Hey, Hallowell business people. Come over and sit next to me at the bar. Let me buy you a beer. I want to tell you something.

Let me start by saying that I’m a good customer for you. I have been buying my coffee, donuts, newspapers, lunches, dinners, beers, books, candies, flowers and haircuts from you for 30 years.

But I have a problem, and I think it’s a problem many customers have, if you’d take the time to ask them.

I don’t feel safe walking across Water Street.

As a pedestrian, I have to creep over the curb and into the street in order to see beyond the parked cars to see if anything is coming; likewise, I know the drivers can’t see me on the curb, and they may or may not stop if I step out. It’s especially dangerous at rush hour or in the rain or at night.

The danger is more than simply my feeling. It’s a fact. The Maine Department of Transportation rates the corner of Winthrop and Water streets as a “high crash” location. The intersection of Union and Central also has relatively high accident rates. Overall, Water Street has a crash rating (211) almost double the state average. A third of car accidents in a recent three-year period were rear-enders — most likely caused by a car stopping suddenly to avoid pedestrians like me crossing the street.

As a result, whether you know it or not, Hallowell stores are losing business unnecessarily. When I have lunch at Hattie’s and I don’t bother to cross the street to browse for books at Merrill’s or for candy at Scrummy’s, you’re losing money. Hundreds of Hallowell downtown customers make such snap decisions every day. If only 10 percent decide not to bother to cross the street, that’s a lot of money out of your pockets over the course of a year.

Successful Main Streets make it easy for customers who make a purchase at one location to spontaneously drop by and browse and spend money at a nearby store. The sidewalk crossings on Water Street do not make it easy for customers to go from store to store. The current arrangement costs you money.

Now there is a chance to fix the problem. The Hallowell City Council is voting on Monday, May 9, to authorize a preliminary plan and budget for Water Street reconstruction.

This plan could include pedestrian safety features. I and several other residents/customers propose three sidewalk crossings with curb extensions, or “bump-outs,” that allow pedestrians to get partway into the street without leaving the curb, making sight lines easier for drivers as well as walkers.

We propose these crossings at the three high-accident locations of Winthrop, Central, and Union streets.

We propose using colored concrete on all of the sidewalk crossings downtown so that drivers are forewarned that a crossing is approaching, and pedestrians are encouraged to keep in the right lanes.

The total cost of these improvements would be in the area of $100,000. Since all would improve pedestrian safety at high-accident locations, a strong argument can be made to Department of Transportation officials that, under their “Complete Streets” policy, they should pick up the entire tab.

But the Highway Committee rejects these recommendations, for the most part because they believe they are following your wishes, the wishes of downtown business owners. Indeed, many of you have publicly expressed opposition to crosswalk extensions in the past, in the belief that such improvements would cost more money and extend the construction period.

We believe that these improvements can be accomplished at no new local cost and at no addition to the time of construction. But even if we’re wrong — even if there is an added cost of a few thousand dollars to Hallowell taxpayers, or an increase in construction time of a day or two — we think that it is still worth it, for residents, for customers, and for business owners.

Well, Hallowell business people, I can see you’ve finished your beer and are ready to leave. But think about this on your way home. Think about a future downtown Hallowell with better pedestrian circulation and more customers making purchases at multiple shops.

If you come to the conclusion that this is good for safety and good for business, let your Hallowell city councilors know before their May 9 meeting, because many of them too are ready to vote against making sidewalk crossings safer in the — I hope mistaken — belief that you don’t want it.

Thanks for listening, and watch out for pedestrians on your drive home!

Frank O’Hara is a planning consultant in Hallowell.

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