AUGUSTA — The city’s crosswalks should be more visible, and maintained more frequently so they stay that way, to help reverse a trend in recent years of increasing numbers of pedestrian fatalities, a transportation official told city councilors Thursday.

A Maine Department of Transportation study prompted by concern over accidents involving pedestrians recommends the city take multiple steps to improve the visibility of pedestrian crossings, especially at problem spots including the city’s two traffic circles and the Bangor Street corridor.

The report cited by Patrick Adams, the state’s active transportation planner, Thursday urges the city to make pedestrian crossings more visible, by painting them in high visibility paints and styles as well as painting them as early as possible in the spring, after much of the paint designating crosswalks has been worn off by a winter of wear, installing signs alerting drivers to the presence of crosswalks, improving lighting, checking to make sure traffic signals are functioning properly, and considering installing raised crossings to slow traffic.

City officials said they’re already taking some of the recommended steps and will recommend the city invest about $100,000 for its own pedestrian safety improvements and to partner with the state Department of Transportation to study and then implement changes meant to make pedestrians safer.

“The last several years we’ve spend significant city money on this very issue, crosswalks, flashing signs, two-sided pedestrian crossing signs, that’s been at city expense,” said City Manager William Bridgeo. “There is a significant amount of money you’re going to see in this year’s (capital improvement plan) that will be available for our own work and be able to match DOT funding as well.”

At-Large Councilor Corey Wilson urged action, over additional study, though city staff warned that some study is needed to avoid making changes that could have unforeseen negative impacts on overall traffic safety. Wilson expressed frustration lingering since he was a state legislator and, he said, he advocated for changes to improve pedestrian safety but was told that wasn’t his job.

“I knew in 2012 we had a problem and we still continue to see people getting run over,” Wilson said. “It’s frustrating the bureaucracy moves so slow. I feel like we could study this until we’re old and gray. What are we going to do at some of these high strike areas, now?”

Adams said the state has money set aside, specifically to address pedestrian safety problems in Augusta.

The crosswalk at Cony Circle in Augusta on Thursday. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

The report’s findings and recommendations sprung from a November 2017 forum on pedestrian safety in Augusta, attended by 39 people including city and state transportation department officials, police officers, Bicycle Coalition of Maine staff, and members of the public.

At that forum participants identified problem locations in the city they believed needed attention. Augusta’s locations identified by forum participants as the highest priority were, in order, Cony Circle, Memorial Circle, Bangor Street, the intersection of Eastern Avenue and Lambard Road and the intersection of Western Avenue and Cushman Street.

The Maine Department of Transportation partnered with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine to hold public forums on pedestrian safety in 21 Maine communities, including Augusta and Hallowell, starting in 2017, through its Heads up Pedestrian Safety Initiative. The 21 communities were identified by the MDOT’s safety office has having the most pedestrian crashes between 2011 and 2015.

Adams said the communities, together, account for 29 percent of the state’s population but are the locations of 69 percent of all pedestrian crashes and one-third of the pedestrian fatalities in Maine.

At-large Councilor Marci Alexander noted Thursday’s discussion was a timely one, coming on the heels of the recent death of a Whitefield man who was hit by a car and killed while crossing the road.

“We don’t want to lose any residents to a traffic accident,” she said. “We saw, just in the paper today, someone going to get their mail, in another town, was killed. I think we have had too many deaths in Maine.”

The initiative was launched with a goal of coming up with short, medium and long-term strategies to improve pedestrian safety and reduce crashes.

From 2003 to 2014, according to the Pedestrian Safety Mitigation Plan which resulted from the project, the number of people killed while walking on Maine’s roadways hovered between seven and 13 a year. But between 2015 and 2017, Maine saw a sharp increase in pedestrian fatalities, with 19 in 2015, 17 in 2016, and peaking at 21 in 2017. Last year there were only five pedestrian fatalities in Maine. So far this year, according to Adams, there have been eight.

City Manager William Bridgeo noted enhancing pedestrian safety was one of the City Council’s goals for this year.

The report also recommends Augusta:

• Upgrade all pedestrian crossings to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards;

• narrow travel lanes on roadways with speed limits of 30 miles per hour or less, to decrease the speed of drivers;

• implement and enforce a 20-foot parking setback from all crosswalks;

• consider reducing four-lane roads to three-lanes with a two-way left-turn lane in the middle and add bike lanes, pedestrian space, medians or esplanades in the newly available space;

• work to better-educate pedestrians not to wear dark colors after dark, bicyclists not to ignore traffic signs and signals, and motorists to not drive aggressively and;

• increase enforcement of pedestrian safety laws.

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