WATERVILLE — How to make downtown safer and more user-friendly for motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and patrons was the focus of a report Monday night by those conducting a downtown traffic study.

About 50 people including city officials, business owners, employees, residents and downtown advocates turned out for the meeting in council chambers where representatives of Gorrill Palmer, an engineering consulting firm, of South Portland; BFJ Planning of New York City; and Mitchell & Associates, of Portland, gave an update on the ongoing study.

A few basic points emerged from the multiple graphs and charts they presented: There is plenty of parking downtown but it is not always efficiently used, the high accident areas are on Main Street and are due to a combination of diagonal parking and speed, and Front Street also is a problem area for crashes.

The traffic study, funded by the city, Colby College and the state Department of Transportation, is being conducted as separate meetings are held downtown to discuss revitalization efforts and get input from residents and downtown business owners and employees.

One of the things the traffic study is looking at is whether to turn Main and Front streets from one-way to two-way traffic to slow traffic down and make downtown safer and more conducive to motorists stopping to shop, eat and recreate.

Colby College has bought five buildings downtown with plans to develop them and plans to build a dormitory downtown. Collaborative Consulting, a technology firm, plans to have 200 people working downtown in three to five years. Other business people, including Bill Mitchell and Justin DePre, have bought vacant buildings and are developing them. With an influx of people coming downtown, traffic and parking are being scrutinized and a system will be developed for the big picture, officials say.

Randy Dunton, a traffic engineer and project manager for Gorrill Palmer, said there are advantages and disadvantages to having two-way traffic on Main and Front Street.

Potential advantages, he said, include reducing vehicle speed, enhancing pedestrian friendliness, improving accessibility, having greater exposure of shopping opportunities, and making a positive impact on economic development. Potential disadvantages include greater travel times for thru-traffic, possible major changes needed for loading and delivery scenarios for businesses, major investments needed as a result of changes and approval from the state required to change the traffic from one-way to two-way, according to Dunton.

He said planners are discussing the possibility of having Front Street serve as more of a commuter corridor while people wanting to stop downtown would use Main Street.

Don Ettinger, a principal at Gorrill Palmer, said planners will also look at other options for commuter routes.

Those attending Monday’s session had plenty of questions and comments for those conducting the traffic study.

John Fortier, owner of State Farm Insurance on Silver Street, said he would love to see heavy trucks and traffic stay off Main Street, as it would add a lot to downtown.

He said it sounds as if diagonal parking would be eliminated if Main Street is made two-way, and he wanted to hear what planners had to say about that, as it had not been discussed.

“To start eliminating diagonal and sacrificing 30 or 40 percent of those spaces in order to gain parallel, you’re going to really lose a lot of accessibility to existing businesses,” Fortier said.

Dunton said that unfortunately in downtowns many employees use parking spaces or parking areas near where they work, and if they can be convinced to park slightly away from the businesses, that is beneficial.

Fortier said he thinks there are a few examples of employees parking for long periods of time in front of businesses.

“I don’t think that’s the general rule on Main Street. I think that it’s pretty good turnover and access on Main Street,” he said.

But Ellen Richmond, owner of the Children’s Book Cellar on Main Street, said a number of employees park close to buildings although there is a system in place to ensure they park away from the buildings.

Georges Jacquemart, principal at BFJ Planning, said when planners did a survey on parking, they also noted license plates to see how many people park for long periods of time close to businesses.

“You’re right. There are a lot of people that park beyond two hours,” he said.

He said planners are talking about diagonal parking and having conversations with the state about that. Crashes, he said, are created by a combination of speed and diagonal parking. Main Street, he said, varies in width and there may be locations where diagonal parking can be maintained. Fortier reiterated the need to keep some diagonal spaces.

“When you eliminate those, it’s critical to the success of business downtown,” he said.

City Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, said she often parks in the back of businesses on The Concourse, and there are plenty of spaces there.

The Concourse, she said, could be improved with better walking areas and landscaping to make the back entrances to businesses as accessible and fun as the front.

“There’s plenty of parking to get to those businesses from the back,” she said.

W. Elery Keene asked if any consideration had been given to having a shuttle that could go from parking areas at Head of Falls to Main Street to accommodate those who come to work early or leave late.

Jacquemart said planners are looking at bus service in general, but had not specifically discussed such a shuttle.

“It’s a very short distance,” he said of the walk from Head of Falls to Main Street.

He added, however, that better lighting and pedestrian crossings have been discussed as a way to make walking to and from Head of Falls more convenient and pleasant.

Bushee also asked if anyone had thought of having metered parking downtown.

Jacquemart said metered parking is always part of a parking management strategy and generally helps to pay for parking, especially if a city wants to look at having a parking garage.

“That should be something that I think the city should look into,” he said.

He added that it is part of “smart parking management.”

“I think it would keep people moving,” Bushee said.

Meanwhile, Ettinger noted that numbers in charts are preliminary and more work is being done. The traffic study is expected to be completed sometime in June. A wrap-up meeting for downtown revitalization discussion will be held in June also.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17.

 

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