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Panel seeks input for safer biking, walking in South Portland

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Panel seeks input for safer biking, walking in South Portland

SOUTH PORTLAND — On Monday morning, Michael and Elijah Esposito approached the traffic lights at the intersection of Broadway, Waterman Drive and the approach to Casco Bay Bridge.

Michael pressed the button for a walk signal. Elijah sat snug in his stroller. The walk signal came, and Michael pushed from the curb. Almost instantly, he jumped back as vehicles turned against the light from Broadway toward Ocean Street.

"This (intersection) is crazy," Esposito said after making it across the street. "I don't know what they can do, but I would have gotten hit if I didn't look."

Esposito's wait and worries are the kind of thing members of the South Portland Bike/Pedestrian Committee are hoping to hear more about at a 6 p.m. forum on Thursday, Jan. 24, at the Opportunity Alliance at 50 Lydia Lane.

The scope of the forum extends beyond the center of the city to cover problems and progress making South Portland more amenable to pedestrians and bicyclists. But Planning Director Tex Haeuser and committee member Carl Eppich agree the intersection near Knightville and Mill Creek is vexing for all manner of vehicles and pedestrians.

Formed in 2011, the committee of 11 includes current Councilor Patti Smith, former Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis, Bicycle Coalition of Maine Education Director Dr. James Tasse, Haueser, and Paul Niehoff and Eppich, who are planners with the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System.

Before the forum, the public is invited to take an online survey about walking and biking in the city and the condition of varied routes and areas in the 13 square miles of South Portland.

The survey follows a workshop held last December, and a report presented to councilors last June about making the city more accessible to pedestrians and bicyclists.

The most tangible progress in achieving the goal can be seen on Main Street, where it intersects with the approach to the new Veterans Memorial Bridge. Beside the northbound lane is a path for bicyclists and pedestrians. By 2014, the path should be extended south through the city to the Cash Corner intersection of Broadway and Main Street.

The work is largely funded through a $256,000 PACTS grant awarded in the fall, although a second application for $50,000 to pay for bike racks outside city buildings was denied.

The remainder of funding for the path extension, about $45,000, will be part of a future capital improvements budget, City Manager Jim Gailey said.

Bike riders are also allowed to use the pedestrian walkway on the Casco Bay Bridge after they complained the bicycle lane was unsafe because of high-speed vehicle traffic.

Haeuser said the city is seeking a grant to fund adding bike lanes and bus stops to Main Street in Thornton Heights, south of Cash Corner. It is work that might dovetail with future water main replacements in the neighborhood.

Because of its width, Haueser said Main Street could be targeted for improvements with more ease than some other streets.

“It definitely has room to work in,” he said.

In a development closer to the center of the city, Haueser and the committee has endorsed a plan to create a center turn lane on Broadway between Cottage Road and Stanford Street, on the way to Southern Maine Community College.

The changes will be discussed at a Jan. 28 council workshop at the Community Center, and will not necessarily mean more room for bicyclists, Haeuser said. What it could do is make riding safer by eliminating the hazard of drivers swerving toward the curb to get around vehicles preparing to turn from Broadway.

In 2010, councilors passed a resolution calling for a more sustainable city, including urging municipal employees to use alternative transportation to commute. Smith and Haeuser are known to ride bicycles to work, and at least anecdotally, Haeuser sees an increase in ridership.

"It seems to be more people all the time," he said. "There are some hardcore people out there who will ride great distances."

The committee wants to hear from walkers, too, although Haeuser said solutions in the most congested areas will not please everyone.

The drivers turning right in front of Esposito on Broadway were ignoring a "no turn on red" sign, which Eppich said requires more driver education and cooperation.

Haeuser said suggestions to halt traffic at Broadway and Waterman Drive for crossing throughout the intersection are impractical because of the general traffic flow and because city Police Department and Fire Department headquarters are nearby.

"An exclusive pedestrian phase at Waterman and Broadway would have caused too many extensive backups," Haeuser said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.