WESTBROOK — The Maine Department of Transportation and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, teaming up on an initiative aimed at making roadways safer for all, held a pedestrian safety forum last week, the second of its kind in the city.
Between 2013 and 2017, there were 27 pedestrian accidents in Westbrook, including 24 that resulted in injury and two that were fatal (both last year), according to MDOT.
Particular areas of concern pointed out at the first local Heads Up! forum, held last year, included the Cumberland Mills rotary, crosswalks on Main Street, crosswalks on William Clarke Drive – especially by Hannaford Drive and Church Street – and crosswalks at the intersections of Cumberland Street and Park Road and Cumberland and Bridge streets.
Participants at the second forum May 3 agreed the biggest pedestrian safety issues in those locations, among others in the community, are pedestrians walking into the crosswalk without looking, crossing in unmarked locations and distracted walking. The biggest behavioral issues on the part of bicyclists include ignoring traffic signals, riding on the wrong side of the road and wearing dark colors at night. Concerning motorist behavior includes failing to yield to pedestrians, distracted driving and aggressive driving.
The focus of last week’s forum, held at the Public Safety Building, was to discuss ways to improve education about the laws of the road and better enforce them, especially in those problem areas.
Patrick Adams, a regional planner for MDOT said the goal of the initiative is to work with community members to “make Westbrook a more walkable, bikeable hometown and the place to go to school, place to shop and a place you want to live.”
Bicycle Coalition of Maine will create a list of short-, mid- and long-term recommendations that will be reviewed by MDOT, shared with city staff and finally presented publicly, Adams said.
“Funding is not unlimited, so we have to prioritize so we can take action most effectively,” he said.
Main Street has more than a dozen crosswalks between the Public Safety Building and the western end, including several unstriped crosswalks west of Church Street. William Clarke Drive has half a dozen crosswalks, including several with flashing beacons. Jim Tasse, assistant director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, said he would recommend striping the unstriped sidewalks and updating the flashing beacons on William Clarke Drive.
Tasse said the coalition has been providing pedestrian safety education in schools for the last five years, but hasn’t done much pedestrian safety education for adults.
“This is our far most focused and sustained look in terms of adult pedestrian safety,” he said.
Members of the Westbrook Safe Mobility and Access Committee will be at the upcoming Westbrook Together Days, the first weekend in June to disseminate safety information.
Other suggestions brought up at the meeting included working with service organizations, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway or car dealerships to get information about ways motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists can operate on the same road in harmony, as well as using lighted information signs like the ones in front of city hall, the public safety building and Riverbank Park and putting information on cable television.
“The devil is in the details,” Tasse said. “It is going to take some people to develop the messaging.”
Through a $1,678 donation from the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, Westbrook police will be increasing for crosswalk enforcement between now and August. Downtown will be a particular focus because, according to Westbrook Police Department Captain Steven Goldberg, that is where police “see the most issue with motorists not yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk.”
Westbrook Director of Public Works Eric Dudley said the Westbrook Police Department has a full-time traffic enforcement officer in Ferdinand Monsen, but participants said traffic could be better enforced by having a greater police presence at problem intersections/crosswalks. Other ideas of what law enforcement could do to help included more education during vehicle stops and traffic offenses and publishing the names of those committing pedestrian safety offenses online or in the newspaper.
“Police are overextended,” Tasse said. “Departments are short-staffed and money is tight. The problem with police officers is they are effective when they are there, but when they aren’t, what happens?”
Adams said overall he was impressed with the outcomes of the Westbrook forum.
“As I sat in the back of the room and listened tonight, there is definitely passion and energy in Westbrook about this issue,” he said. “There is a whole lot of opportunity out there. Bicycle Coalition of Maine can’t do it by themselves. Maine DOT can’t do it by ourselves.”
Tasse said the Heads Up! initiative is taking place in 21 of Maine’s most densely populated communities, including Greater Portland, Lewiston/Auburn, Biddeford/Saco, the mid-coast and Bangor. Tasse said those 21 areas represent 68 percent of pedestrian accidents and 30 percent of fatalities.
Michael Kelley can be reached at 781-3661 x 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mkelleynews
The Maine Department of Transportation and the Bicycle Coalition of Maine will be working with city staff to improve pedestrian safety in Westbrook.