HALLOWELL — The Maine Department of Transportation plans to share its Water Street reconstruction plan with Hallowell residents during a public meeting next Thursday at Hall-Date Elementary School.

Ahead of that meeting, urban planner and designer Brian Kent shared his vision and recommendations for Water Street with more than 40 people Wednesday night at the Hubbard Free Library in Hallowell.

“There are a lot of ways to skin the cat, but they haven’t all been explored,” Kent said.

Kent, who has worked on downtown reconstruction projects in cities and towns throughout the state, including Augusta, Richmond and Gardiner, said he thinks there is still opportunity to improve the current design.

“I know it’s highly complex and complicated,” Kent said, “but there is more potential for Water Street than what is being presented by DOT.”

Kent presented a comprehensive plan calling for the creation of bump-outs at crosswalks and intersections, the establishment of well-defined bicycle lanes and the construction of a Central Street parking area with a mini-park to compensate for the loss of parking as a result of the Water Street reconstruction.

The majority of Kent’s talk focused on bump-outs, or curb extensions, which he said not only would provide a calming effect to Water Street traffic, but also would offer increased pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Kent cited bump-outs in Gardiner, Rockland and Damariscotta and illustrated how they can provide drivers a greater field of vision to see pedestrians.

Larry Morrissette commented that while driving recently in Rockland, he nearly hit a young person crossing the street but was able to see the approaching pedestrian and stop in time because of the bump-out. He said it would seem like an easy decision to put them on Water Street.

“We need to make (Water Street) safe or people aren’t going to come here and do business,” said Morrissette, who is so concerned with the safety of pedestrians on Water Street that he often drives around it. “It seems a bit short-sighted to not include something as simple as that safety measure.”

Mayor Mark Walker, however, said that he has been told by Hallowell public works officials that bump-outs would make plowing snow harder. Kent also said bump-outs would cost more than what the DOT currently has planned.

“Common sense and the fact that they work in other communities make it clear that it would help (Hallowell),” Morrissette said. “It slows traffic down and makes it easier to see pedestrians, plus it makes the driver look like a fool if they don’t slow down and see them.”

Raymond Hicks, a doctor who has lived in Hallowell for the past few years, said there seems to be a sense that crossing the street in Hallowell is more dangerous than it should be.

“Some areas are very dangerous to cross, like the area by the boat ramp,” Hicks said. “There is a marked crosswalk, but you’re taking your life in your own hands to try and cross there anytime there is much traffic because (drivers) aren’t interested in slowing down.”

Kent’s proposal of a Central Street parking area, which would include a parklike space that could be used as a social gathering spot or for outdoor dining, has been something the City Council has talked about for some time. Councilor Diano Circo, who was in attendance — along with Councilor Phil Lindley — said the council has been negotiating with a property owner on Central Street in the hope of converting an area for parking.

According to Kent, the current DOT plans would eliminate more than 30 parking spaces on Water Street, and Walker has said many times in the past that finding additional parking options is a priority for the city.

Kent emphasized that while his proposals would cost money, the long-term benefit would be great and downtown Hallowell would be a much more attractive location for visitors.

“It could be a great space in Hallowell,” Kent said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do it right. Future generations will appreciate it.”

Circo said residents need to be vocal with their concerns, and he encouraged everyone in attendance to email their councilor and attend the public meeting at Hall-Dale Elementary next week.

“The city gets to decide what the city wants,” Circo said. “If the citizens want this, then we can ask for it to happen.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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