Yarmouth moves closer to 'complete streets' policy

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YARMOUTH — The Town Council later this month will be discussing, and possibly voting on, a “complete streets” policy.

Councilors discussed the policy, which was recommended by the town’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, at a Nov. 5 workshop meeting. They decided to move the issue forward to the Nov. 19 Town Council meeting for further discussion and possibly a vote.

Complete streets are roads that are designed to be used by more than just motor vehicles. Town Manager Nat Tupper said the complete streets policy would make “safe, convenient, friendly roads for everybody,” including pedestrians, bicyclists, and “handicapped persons.”

“Complete streets means you can no longer think of streets being just for cars,” Tupper said. 

Town Planner Alex Jaegerman said the policy will “also look at street connectivity and bike routes.”

According to Lt. Dean Perry, five bicyclists have been involved in accidents with cars this year. There were no serious injuries and the accidents were a mixture of bikes hitting cars and cars hitting bikes.

The accidents happened on Main, West Elm, and West Main streets, on Route 1, and in the Yarmouth High School parking lot.

Despite the accidents, Jaegerman said a lot of people already think of roads as being for more than just motor vehicles.

“The idea of a complete streets policy is to, if you will, formalize or capture the trend in the way we think about transportation,” he said. “We are already thinking this way, and acting this way by a large measure, so this is not something that’s radically 180 degrees.”

Jaegerman said the complete streets policy will make sure “all modes (of transportation) are appropriately addressed.”

“That will be the kind of analysis performed on each roadway project,” he said. “It’s already guiding us, but it’d be nice to have it official.”

Jaegerman said the town has already been thinking in terms of complete streets on projects like the new bridge over Main Street, which will be completed by the Maine Department of Transportation in 2017.

“It’s helpful to have a policy, locally, that supports our sense of need to support all modes (of transportation) on a piece of infrastructure that’s going to be put in place and that’s going to last 75 or 100 years,” Jaegerman said.

He said the policy will be “like a filter for projects that are ongoing.” Existing roads will also be looked at to see if they should be improved and redone under the policy.

He added that complete streets will be different in certain parts of town because the character of the area will play a role in how the roads will look. He said the town won’t “put something where there is no need.”

Councilor Andy Kittredge said he supports the policy, but is concerned about “putting more stress on already stressed funds.” Councilors discussed how maintaining roads is already a funding issue and that it will cost more to maintain complete streets.

The Public Works budget for 2015-2016 is $2.93 million, which is down more than $131,000 from the 2014-2015 budget. Director of Public Works Erik Street was on vacation this week and could not be reached to discuss how the complete streets policy would affect the budget.

Jaegerman on Tuesday said he is unsure what the impact would be because it’s still unclear how much it would cost to make streets comply with the policy.

“It’s hard to say precisely how much it would cost,” he said. “There are some costs involved with installing and maintaining.”

Despite the cost, Councilor Pat Thompson said the policy is “critical” for moving Yarmouth forward.

According to Jaegerman, criteria for funding of road projects through the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System is starting to involve having a complete streets policy.

If the Town Council approves the policy it will be added to the town’s Comprehensive Plan. A complete streets committee would be established and would include Jaegerman; Town Engineer Steve Johnson; various department heads; representatives from the Police, Fire, and Public Works departments, and representatives from the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee and Yarmouth Community Services. 

Jaegerman said it’s unknown when the policy would be implemented after it’s approved.

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

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.