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Portland starts work on safer routes for students, walkers, bikers

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Portland starts work on safer routes for students, walkers, bikers

PORTLAND — Construction upgrades on four pedestrian and bicycle paths and crossings has begun in an effort to build safer routes for students walking to and from school.

The city and the Maine Department of Transportation are partnering to develop multiple "Safe Routes to School" projects in three Portland neighborhoods: East End, East Deering and North Deering.

Construction began last week on the East End's two shared-use pathways and crosswalks. City officials hope they will provide improved safety for all pedestrians and cyclists, in addition to elementary and middle school students.

"We're looking forward to significant enhanced access to and from Tukey's Bridge, East Bayside and Munjoy Hill," Bruce Hyman, the city's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said. "We hope people see it as a great increase in safety for bicyclists, pedestrians and all users of the trail system in the community."

This project will widen to 10 feet the existing sidewalk that runs along Washington Avenue from the Eastern Promenade to Exit 8 of Interstate 295, to create a shared-use pathway. The path will be separated from the road by a 4- to 6-foot esplanade, according to city plans.

An island and pedestrian-activated flashing lights will also be installed at the Washington Avenue-Eastern Promenade crossing.

Another project will extend the Washington Avenue ramp to Anderson and Plowman streets to include a 10-foot shared-use pathway. The Back Cove Trail path will be extended down the Tukey's Bridge ramp to allow designated pedestrian and bicycle access to East Bayside and the Bayside Trail.

The ramp crossing will be enhanced with higher visibilty markings and the addition of pedestrian-activated lights. The construction will also shorten the distance of the crossing.

Construction will cause some brief sidewalk and pathway closures along Washington Avenue and the bridge ramp. Signs will direct people around the projects, which are expected to take about four weeks to complete, Hyman said.

Workers are expected to begin construction on two other projects in July.

One of those includes the two Presumpscot Elementary School crossings in East Deering. The construction will install curb ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, refuge islands and pedestrian-crossing lights.

The final project, which is also expected to start and finish in July, will make similar upgrades to the Washington and Maine avenues' crosswalk.

Motor vehicle traffic is expected to be maintained in the area thoughout construction, Hyman said.

The construction is funded through a combination of federal, state and local money
and will cost $325,000, he said.

The upgrades to the paths and the Safe Routes to School campaign work will improve safety for the School Department's Walking School Bus program, said Betsy Critchfield, the program's director. The program, which launched in April and is the first of its kind in the state, is being piloted with students from Reiche Elementary and the East End Community School.

Critchfield said the improvements to Washington Avenue are critical for students walking to school on that route, particularly the need for flashing caution lights.

"It's a key crosswalk, where about 30 kids are walking up from Kennedy Park every single morning at prime commuting time," Chritchfield said. "We had pushed for improvement of existing signs as well as additional signs and crosswalk painting along Washington Ave. for a while. ... We welcome these infrastructure improvements with open arms."

Critchfield said the federally funded walking program is hoped to be expanded this fall to also include Lyseth and Riverton elementary schools.

"(The Allen Avenue) improvements are critical for us unrolling the Walking School Bus in the fall," she said, referring to the expansion to the two other schools.

Hyman said changes to Allen Avenue crosswalks are still in the preliminary stages, with no time line established and no improvements guaranteed.

The five-day-a-week walking school bus program operates rain or shine and has been popular with parents and students, Critchfield said. Currently, about 60 students walk to the East End school and about 20 to Reiche, she said.

"It has certainly grown," Critchfield said, noting that they are always looking for volunteers to apply to help supervise the walks. "Kids see other kids walking, and especially this time of year, they want to get off bus as much as possible."

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.