CHEBEAGUE ISLAND — Concerns about speeding and bicycle safety – primarily during the summer, when island population more than triples – are among the findings of a six-member ad-hoc committee that since last September has been studying road conditions and safety.
The Board of Selectmen will discuss the Road Safety Committee’s findings during its Feb. 14 meeting.
Committee Chairman Eldon Mayer attributed an increase in traffic violations and safety concerns to the increase in renters on the island.
“When people are on holiday, sometimes they enter an alternate state of consciousness,” he said.
The panel’s report states that speeding to catch the ferry is common.
According to Mayer, resident concerns were spurred by close calls between cyclists and motorists last summer. He recalled one specific incident.
“I was sitting at home when I heard someone screaming,” Mayer said. “At first I thought it was just children playing, but then I realized it sounded like someone in a lot of pain.”
He found a young bicyclist at the intersection of South Road and Roy Hill Road. According to Mayer, the bicyclist had “broadsided” a stopped pickup truck.
“Luckily there were no serious injuries,” Mayer said. “But that accident upset everyone in the neighborhood. That alerted us (that) this incident was probably not isolated.”
The committee report states that while there have been few serious traffic accidents on Chebeague in the past, there were at least five close calls in the summer of 2017 “in which young bikers narrowly escaped death or serious injury.”
To alleviate some concerns, the committee is calling on the Board of Selectmen to initiate discussions with the Maine Department of Transportation, including asking that the speed limit – which stands at 30 mph – be reduced to 25 mph, which is Maine’s limit in business and residential districts.
On certain parts of the island, such as John Small Road and at the town center, Mayer said the limit should be as low at 10-15 mph.
The committee would also like to see an increase in enforcement.
Each summer since the island seceded from Cumberland County in 2007, an “island deputy” from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office has been stationed on the island from Memorial Day-Labor Day.
The Sheriff’s Department also has island deputies on Long and Frye islands. Deputy Robert Mailman has worked on Chebeague Island for the past eight seasons.
Last year, Capt. Scott Stewart said, no speeding tickets were issued, but Mailman “properly responded to and addressed (many informal complaints) instead of lodging formal complaints and statistics.”
“With emphasis on Community Policing, an island deputy such as Deputy Robert Mailman looks at the big picture as it pertains to public safety,” Stewart said in a Feb. 5 email. “He is more than someone that merely shows up to the island at the beginning of his shift … and then leaves until the next shift. Instead, he is visible at all times and more importantly approachable for issues as they arise. Speeding vehicle concerns is (sic) such an example.”
Rather than issuing speeding tickets, Stewart said it is more common and “prudent” for an island deputy to flag someone down as they pass and remind them to slow down or mention to a parent if their child was driving too fast.
“Of course, if those avenues do not work, then there is the formal court speeding ticket as a final option,” Stewart added.
Still, the committee’s consensus is that “lax law enforcement” has encouraged speeding.
During the remaining 10 months of the year, Mayer said the only officials he typically sees on the island are game wardens.
Further, the committee’s report asks that more traffic signs be put up on the island. It states that one can drive from Chandlers Cove Road to the “easternmost cottage” on the island without seeing one.
Mayer said there are three official speed limit signs on the island, noting that he’s seen people driving between 40 and 60 miles per hour on open roads.
The report asks the board to request advice from MDOT regarding the conditions of their roads, which are very narrow and winding, some unpaved or with little to no shoulders and frequent potholes. It goes on to say that many cyclists and pedestrians do not use the correct side of the road and “sometimes occupy roads all the way from one side to the other.”
Finally, the committee is requesting more education around vehicle and bicycle safety, including holding safety clinics in the summer and distributing safety notices.
Mayer said his hope is that the board will heed the committee’s recommendations and begin discussions with MDOT.
“All we can do is hope,” he said. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel (but) times are changing and it’s time we change with them.”