Our roads are unhealthy, even deadly. That has to change.

A runner passes traffic and pedestrians in Kennebunk’s Lower Village in August. Motorists have struck and killed 19 people in Maine so far this year. Kevin A. Byron photo

Pedestrian fatalities, air pollution, climate change, even the loss of social connection – all of these are causing us harm, and all have poor road design as a factor.

As roads are built and rebuilt, and as Maine begins to spend funding from the infrastructure bill passed earlier this year, it should make sure to address these problems, helping take cars off the roads and make the roads safer for anyone not in a car or truck.

Motorists have struck and killed 19 people in Maine so far this year, including two older women and a 1-year-old in one incident in Augusta.

Pedestrian fatalities have risen over the last two decades, in Maine and nationwide, as more people began using the roads to walk and bike, while vehicles got much bigger, and much more dangerous to others.

It’s past time for drivers to remember that motor vehicles are not the only thing on the road. You may feel safe going fast over Maine’s back roads, but there’s always a chance that someone is walking on the shoulder just around the next turn – even if only to pick up their mail.

“There is an obligation when you are behind the wheel,” a state transportation engineer told the Press Herald. “You have to be thinking: ‘I have a responsibility to have eyes on the road, to be vigilant. There are a lot of people out there walking that do not have a choice. They may not have reflective clothing.’ ”

More than changing behavior, though, we have to change our roads to include proper bike lanes, crosswalks, sidewalks and wide shoulders. Our transportation system was built with cars and trucks in mind, so it’s no surprise that they put pedestrians in less-than-ideal situations.

We also have to invest in public transportation, in urban, suburban and rural areas, in ways that people will use in high enough numbers to make a difference.

The state has an initiative focused on some of the worst roads for pedestrians. Investment could start there.

If we build roads that are safe for people on foot and bike, more people will use them for that purpose, taking cars off the road and making them safer for everyone. Public transportation can do the same.

Such road construction would also mean more walkable communities – communities where people feel connected to their neighborhood, rather than walled off by wide roads and fast traffic.

Each time an alternative to driving becomes viable through an investment in our transportation system, it helps take vehicles off the road, not only making them safer, but also cutting back on the air pollution and emissions that are making us sick and driving climate change.

Maine needs to make more of those investments. In a normal year, only about 39 miles of road are constructed or rebuilt, cutting down on the amount of progress that can be made in making streets safer.

But Maine expects to get $1.3 billion for highways alone from the infrastructure bill. That money must be used wisely to restructure our transportation so that it is as safe and healthy as can be.


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