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Mechanic Street bicycle and pedestrian plan takes a turn

By Susan Mustapich | Oct 12, 2020
Source: Zoom Video Conferencing Select Board members discuss a second proposal for striping Mechanic Street, repaved this summer.

CAMDEN — An innovate plan for Mechanic Street that would have prioritized bicycle and pedestrian use, has curved back around to prioritizing conventional vehicle travel lanes.

The plan to stripe the road, paved this summer, has also seemed to have hit a speed bump. The wide road does not yet have any painted lines.

In June, a concept discussed by the Select Board proposed to create a center two-way vehicle travel lane, with five foot wide bicycle and pedestrian lanes on both sides of the road. The proposal was developed by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

At the Oct. 6 Select Board meeting, 10-foot vehicle lanes with a center line and three-foot shoulders marked by a fog line were discussed.

On Oct. 6, Public Works Director Dave St. Laurent said material supplied in the Select Board's packet for the meeting was not what he was proposing. In the packet was a Bicycle Coalition proposal dated Sept. 10, still depicting the single vehicle travel lane, now with optional center lines and wide bike and pedestrian lanes.

Laurent said the agenda item was also worded incorrectly. It was not supposed to be approval of the Bicycle Coalition's recommendation, but was actually approval of the recommendation of a group the Select Board asked to work on a multi disciplinary-route and restriping.

He said he had asked Jim Tasse of the Bicycle Coalition to draw up the proposal in the board's meeting packet, but after looking at it, felt it didn't represent what the group came up with. He took Tasse's recommendation and incorporated other recommendations, to get closer to what everyone agreed on, he said, and was now presenting the consensus.

St. Laurent described the current plan for Mechanic Street as containing 10-foot wide vehicle lanes with a painted center line for the entire length from Route 1 to Hosmer Pond Road. Where space allows, there will be three-foot paved shoulders marked with a painted fog line.

In the downtown area, there are sidewalks on both sides of Mechanic, striped parking spaces, and no room for a designated bicycle lane.

There are other areas of Mechanic not wide enough to maintain three foot shoulders, between Knowlton Street to Hosmer Pond Road. In these areas, bicycle symbols called sharrows would be painted on the vehicle lanes, indicating to motorists that bicycles are permitted to ride in the middle of the lane, according to St. Laurent.

Sharrows are symbols that tell motorists to share the lane with bicycles.

In one or two areas with sharrows in the vehicle lanes, a double yellow center line is proposed where there are no shoulders, or shoulders are less than three feet. This tells motorists to share the lane by driving behind bicycles in the vehicle lanes, and not to pass until bicycles clear the lane and return to the shoulders.

Sharrows may also be painted on lower Mechanic near downtown.

Board member Taylor Benzi asked St. Laurent to tell the Board everyone involved in recommending the plan, and what the biggest difference was between the plan in the meeting packet and what was being presented.

St. Laurent said the group was named on one of his presentation screens, and included himself, Angela King and Tasse of the Bicycle Coalition, Geoff Scott, chairman of the Camden-Rockport Pathways Committee and David Allen and Patrick Adams of the Maine Department of Transportation.

St. Laurent said the width of the lanes is the biggest difference. The recommendation widens the travel lane and narrows the shoulders.

Benzi said that as you get close to Maine Street (Route 1) Mechanic is chaos in the summer, but people seem to know how it works. He asked if people would know what the sharrows painted on the roads mean.

Board member Marc Ratner said he had not seen these before, and asked how familiar they are in other areas of the country. He also asked how to help make them more familiar to people.

St. Laurent said signage, posters and a television ad the Bicycle Coalition uses can educate about the sharrows symbol. Tasse said they are commonly used around the country.

The bicycle icon provides an alert to motorists that bicycles can be in the road, and also gives bicyclists guidance as to where they should be in the road.

Scott said the Canadian city of Ottowa has done a lot of education on this, and has given the town of Camden an educational video they use.

Board Chairman Bob Falciani agreed that they town would need to do education.

Board Vice Chairwoman Alison McKellar said the board has talked about experimental approaches. The recommendation now being discussed, is just a normal road treatment, just the boiler plate approach, she said.

McKellar raised a concern with sharrows only painted in the lanes where the shoulder are not three feet wide. She said cyclists might want to use the vehicle lane in other areas. Her concern is people might think bikes are not allowed in the vehicle lane in other areas.

She is also concerned about the double yellow line, and that drivers will not want to wait behind a bicycle climbing uphill on Mechanic, but will want to pass by entering the oncoming lane. She questioned the safety of drivers trying to pass bicyclists while staying within the 10-foot lane, using her bike rides with her young children on Mechanic as an example. She said the children can be wobbly on their bikes, and she would prefer to have vehicles pass at a distance, instead of having them wait behind her and her children climbing a hill.

Ratner said he would like to see the Police Department's electronic speed signs used with the new striping and bike symbols.

Benzi said he hoped with the double-yellow cars will wait to pass.

St. Laurent said that signs can be posted for motorists to maintain a three-foot distance from bikes and pedestrians.

Bicycle Coalition of Maine proposal

The bicycle and pedestrian-friendly plan proposed at the July 21 Select Board meeting by Tasse contains bicycle lanes of five- to six-feet wide on either side of the street, with a 10- to 18-foot wide vehicle lane. The bicycle lanes are marked with dashed lines and there is no center line painted in the vehicle lane. This configuration creates a local, rural feel to a road and tends to slow drivers down, according to Tassi.

The concept is that a single vehicle traveling one way can take up the vehicle lane. When there are two oncoming vehicles, each moves to the right and partly into the bicycle lanes, while yielding to bikes and pedestrians. At intersections, vehicles lanes are separated by a line.

McKellar had strongly supported the proposal and said it was something the people in Camden care about. Scott supported the idea for increasing awareness of bicyclists. Benzi raised concerns about on-street parking, and Falciani had asked for more details and public input.

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