Main Street in downtown Waterville is shown Nov. 18, shortly after it changed from a one-way street to a two-way street as part of the $11.2 million downtown revitalization project. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Wait. What city am I in?

It’s as if I have amnesia and can’t remember, though things seem strangely familiar.

I’m driving north on Main Street in downtown Waterville, for only the second time in my life.

There’s little traffic and it is moving slowly, smoothly.

Less than two weeks ago, the city changed the traffic pattern on Main and Front streets from one-way to two-way to help revitalize the downtown, slow traffic, make the area safer and more user friendly, and create an atmosphere where people want to stop, shop, dine and recreate in the heart of the city.

Many years ago, those streets had two-way traffic, and when the malls were built outside the city center, the idea was to rush vehicles through the downtown so people could get to where they wanted in a hurry. Now, we want them to stop and spend time downtown like they do in other cities that have become destination hubs for the arts, good food, live music and shopping.

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It was June 17, 1957, when Front and Main streets changed from two-way to one-way in Waterville.

A headline that day on page one of the Waterville Morning Sentinel read: “One Way Traffic Starts Today.”

“Some cussin’ and confusion are expected in Waterville’s business section today, but members of Waterville’s City Council feel that once motorists get used to the new one-way traffic system, they’ll like it,” the story said. “As new habits are formed, the new system will be accepted, Alderman (Welton) Farrow believes.”

The story, which had no byline, goes on to say the traffic change was being put into effect in conjunction with the  reconstruction of College Avenue. A photo accompanying the story shows two police officers erecting one-way traffic signs downtown.

Here we are 65 years later reverting back, but with new purpose.

As I drive north on Main Street, I’m seeing what looks like a new downtown, with clean, paved streets, wide sidewalks, new and renovated buildings. I’m seeing it all from a new perspective. It looks fresh and vibrant.

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I park on the right side of the street next to Castonguay Square. The lights are on in the new Paul J. Schupf Art Center which will open Dec. 17. Paul Ureneck, Colby College’s director for commercial real estate who supervises construction downtown, is inside, talking to a worker on a step ladder who is painting a wall blue near the soon-to-be Ed Harris Box Office. Harris, an acclaimed actor who was an award recipient at Waterville’s Maine International Film Festival several years ago, donated $75,000 to the building effort.

That’s one of the great things about the new art center — its walls of glass afford pedestrians a view of what’s happening inside, as if to invite them in. Likewise, those inside get a wide view of the downtown, as if in is out and out, in. Transparency and inclusivity is the idea here — all are welcome.

Viewing Main Street from this new angle, I seem to be seeing for the first time the signs for businesses such as Lion’s Den Tavern, Jewel of India and Loyal Biscuit Co.

The first time I drove south on Front Street, it felt surreal, passing the landmarks I’m used to seeing, driving from the other direction. It felt as if I were doing something illegal, surreptitious. And entering the Morning Sentinel office from the north was weird.

But I love this new traffic arrangement. The downtown looks awesome. Before the change, there was a lot of talk about how Main Street wouldn’t be wide enough for traffic and parallel parking. That turned out to be just the opposite, at least in my view. The street seems wider, less congested. And police report no issues with the change.

I suspect that with time, we won’t even remember the old traffic pattern. As Farrow said in 1957, new habits will be formed, and the system, accepted.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear here weekly. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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