Officials briefed on possible pedestrian, bicycle safety improvements for Main Street
Belfast — Belfast officials asked for additional information regarding a number of proposed improvements to Main Street to enhance pedestrian and bicycle safety.
The proposed safety improvements focus on the area of Main Street between the Post Office and the Renys Plaza. Glenn Montgomery, chair of the city's pedestrian, biking and hiking committee, presented five.
“I know that money is tight. I know the kind of pressure that the taxpayers of Belfast are feeling and I know that the council is trying to hold the line on the budget,” Montgomery said. “I'm not asking for money for projects that will make Belfast more attractive to to tourists, though it will. I'm asking for money for projects that will benefit the residents of this town.”
The first improvement the committee proposes is to improve the crosswalk at Market Street that leads into Belfast Plaza. Montgomery said part of the proposed improvement would include constructing a section of sidewalk to carry pedestrians to the front of Family Dollar, as opposed to the current conditions that “dump” pedestrians into the plaza parking lot.
However, that suggestion was met with reservations from councilors. Councilor Nancy Hamilton expressed concern that the proposal would eliminate landscaping in the plaza and would increase the amount of impervious material in the area.
Montgomery responded that the committee could work with the owners of the plaza to create alternative options.
The second recommendation applied to the area of Main Street near the intersection of Alto Street and involved constructing a painted pedestrian crossing island with concrete planters. City Manager Joseph Slocum noted the island would reflect the fact that pedestrians have a significant distance to cross from one side of Main Street to the other side.
Councilor Eric Sanders pointed out that the Maine Department of Transportation should be contacted as well to discuss the possibility of lowering the speed limit from the existing 35 mph zone. He said drivers have a tendency to pick up speed as they are leaving the downtown area by the cemetery, which can make for hazardous conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“It's just a bit of a dangerous intersection,” Sanders said.
Montgomery said to address safety concerns at the Alto Street intersection, the committee also recommended lowering the speed limit to 25 mph on Main Street between the downtown and the Route 1 bypass.
The committee would also like to see continuous bike lanes on both sides of Main Street from Market Street to the Route 1 bypass. He said the initial proposal would be to have a five foot wide bicycle lane with a two foot wide painted buffer separating the bicycle lane and the travel lane for vehicles.
Hamilton voiced concern that the road would not be wide enough to accommodate the bicycle lanes, the painted buffer zones and vehicle travel lanes. However, Kurt Steiner of McMahon Associates, who has consulted on the project, said there is sufficient room for the proposed improvements.
Mayor Walter Ash Jr. said he was also concerned about the width of the travel lanes for vehicles.
“You're putting it pretty tight,” he said.
Hamilton also pointed out that before the city moves forward on any of the proposed improvements, input needs to be gathered from businesses such as Belmont Boatworks, Front Street Shipyard, Penobscot McCrum and Mathews Brothers, which operate large trucks in the downtown area.
“We want everybody to be safe,” she said.
Finally, the last recommendation put forward by Montgomery was to install a pedestrian countdown signal to help people cross Main Street or Starrett Drive. Montgomery noted there are existing crosswalks to carry pedestrians across Main Street and Starrett Drive and the city would just need to install the signals.
Montgomery said there is grant money available, up to $10,000, from an organization known as People for Bikes. In order to be eligible for the fall grant cycle, Montgomery said the city could file an application this summer.
Councilors suggested gathering information from the public before committing to any course of action.
Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.
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