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Pedestrian safety to guide crosswalk improvements

By Susan Mustapich | Feb 12, 2021
Photo by: Alison McKellar Visibility is created by eliminating a parking space beside the crosswalk at Knowlton and Mechanic streets. The crosswalk is used by students walking and biking to Camden-Rockport Middle School.

CAMDEN — A new resolution backed by municipal officials supports changes to increase pedestrian safety, with a focus on students walking and biking to the middle school located  downtown.

The Select Board unanimously approved the measure Feb. 9 to prioritize pedestrians and their safety when redesigning and reconstructing roads and streets in Camden.

Pedestrian safety, including signs and signals around crosswalks, will be prioritized over parking spaces and private amenities including landscaping in the public right of way.

The resolution recognizes the high value placed on safety of students using downtown streets to get to school.

Recognition of pedestrian infrastructure recommended by the Camden-Rockport Pathways Committee, and shared responsibility with the Maine Department of Transportation to improve roadway design, are part of the resolution.

The transportation department has identified Camden as a town with a high rate of conflicts between pedestrians and motorists.

Town Manager Audra Caler spoke about community participation in pedestrian safety forums sponsored by the transportation department and other organizations.

The resolution also cites Camden's major investment in large public parking lots in the downtown area.

The transportation department has about $75,000 worth of pedestrian safety improvements in its current plans for work in Camden, according to Caler. This money will tie in with drainage and sidewalk work on Elm Street to take place this spring.

Caler spoke about the problem Camden has had when it comes to pedestrian safety.

The unsafe conditions are the unintended consequence of putting other things first, including parking, landscaping and aesthetics, she explained.

She described how this happens.

When you get down to the details on a crosswalk by crosswalk and sidewalk by sidewalk basis, seemingly small compromises and micro-negotiations about retaining a parking space or a hedge add up to unsafe conditions for pedestrians, she said.

Police Chief Randy Gagne weighed in before the Select Board voted. He supports the resolution and removing obstacles that prevent the town from having safer crosswalks.

Public Works Director Dave St. Laurent asked, "What's more important than providing a safe route for children?" He supports a unified message that pedestrian safety is important to the town.

Board member Taylor Benzie backs the measure to support pedestrian safety now and in the future. He hopes it will encourage more people to walk into town.

"This is about life safety," Board member Marc Ratner said. He had many conversations with Camden-Rockport Middle School Principle Jaime Stone about these issues, while his son went to school there. "If we ever lost a student from the middle school, or anyone, because we didn't do our job, it would be heartbreaking," he said.

Stone is proud Camden kept the middle school in town. Moving the new school away from the road has made it much safer, she said. She thanked the Select Board, Gagne, and St. Laurent, who cleared the sidewalks in time for school.

"Our kids are walking and biking more than ever. Because of COVID, we have a enormous number of bikers this year," she said. The school put out two bike racks on the first day, and had to add a third.

She hears of numerous near-hit experiences regarding students. The school will continue to help educate students and families about pedestrian safety and offer student volunteer projects to help in any way they can, she said. She strongly supports improvements, especially as middle school students can be small and difficult for drivers to see if visibility is blocked by parked vehicles.

Board Vice Chair Alison McKellar said everyone she talks to agrees pedestrian safety is a problem, yet there are obstacles that have bewildered efforts to resolve the problem. She asked town officials to support staff who may encounter residents who get upset or angry about the removal of parking spaces or landscaping in the public way.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Rick Winslow | Feb 15, 2021 10:38

Safety is a good thing when it comes to our children, But as everything seems to, this will probably turn into a "Pedestrian Only" walk/bikeway, at the intersection of an electric only street. Next though, will be solar powered LED street lights charging Li-Ion batteries to run them overnight - getting them off the grid. Maybe a little windmill on top of that for no sun days and to keep the gulls from going poo on the solar panels!

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