A walkable Swan Lake Avenue?

Resident of pedestrian-unfriendly highway asks city to consider it
By Ethan Andrews | May 17, 2017
Photo by: Ethan Andrews Swan Lake Avenue resident Jessica Falconer stands beside the busy highway as an 18-wheeler crosses the narrow bridge over Goose River. She recently petitioned the city for pedestrian safety improvements.

Belfast — The view from the bridge over Goose River on Swan Lake Avenue would make a nice stop on a roadside stroll if not for the trucks barreling through several inches away.

Jessica Falconer, who lives a half-mile to the north, recently collected 45 signatures from neighbors in hopes of convincing the city to make pedestrian improvements on the road, which is also known as Route 141. The bridge is the worst section, she said, but the rest of it isn't much better.

From her car, Falconer said she's seen mothers pushing strollers along the road. She's particularly concerned about her neighbors in the trailer parks near her house, many of whom she met during an afternoon knocking on doors to collect signatures.

Nearly all of them shared her view that pedestrian safety is a problem, she said, but many weren't especially hopeful that the city would do anything.

As a seven-year resident of Belfast, and five-year homeowner on Swan Lake Avenue, Falconer hadn't lived in the area long enough to be disillusioned. She unwittingly adopted the view of some neighbors who felt the East Side was always overlooked. But this didn't play well with city councilors, many of whom associated the argument with the losing side of the big box wars a decade earlier.

That was her first interaction with the council, and she took it as a learning experience. But to a certain extent she couldn't shake the idea the city's influential residents know Swan Lake Avenue only as the way to Swan Lake.

The area has been on the city's radar several times in the past. Pedestrian improvements at the intersection of Route 1 and Swan Lake Avenue in 2013 extended the sidewalk a short distance up the road, though nowhere close to the Goose River bridge.

Goose River Grocery, the convenience store closest to many Swan Lake Avenue homes, closed in 2014, and city councilors raised concerns about residents having to walk even farther to get to a store. Adding to the problem, a congregate care facility had just opened across the road from Goose River Grocery. City officials also fielded complaints from residents of the trailer parks at the time.

Assistant Planner Sadie Lloyd looked at the bridge soon after with a traffic engineer who surmised there wasn't enough room to add pedestrian improvements without replacing the bridge entirely.

Slowing down the flow of traffic might help, Lloyd said, but traditional traffic calming measures would be hard to put in place because of the overall high speed of traffic. Likewise, a lower speed limit was unlikely, she said, because Maine Department of Transportation bases its speed limits on a percentage of average traffic speeds.

Lloyd said the city has no hard guidelines about where it installs sidewalks, but the sidewalks tend to be in denser urban areas. There's also the cost to consider. "They're really expensive," she said. "Really expensive."

City Manager Joe Slocum later gave a ballpark estimate of more than $100,000 just to pave the shoulder of the road, which he cautioned could invite more walkers without actually keeping them safer.

Falconer said she just wants to see something happen.

"Even if they could do a piece of it a year for 10 years, that would be nice," she said. "It might even encourage more development on this side, more upkeep."

The City Council discussed the problem May 16, and while councilors expressed concern for residents on Swan Lake Avenue, they were at a loss for a simple solution. Slocum offered to look for an outside consultant with expertise in traffic and pedestrian accessibility.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Patricia Keyes | May 21, 2017 21:18

Why not find a buyer who will improve Goose River Store, and get that up and running again, and put in enough sidewalk for residents from the Congregate and the trailer park to access it safely? It gives me the willies to drive thru there at night in the dark!  So many of the younger pedestrians wear BLACK, and you can't see them until you're really close. There are a couple of elderly people who I see less now but always worry about. Abate the taxes for a few years, and get a serious local business person to do something cheery and positive so that folks don't have to go up and down "Holmes Hill" at all. Especially in winter!


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