Safety improvements for pedestrians, bicyclists get council support

By Ben Holbrook | Jul 08, 2014

Belfast — City Councilors voiced their support for a number of improvements along Main Street to increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists navigating the heavily traveled road.

The improvements were brought before the council by Pedestrian Biking and Hiking Committee Chairman Glenn Montgomery who previously approached officials about ways to make Main Street more navigable by people walking or bicycling.

However, when Montgomery brought the committee's suggestions before the council in May, many of the improvements carried a significant price tag that drew concern from the council. Ultimately, councilors suggested gathering more information on the proposed improvements before they would commit to a specific course of action.

After returning to committee members and discussing the work that could be done along Main Street, Montgomery appeared before the council Tuesday, July 1, with a refined and less expensive plan of action.

Montgomery broke the improvements down into a handful of projects that focused on the area of Main Street and Belmont Avenue between Market Street and the Hutchinson Center.

He said the committee hoped the city's public works department would be able to perform a significant amount of the work associated with the four project recommendations.

Market and Main Street crosswalk

First on Montgomery's list of improvements was a suggestion to connect the crosswalk at Market Street to the Belfast Plaza. Instead of having the crosswalk terminate in a landscaped area along the Belfast Plaza, Montgomery said the committee recommended cutting through the bark mulch in the landscaped area to lead pedestrians directly into the plaza.

A representative of Belfast Holdings, which owns the plaza, supported the suggestion. As a side note, the representative also suggested to the council the possibility in the future of constructing a sidewalk with a retaining wall that would run alongside the Family Dollar store. In addition, he said there has been some discussion about removing some of the trees on the embankment and replacing it with arborvitae that would better expose the mural painted on the side of the Family Dollar building.

The representative said Belfast Holdings would look at gathering additional cost estimates before bringing a proposal to the city.

City Manager Joseph Slocum noted in his manager's report the work to connect the crosswalk to the Belfast Plaza would cost less than $1,000 and the funding could come from the city's sidewalk reserves account.

Waldo Avenue crosswalk

Described as a fairly simple fix, Montgomery suggested adding signage along both sides of Waldo Avenue to make drivers aware of the crosswalk and pedestrians.

Slocum stated in his report the additional signage would cost approximately $200 and the funding could come from the city's sidewalk reserves account.

Main Street bicycle lanes

The third suggestion from the Pedestrian Hiking and Biking Committee is more extensive in terms of the work that needs to be done because it would involve painting continuous bicycle lanes on both sides of Main Street from Market Street to the Renys Plaza.

Montgomery said the bicycle lanes would be five feet wide with a two foot wide buffer lane to distinguish between the vehicle travel lanes and the bicycle lanes.

Tom Errico, of T.Y. Lin, said he reviewed the plan by the Pedestrian Hiking and Biking Committee and the recommendations made a lot of sense to him.

Councilors were supportive of the addition of bicycle lanes, but one concern from Mayor Walter Ash Jr. related to tenants who would sometimes park on the road near Congress Street. By adding bicycle lanes, the on-street parking would effectively be eliminated, Errico said, because the city wouldn't want vehicles parked in the lanes.

As discussion continued, Councilor Roger Lee suggested determining whether the on-street parking is essential to the tenants versus simply being convenient.

Slocum also reiterated the addition of the bicycle lanes would be subject to the completion of a traffic engineering study.

“Glenn, you'd better ride your bike about 50 times a day up and down that road, 'cause every time I'm riding up there I don't see anybody on a bike,” Hurley joked.

Sidewalk improvements between Quirk Ford and Starrett Drive

The final component of the Pedestrian Hiking and Biking Committee's recommendations was to improve a stretch of sidewalk between Quirk Ford and Starrett Drive. The work would involve repairing some portions of the sidewalk, removing a utility pole that is located in the middle of the sidewalk, as well as adding crosswalk markings.

Slocum, after a question from Hurley about adding crosswalk markings at the entrances to businesses such as Quirk Ford and Maritime Energy, said he would ask property owners if they would share in the expense of painting the crosswalks across the entrances to their businesses. Slocum estimated the work would cost about $5,000 and the money would come from the city's sidewalk reserves account.

Montgomery and Errico also offered councilors suggestion for improving pedestrian safety at Starrett Drive and the intersection of Alto Street and Main Street. At Starrett Drive, Errico suggested adding pedestrian signals to direct people when it is safe to cross.

He said he would also advocate for adding a pedestrian refuge island slightly west of the intersection of Alto Street and Main Street to allow for a safer crossing. If the council did not want the island, Errico said the city could instead pursue curb extensions that would narrow the road and force traffic to slow down.

Errico suggested the Starrett Drive pedestrian signals and the Alto Street and Main Street island could be future projects the city would want to focus on. Before discussion ended, Councilor Nancy Hamilton suggested to Montgomery to have the Pedestrian Hiking and Biking Committee turn its attention to Swan Lake Avenue and look at ways to improve pedestrian safety for people walking in that area.

Councilors then indicated they supported improving the Market Street and Main Street crosswalk, adding continuous bicycle lanes along both sides of Main Street out to the Renys Plaza, improving the sidewalk between Quirk Ford and Starrett Drive and adding signage for the Waldo Avenue crosswalk.

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