Bath to consider permanent traffic-calming measures for 2 streets

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BATH — The city is exploring its options after temporary measures for calming traffic on Richardson Street and Western Avenue proved unpopular.

A Nov. 8 input-gathering workshop drew about 30-40 people, City Manager Peter Owen said in an interview Nov. 14. Many were from the area of the city in question, while others came from neighboring Phippsburg, since Richardson Street serves as a partial shortcut for motorists driving from U.S. Route 1, Owen noted.

The two roads run through high-density neighborhoods between U.S. Route 1 and High Street (Route 209), and are also used as shortcuts to reach the north end of Bath.

Prompted by repeated concerns from residents of those streets, the city during the summer installed several traffic-calming measures. Bath used plastic structures that could be bolted down but removed before winter – speed tables and raised crosswalks, pavement markings and signs, visible crosswalks and pedestrian islands, traffic circles and bicycle lanes.

The city dismantled those measures Nov. 9, in advance of winter.

While other communities have spent money to install permanent measures and then exhausted more funds to remove them “because the public hated it,” Owen said this summer, “this is our effort to try it and see how it works. And if it’s favorable, then we will fund a permanent project.”

The city spent about $20,000 for engineering and another $15,000 on equipment. Richardson saw a reduction in traffic from 2,617 annual average daily vehicles to 2,309, while Western experienced a drop from 1,713 to 1,629.

Mean speeds along Richardson and Western dropped from 24 to 20 mph, and 25 to 20 mph, respectively. The 85th percentile speeds fell from 27 to 23 mph, and 29 to 23 mph along both. Richardson has a posted speed limit of 20 mph, and Western’s is 25 mph.

Despite those reductions, Owen heard loud and clear at the meeting on the temporary measures that “overall, clearly people don’t like them.”

Permanent installations, such as the speed tables on Maine Street in Brunswick, would be “much different” than those the city installed this year, he noted: the “little plastic, three-inch speed bumps that we had in place.”

While they do slow traffic, although sometimes not down to the speed limit, the plastic structures are noisy as vehicles roll over them, Owen explained.

Plastic stanchions – upright bars or posts used as traffic barriers – were lightweight and flexible enough to allow motorists to drive over them, creating more noise for residents.

“As people explained, it sounded like a machine gun going off when people drove over them,” the manager said. “They’re hitting all these little barriers,” which would then pop back to an upright position.

Concrete or granite permanent structures would not cause that problem, since “people wouldn’t try to drive into a concrete wall,” he added.

Ultimately, “people who were in favor of anything being done, clearly were not happy with what was done,” Owen said. “But the majority of people would like to see something done.”

The city is consequently still faced with the quandary of how to slow traffic speeds and reduce volume. Input the city has received will go before the Transportation Committee, which will “synthesize that information and come up with a recommendation.”

That recommendation could go before the City Council in January, Owen said.

The city presented the public with three options: take no action, which some favored; continue seasonal temporary measures, the least popular solution; and build permanent speed bumps and barriers, of which people preferred the former over the latter.

“The city does not have a position on this,” Owen said. “… We’re trying to come up with a solution that’s going to meet the needs of the community. However, we’re getting a mixed message, and it’s very difficult to come up with that solution that’s going to meet everyone’s desires.”

Still, he has gotten the strong message that residents on the streets are frustrated with large truck traffic. Because of Richardson being a state-aid road, it is the Maine Department of Transportation, not the city, which has the authority to ban such vehicles there, Owen noted.

“But that is a measure that we’re going to be revisiting with the state, to see if there’s anything we can do,” he said. “… At a minimum, if we could do that, I think that would be an improvement for the residents.”

The city would pursue state grant funding for traffic-calming measures on the local roads, so any forward movement would take about two years, Owen said. The costs of permanent solutions have yet to be determined.

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Bath experimented this year with a series of temporary traffic-calming measures along Richardson Street and Western Avenue.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.