CAMDEN — Moving a step closer to making a stretch of Mechanic Street safer for pedestrian and bicyclists, the Camden Select Board asked an informal task force to further refine plans for painting traffic calming advisory lanes on the pavement there.
The goal is to establish a safer route for drivers, walkers and those riding bikes.
Mechanic Street is a primary town-maintained road that runs from downtown Camden through residential zones, and out toward the Camden Snow Bowl. It is a commuter road for drivers traveling to and from Hope, and is heavily used by mountain bikers heading to trails closer to the Ragged Mountain Recreational Area.
At a July 21 regularly scheduled Select Board meeting, the assistant director of the nonprofit Bicycle Coalition of Maine, Jim Tasse, joined a board discussion that included its public works director, Dave St. Laurent; town planner Jeremy Martin; and Pathways Committee Chairman Geoff Scott, to talk about marking this specific road with dashed lines along its shoulders.
With the dashed lines on either side of the roadway, there is no center line.
This approach to making roads safer is in its experimental phase in the U.S., but is widely used in Europe, said Tasse.
“Creating a center lane that makes it clear that cars will need to use the edge lanes removes ambiguity,” according to an information packet from the Bicycle Coalition.
Dave St. Laurent told the Select Board at the outset of the conversation that Camden’s intent is to make its roads multi-modal, to slow down traffic, and “make them safer.”
He, along with Tasse, Angela King, Camden Police Chief Randy Gagne and Town Manager Audra Caler had initiated the effort, following on the Pathways Committee to encourage safer passage for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Caler emphasized that the advisory lanes represented a test opportunity.
Tasse said Scarborough and Falmouth had incorporated advisory lanes in its repaving of town roads.
Those dashed lines, he explained, are set in five to six feet from edge of the roads.
“Mechanic Street has the capacity to paint advisory lanes,” he said.
It has a low speed limit of 30 mph and is less that 32 feet in width.
While there are areas of concern — a hill beyond Oak Street, and a narrower stretch of pavement — he indicated a closer look at the dimensions of the roadway is warranted.
“We’d have to look at the geometry of that a little more,” said Tasse.
Town Planner Martin said there is a strong desire in Camden for safer walking and biking routes.
“Improving pedestrian across town is heard frequently,” said Jeremy Martin.
Camden Police Chief Gagne cited a traffic survey that the department conducted in mid-June (see attached PDF) that indicated a majority of vehicles travel at 31-36 mph, with 19.6 percent driving over the posted speed limit. (See attached PDFs)
“Mechanic street is a great place to try this,” he said. “I don’t see anything safety wise that has really got me worried.”
Board member Alison McKellar, who lives on Mechanic Street, indicated strong support for the concept.
“I’m overjoyed by this,” she said. “This is something that a lot of people in Camden care deeply about.”
She is one of the, “heaviest street parkers,” she said, believing that having cars alongside the roadway slows drivers down.
“I’d be nervous about discouraging it so much,” she said, suggesting the town solicit community opinion about advisory lanes.
Tasse said both Falmouth and Scarborough initiated robust communication with townspeople, including mailers and list serve emails.
“And, they had signs put up to explain what it was and how it was suppose to look,” he said.
Tasse said parking on street, “can create visual friction and slow traffic.”
An ambitious option would be a parking buffer lane, he said.
“My biggest concern is making sure the bike lane is adequately wide if someone swings a door open,” he said.
Geoff Scott, chairman of the Camden-Rockport Pathways Committee, emphasized the concept as a traffic-calming measure, and the fact that it would be a demonstration project.
“I”m over the moon that we are talking about this,” he said. “I want to say, let’s be ambitious and let’s do this.”
Given concerns raised by St. Laurent concerning where people park on the road, where the road curves, and where a hill impedes visibility, the board agreed that the plan required refinement.
“I don’t want to do it wrong and leave a bad taste for everybody,” said St. Laurent.
Tasse agreed that another look at the hill is necessary, and suggested not using advisory lanes where the road narrows.
“We need to do something in Camden,” said Select Board Chairman Bob Falciani. “Let’s get Dave, Jim, Geoff, someone from DOT, do some more homework, kick the tires and come back with a solid recommendation for the select board.”
The board also agreed to have the matter tended to sooner, and not, “wait too long to make this decision.”
Public opinion is also invited, the board agreed.
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