Councilors met with two Maine Department of Transportation employees at their March 16 meeting regarding safety issues at Kelly Bridge on Swan Lake Avenue and decided to place signs to remind drivers to yield to pedestrians on the bridge.

Patrick Adams, active transportation planner on bicycle and pedestrian issues, talked with councilors about immediate and longer-term options to enhance safety for people walking across the narrow bridge. The bridge is maintained by the state, so the city must go through the state to make any alterations.

Councilor Mike Hurley has been an adamant proponent of finding a solution for people walking on that road to cross the bridge safely. “So basically, if you’re walking and you can see a car, you better start running, in either direction,” he said. He sat in the area one day and counted as many as 10 cars per minute at times.

He suggested the state could take down the guard rail on one side and add an extension on one side of the bridge to create a sidewalk for people to use.

Region 2 Engineer Brian Reeds said DOT is concerned about any structures within 10 feet of bridges, which could raise maintenance issues. Mayor Eric Sanders suggested a structure that could be raised or moved away from the larger bridge during times of repair or maintenance. Adams said he is aware of pivoting bridges, but does not know of any that are that close to facilities.

Placement of a pedestrian bridge is problematic because of the stream's path and the area's topography. The stream is wide on one side and angled on the other, running alongside the road, according to Hurley.

Councilor Paul Dean suggested placing a light to stop traffic whenever a pedestrian was crossing the bridge. Adams said pedestrian signals are only warranted for areas with a substantial number of pedestrians crossing the bridge per day.

Councilor Neal Harkness said the light idea might backfire because drivers would be looking for someone crossing the road and not for a person at the end of the bridge walking across it.

Adams said anything placed in the area needs to be accessible for people with disabilities. Councilor Mary Mortier said accommodations for disabled people are important, but the council’s primary concerns are about families pushing strollers across the bridge. She  supports finding a solution for disabled individuals, but they are less likely to be walking in the area.

Adams suggested they use a DOT program that partners with municipalities on transportation issues, splitting project costs 50/50. The Municipal Partnership Initiative allows DOT to work with towns to do improvement projects on state-owned property.

Reeds said the program cannot be used solely for sidewalk projects. Adams said he would argue that it could be labeled a bridge project. Reeds said towns have added sidewalk to roads that were being repaired through the program. Adams said the program is a potential option, but also pricier, because it would involve bridge enhancements.

He said a lower-cost alternative would be to place pedestrian signs on both ends of the bridge to discourage pedestrians from crossing if they see a car, or signs could be placed reminding drivers to yield to pedestrians. Maine has a 3-foot law that requires all motorists to maintain 3 feet of distance from people walking or riding bicycles. The sign option would only cost a few hundred dollars.

Councilors supported placing signs reminding drivers of the 3-foot pedestrian yield on the bridge. Harkness said he thinks people who walk the bridge already know to look out for cars, so signs targeting the drivers are more important. Adams said he could get the signs to the city by the end of that week and the city would provide the posts and install them.

Mortier said the discussion was the most rewarding one during her time in office. “Thank you for thinking outside the box,” she said. “I’ve been a party to a number of DOT conversations over my nine years being a councilor — this is the most rewarding one I’ve been a part of, and I want to thank you for that.”

Before the discussion ended, Hurley made clear that the signs are an immediate solution but he still wants the city to work with DOT to place a pedestrian bridge in the area to allow pedestrians safe passage. Adams said he could come down this spring to do a site walk to explore what else could be done.