LEWISTON — When reconstruction began recently along Bartlett Street, the plans did not include a crosswalk to the parking lot outside the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.
That rankled former Mayor Larry Gilbert Sr. and retired Maine Department of Transportation traffic engineer Roland Roy, who frequent the church and have witnessed the commotion when Mass lets out.
They say churchgoers — often seniors or those using wheelchairs or walkers — have a hard time crossing the busy street without a safe crossing. New curbing makes it tough for elderly to make it across quickly. The parking lot is at the crest of a hill, and Gilbert said he’s afraid a car simply won’t see people crossing in time.
“This is an oversight,” Roy said about the lack of crosswalk.
In response to persistent efforts by the pair to advocate that church safety improvements be included in the construction, city officials said it is working on a solution and has all but guaranteed some kind of crosswalk will be installed.
But first, a design and funding source must be hashed out.
Dave Jones, the city’s director of Public Works, said Monday that city staff have since met twice with Maine Department of Transportation officials to discuss the project.
He said while the specific funding source has not yet been identified, MDOT officials have said they will find the funding for the safety measures.
Jones said a design is underway that will install a crosswalk with bump-outs at the crest of the hill across from the parking lot. There is a similar crosswalk that’s just been installed further down at Bartlett and Ash streets.
A bump-out extends the sidewalk to reduce the crossing distance.
Jones said officials do not know when the work will take place. It could come after the Bartlett Street project is complete. According to a recent city administrator’s report, the Bartlett Street project is “on schedule with nearly all the curbing installed.”
Gilbert and Roy said they had been rushing to urge the project so that crews could install the crosswalk as they complete the reconstruction.
“Now that they’re doing the road, this is the time to get it done,” Gilbert said last week.
In response to questions about the additional crosswalk, Ted Talbot, press secretary for MDOT, said Monday, “We are working closely with the city on that potential but are in the fact-gathering stages. Both entities have to fully identify costs as well as collaborate on design. We are all working toward the goal of some sort of crossing but it’s just too early to say definitively when or how.”
Roy first began advocating for the project in June, when the reconstruction project was taking shape. He said he’s a caregiver to his mother, who uses a wheelchair.
In an email to city officials in June, Roy said, “People with disabilities, such as my wheelchair-bound Mom, and others like her using canes and/or rolling four-wheel canes, cannot safely cross Bartlett Street with the current construction design as it is unsafe and difficult due to sight distance restrictions and due to a much higher granite curb.”
Roy requested that the city either install a similar crosswalk with bump-outs like at Ash Street or a raised crosswalk. He also sent a formal Americans with Disabilities Act complaint to MDOT regarding the reconstruction project.
In response, Theresa Savoy, the ADA coordinator for MDOT, said no requirement was found that a crossing be constructed at the location.
“This project is considered an alteration to an existing sidewalk, as the sidewalk was pre-existing,” she said in an email response. “There is no evidence of a crosswalk existing at this area, therefore ADA does not require one.”
She added, “This does not mean that one could not be placed, only that we cannot require it.”
Roy and Gilbert argue that the reconstruction project, with new curbing at the basilica parking lot, has essentially turned the lot into a new intersection.
“An intersection without a crosswalk,” Gilbert said.
Churchgoers cross Bartlett Street recently after attending Mass at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston. As construction on the street wraps up, some are concerned there is no safe crossing to the parking lot across the street. (Submitted photo)