Bethel sidelines sidewalk project

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BETHEL – Parents hoping that selectmen would OK a Safe Routes to School sidewalk project for SAD 44 youngsters will have to wait until September.

Rather than commit to the $136,000 project at Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting, action was tabled following a public hearing where about 30 people were evenly split for and against it.

“The whole neighborhood turned out. It was a good discussion, with a fair amount of people on the streets involved not necessarily interested in it,” Town Manager Scott Cole said by phone on Tuesday afternoon.

At town meeting in June, voters authorized selectmen to accept $96,460 in state funds, local donations, materials, equipment and labor, easements, and up to $40,000 from the fiscal 2008 municipal budget to build 1,600 feet of sidewalks along Mason Street and Crescent Drive.

The 5-foot-wide sidewalk, which would start near Mason and Broad streets, would end at SAD 44’s Crescent Park Elementary School.

As part of Bethel’s agreement with the Maine Department of Transportation, which offered the money, Bethel and SAD 44 must also coordinate an education outreach effort to promote walking and bicycling to school and after-school activities.

A pink line was recently painted along Mason Street, showing the location of the sidewalk curb closest to the street.

That irked at least one Mason Street resident, George Lister, who opposed the project in a June 28 letter, stating, “As I read the notice, the sidewalk curb will be 5 feet from the ‘pink line’ closest to the street. This puts the sidewalk into my kitchen. With all of the available frontage on the opposite side of the street, do you really need to take away what little frontage we have at the Carriage House Condos?”

Another Mason Street resident, Melissa Arnson, who moved to Bethel from Los Angeles four years ago to raise a family in a place she considers safe and community oriented, doesn’t want a sidewalk on her street.

“If safety is a concern, why are we now placing the children at a crossing point where all morning and afternoon school traffic intersects?” Arnson asked.

Kirk Siegel of the Bethel Area Trails Committee wants the sidewalks.

“From the beginning, SAD 44 has made it clear that lack of sidewalks to the Crescent Park School is the reason that students are discouraged from walking,” he wrote in a July 7 letter. “Safe access to local schools was identified as one of the top four most desired projects at a large turnout of the public at the February 2006 Trails Forum held at Telstar.”

Cole said selectmen tabled action Monday night to consider other options: making Mason Street one-way, banning street-side parking on one or both sides of the affected streets, and revising signs and street markings.

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