A hearse drives by on Water Street in Augusta as volunteers Darryl Fuller, left, and Mike Hall paint a red line on a crosswalk Monday, July 12. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Officials and pedestrian-safety advocates hope that adding poles and red paint to downtown Augusta crosswalks will make crossing pedestrians more visible. Presently, they say, too many motorists don’t stop at crosswalks.

This past week, in the latest effort to improve traffic safety in the city, members of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and local volunteers installed three-foot-high poles at both ends of most of the crosswalks on Water Street. They also marked parts of the crosswalks on both sides of the road with red paint.

The poles and paint will delineate spaces, called bump-outs, on both sides of the road. The goal is for pedestrians to move safely access the road from the sidewalk, closer to motorists’ travel lanes. The hope is that drivers will be more likely to see pedestrians in the bump-outs and stop to allow them to cross. Officials also hope the poles will block motorists from parking illegally near the crosswalk, where their vehicles could make it even harder for drivers to spot those crossing the street.

A 2019 study by the Maine Department of Transportation, prompted by concern over crashes involving pedestrians, recommended that the city take steps to improve the visibility of foot traffic.

Last month, the city put orange flags in containers on both sides of a few crosswalks in the city. Signs at each location encouraged about-to-cross pedestrians to wave the flags to get the attention of passing motorists.

Jim Tassé, assistant director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, said he doesn’t think the pedestrian crossing flags will work. Jean Sideris, the executive director of the group, had expressed skepticism about them too in a recent letter to the editor.

Lesley Jones, Public Works director for Augusta, said the city is trying multiple strategies to make pedestrians safer. It’s too soon to tell whether the flags are helping, she said, but she agreed that adding the bump-outs downtown is a good idea and may help address the problem.

“We’re doing all we can to improve the visibility of pedestrians and the education of motorists,” she said. “I think what’s being done downtown will help. We’re committed to trying different options.”

The bump-outs also got the thumbs-up from Kalie Hess, co-chair of CAPITAL (Cyclists and Pedestrians Invigorating Augusta Life). Hess got involved in traffic issues after nearly being struck by a car in downtown Augusta. She said she hopes that if the trial project is successful, the city will install permanent bump-outs in more locations.

City engineer Tyler Pease said that adding permanent bump-outs to Water Street crosswalks, a $250,000 project in the city’s proposed capital improvement plan that city councilors have not yet voted on, could start construction in 2022.

A torch is used to install vertical markers on a crosswalk Monday, July 12, on Water Street in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Pease said the city is also considering installing more flashing beacons at some crosswalks, including at the locations where the pedestrian crossing flags are now.

Michael Hall, executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, who helped install the delineator poles this week, said downtown merchants have expressed concerns about motorists driving too fast through downtown.

He said a significant factor in favor of the bump-outs is that, at least with the temporary ones, they do not take away any existing legal parking spots.

“That’s a big selling point — we can’t lose any parking,” said Hall, who a few years ago was struck by a car while crossing a street downtown. “I think a lot of people, merchants, are in favor of it. Anything to slow down traffic and improve the atmosphere.”

The latest changes come after a crash in May in which three local residents, two women and a one-year-old child, were killed by a motorist while walking on Cony Road. Officials said the new projects were in the works well before that tragedy.

Deputy chief of police Kevin Lully said the cause of the May accident is still unknown. His investigators are waiting for an accident reconstruction and the results of blood tests.

Lully said the police department collaborates with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and CAPITAL to improve traffic safety in the city and applies for pedestrian safety grants as often as they become available. He said the department has taken initiatives such as placing signs that warn motorists to be alert for pedestrians.

Tassé said data from similar pedestrian-safety projects in Bangor, North Yarmouth and Westbrook indicated that such measures slow vehicle speeds and increase the chance that motorists yield to pedestrians.

Wayne Emington, a volunteer with CAPITAL and a civil engineer in transportation safety, said that slowing down drivers would have benefits even if a pedestrian is struck. “This could reduce the severity of a crash,” he said.

An online survey seeks the public’s input on the temporary bump-outs downtown. Tassé said it’s important to get feedback from local residents and merchants about whether the changes are helping.

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