CAPE ELIZABETH — A new traffic pattern with no backing up will go into effect Jan. 21 at the Recycling Center, after the Town Council on Monday discussed the plan and made no changes.
The new pattern, which includes four diagonal parking spaces outside of the trash compacter building, was suggested by consultants from Woodard and Curran after the firm completed a safety evaluation last month. The Portland-based engineering firm suggested three alternatives as a way to improve safety following a fatal accident in November.
Public Works Director Herbert Dennison, 79, was killed on Nov. 24, 2014, when he was hit by a car and knocked into a trash hopper at the center. Christine Sharp-Lopez, 72, was backing into the hopper area when she struck Dennison.
Police Chief Neil Williams on Wednesday said he expects to know within two weeks if the Cumberland County district attorney’s office will charge Sharp-Lopez with a crime.
The new traffic pattern will prohibit drivers from backing up.
“You’ll look for any open lane, drive into it, and then walk your trash to the hopper,” Woodard and Curran engineer Randy Tome said. “Then you would continue out in the same direction you were headed.”
Some councilors on Jan. 5 expressed concern that people would struggle to carry their trash. They asked why the parking spots couldn’t be moved closer to the hopper area.
Tome and fellow engineer Megan McDevitt said the four diagonal parking spots were placed where they were because that’s where people now pull up before backing in. They said this would make the traffic pattern feel similar to what it currently is, minus the backing up aspect.
A member of the public suggested large carts be placed near the parking spots so people could wheel their trash to the hopper. Some councilors agreed that this would be a good idea and would save people from having to make multiple trips between their cars and the hopper.
Councilor Molly MacAuslan suggested buying a large conveyor belt that would run from the parking spots directly into the hopper. Tome said that would be very expensive and would be a long-term project. He said they had considered using carts, though.
McGovern suggested to start with the new plan by having people walk their trash to the hopper and if too many people struggled, then they could talk about providing carts.
Councilor Patty Grennon said it’s not a good idea to have elderly people walk that far while carrying heavy bags, but McGovern said it’s also not a good idea to have elderly people backing vehicles into the hopper area.
Tome said he and McDevitt found that vehicles backing up were clearly the biggest safety hazard at the Recycling Center.
Councilor Jessica Sullivan noted that people may not find the distance to be a problem because many already choose to park and walk. Woodard and Curran’s report stated that 26 percent of users parked away from the hopper area and walked their trash to it.
Although some councilors said it may still be dangerous for people to walk back and forth to the hopper as cars pull into parking spots, Tome disagreed. He said the setup will be very similar “to any parking lot you operate in.”
Tome also said the parking spaces will be larger than average for added safety. They will be 12 feet wide and 20 feet long, so people will have extra room to open their doors and stand outside of their vehicles.
The new traffic pattern will no longer allow commercial waste haulers to dispose trash at the center, as recommended by Woodard and Curran. The town’s three haulers will now have to bring trash to the ecomaine facility in Portland.
A mailing will go out to all Cape Elizabeth residents Jan. 12 notifying them of the changes at the Recycling Center. McGovern said the changes will be short-term for now, while a committee reviews options for long-term revisions.
The Town Council on Dec. 8 approved creation of the five-member panel to “review solid waste and recycling options for the community.” The committee will have its first meeting Jan. 13 and its report is due to the town by June 30.
McGovern said he expects the town to implement a permanent change to the Recycling Center within a year and half. He said some small changes may happen between now and then, but that the town won’t do anything major until they are certain it will work.
For now, McGovern said the main goal is to keep everyone at the facility safe.
“In the short term, what I think (the new traffic pattern) really accomplishes is getting everyone moving in the same direction,” he said.
Starting Jan. 21, a new traffic pattern with diagonal parking and no backing up will go into effect at the Cape Elizabeth Recycling Center.