Cape Elizabeth question: To line or not to line?

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors on Monday sent the Fort Williams Advisory Commission a resident’s request that a center line be painted on the park entrance road to increase safety.

Councilors didn’t have a recommendation, because there have been no reported accidents in the park and the state doesn’t require lines to be on the road.

The complaint was made by resident Winthrop MacLaughlin and brought to the Town Council by Councilor Jessica Sullivan. No other residents have made formal complaints, but MacLaughlin said he’s had many “near misses” while driving into and out of the park.

“I’ve become aware that the road into the fort is narrow, windy, and dangerous,” MacLaughlin said. “(Drivers) don’t look where they’re driving, and drive more to the left than the right.”

Town Manager Michael McGovern on Monday acknowledged that the road poses a problem.

“I think anyone who drives that road understands it is very narrow, it is curvy,” McGovern said. “When people drive in that road they are staring off in every different direction.”

Councilor Caitlin Jordan agreed, saying that the view of the ocean is what distracts drivers.

“Whether you have a yellow line, two yellow lines, dotted line, polka dots on the ground, it’s not going to stop people from looking up at the view, so that doesn’t eliminate that problem,” she said.

McGovern said he has felt “uncomfortable” driving into Fort Williams Park, but “the difficulty is with the proposed solution.”

“Uniform traffic code standards don’t allow a single yellow line, and if it’s a double yellow line it has to meet certain standards for traffic,” he said.

According to an email sent to Public Works Director Bob Malley from engineer Tom Errico of T.Y. Lin International, lines aren’t required to be painted on the entrance road.

Errico said the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices says that double yellow lines must be painted on collector or arterial roads when an average of 6,000 or more cars use the road daily. The MUTCD suggests single lines be painted when the average is 4,000 or more.

Malley said the last official traffic counts done at the park occurred in July 2000, when for the week of July 17-23 an average of 1,700 cars used the road each day.

“If it has been operating safely for many years, I would not change it,” Errico said.

At the July 13 meeting, Police Department Sgt. Paul Fenton said he wasn’t aware of any accidents at Fort Williams Park in his 18 years with the department.

McGovern said people tend to drive more slowly on the entrance road because it’s narrow. He said if lines are painted, people may feel more confident and go faster because they’ll have their own lane.

“It’s kind of counter-intuitive because it is narrow,” he said. “Because there isn’t the line, it tends to be a traffic-calming device.”

McGovern said putting lines on the road may make cars drive closer to the sidewalk, which would be unsafe for pedestrians.

“There’s no separation between the sidewalk and roadway, and by putting a line or something, it exacerbates that problem even more,” he said.

Jordan agreed, saying putting in a line would be “creating more of a safety issue than what we have now.”

McGovern said it may be a good idea to consider separating pedestrian traffic from the road.

He also suggested that in the future, the town could think about widening the road “just a little bit.”

“You don’t want to do it too much, because you don’t want people speeding in the park,” he said.

McGovern said safety on the entrance road isn’t a problem that needs to be at the top of the Fort Williams Advisory Commission’s to-do list, but is something they should look.

“I think this needs to be prioritized with all of their other priority needs,” he said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Sidebar Elements

The lack of a center dividing line on the entrance road to Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth often leaves people driving more toward the center of the narrow road. The Fort Williams Advisory Commission will determine whether a line is necessary.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.