Cape Elizabeth seeks lower speed limit through town center

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The town will ask the Maine Department of Transportation to review and reduce the speed limit on Route 77 through the town center.

The Town Council on Feb. 9 discussed the speed limits on Route 77 (Ocean House Road) from Hill Way to Fowler Road, and on Shore Road at the Cape Elizabeth-South Portland line.

Councilors decided they wanted a lower speed limit through the middle of town, but on Shore Road they will only look into moving a crosswalk.

Police Chief Neil Williams, however, said high speeds aren’t necessarily a problem on Route 77.

He said the stretch of Route 77 going through the town center, where the speed limit is 35 mph, sees a very high volume of traffic, especially when students are going to and from schools.

He said speed surveys he conducted showed that after observing almost 600 vehicles go through the area in one hour, the highest speed was 47, the lowest was 21, and the average was 31. He said speed isn’t an issue, but MDOT classifies two areas on the road as high-crash areas.

Between 2011 and 2013, nine crashes occurred at the intersection of Shore Road, Route 77, and Scott Dyer Road. In the same period, nine crashes occurred at the intersection of Route 77 and the Pond Cove Shopping Center.

Williams said because the average speed he observed is less than the speed limit, speed doesn’t seem to be to blame for the accidents.

“Speed does not appear to be a large factor here,” he said. “The high-crash areas do not appear to be the result of speeding vehicles. … Looking at the data I’ve got, it’s more inattentive drivers and questionable turning moves.”

Williams said the council could still ask MDOT to consider reducing the speed in the area to make it safer. Councilors unanimously approved this action, although they didn’t discuss what they the new limit should be, and also approved asking MDOT to review pedestrian movement through the town center.

Councilor Patty Grennon said a main reason for asking MDOT to reduce the speed limit is because part of Cape Elizabeth’s town center plan is to “recast Route 77 as Cape Elizabeth’s Main Street.” This means creating a town center green, putting in more sidewalks, and increasing pedestrian use of the area.

Councilors said they have heard concerns from business owners on Shore Road about safety in the Cape Cottage neighborhood near the South Portland line, where the speed limit is 30 mph.

Williams said after observing 350 cars go by in one hour, the highest speed was 37, the lowest was 19, and the average was 28.

“The speed surveys conducted in this area do not indicate a speed issue,” he said.

Williams said a bigger issue is the crosswalk on the Cape Elizabeth side of the border, between Woodbury Street and Charles Road, in front of Ann Veronica. If cars are parked along the side of Shore Road, it is difficult for vehicles to see if someone is waiting to cross, the chief said.

He said the road is too narrow for additional warning signs, but an option would be to restrict parking to one side of the road.

“By doing this it would give more visibility to operators of vehicles to see pedestrians waiting to enter the crosswalk,” he said.

Councilors eventually elected to move the crosswalk. But that will require meeting with South Portland officials, because it would likely have to be moved to the city’s side of the border line.

Town Manager Michael McGovern said he will reach out to South Portland to set up a meeting. He also said town staff will write a letter to MDOT asking for the speed limit change on Route 77 and the council will have to wait for MDOT’s response before moving forward.

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

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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.