks, and in rain and slush getting splashed is an unpleasant hazard.

I am delighted Rockland has a city planner, and we have a city manager and five city councilors ready to hear how we want them to set priorities. Our new city planner, Rhett Lamb, is inheriting a patchwork of street design decisions from years past. Let’s support all our city officials and staff as they examine ways to create a cohesive plan good for residents and visitors to experience our businesses and neighborhoods.

The Maine Department of Transportation actively promotes traffic calming and encourages safety through “complete streets.” State and federal governments offer infrastructure funding we could pursue. We have an opportunity to look at the totality of smooth circulation, safety and enjoyment of all our city streets by walkers, joggers, pets, babies in carriages, skate-boarders, bikers, wheelchair and cane users. Neighborhoods are how we see, know and interact with one another in our small-town city.

I focus on Broadway because it is where my home is. Union, Cedar, Main Street and other streets need to be improved for pedestrians, too. The Farnsworth campus of buildings straddles Union Street. Thousands of pedestrians cross Union Street to view art and take classes in the Museum’s buildings. A newly prepared comprehensive plan is now in Rockland city council hands. It promotes clear values to guide priorities. Many voices went into the three-year Heart & Soul data gathering and the hard work of the Comprehensive Planning Commission. With our comprehensive plan we now have a collective voice identifying what is important for Rockland, its wonderful features, and ways to have Rockland thrive together. Walking in “Walkland” is among those values listed.

Connie Hayes