LEWISTON — Dozens of volunteers, wearing reflective vests in the hot sun, placed temporary traffic cones and painted new lines along Lincoln Street on Thursday, testing out a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly traffic pattern for the two-day Build Maine conference.
Cans of spraypaint, stencils and cones littered the sidewalks for a brief time as the crew designed the new look that’s expected to remain for a few weeks, complete with two bicycle lanes protected on one side by on-street parking.
For motorists, the long line of white bollards — essentially thin cones used to separate lanes — appearing every 15 feet is hard to miss.
It is also causing drivers to slow down.
“Visually, the bollards make the entire roadway seem a little narrower, so drivers know there’s more going on and they’re slowing down,” said Jim Tasse, assistant director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, on Thursday.
The coalition partnered with Build Maine and officials from the Maine Department of Transportation to create the installation for the workshop, and Tasse led participants on bike tours through the temporary setup.
Each year, the Build Maine conference brings together leaders in urban planning, architecture, engineering, local government and more to discuss the ways in which cities are designed and improved. An all-day conference is set for Friday at Bates Mill No. 1.
The conference began Thursday with a series of paid workshops, including Safe Streets Tactical Repair, which coincides with the Lincoln Street installation. Each year, pop-up demonstrations have been part of the conference, testing new urban ideas and getting feedback from the public.
“This is one of the first protected bike lane demonstrations installed in Maine,” Tasse said about the Lincoln Street demo.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable aspects of the installation is a parking buffer between traffic and the bike lane on one side of the street. It’s designed to create a greater degree of separation between oncoming motorists and bikes, and stands out on Lincoln Street.
Those parallel parking along the road have the bike lane to their right, and car traffic to the left. A line of parked cars not far from Labadie’s Bakery didn’t seem too concerned or confused by the new pattern.
Kara Wilbur, co-chairwoman of Build Maine, said she spoke with businesses along Lincoln Street prior to the installation. A major part of the workshop, she said, is getting feedback from the public on the design.
Signs asking for public input were also placed in several locations along the street. Build Maine is asking that comments be made on their website and on the Lewiston Rocks community Facebook page.
Pedestrian safety has been a repeated topic for city officials ever since a string of pedestrian fatalities occurred in a one-year span, and multiple intersection improvement projects are in the pipeline. On Tuesday, the City Council voted 4-3 on a first reading to create a “complete streets” ordinance, to ensure future road projects are designed with all users in mind.
According to a Build Maine news release, Lincoln Street was “identified by some locals as feeling uncomfortable for walking and biking.”
Betsy Poulin, a city planning employee with the city of Augusta who was part of the volunteer team Thursday, said as of the afternoon, there hadn’t been much disruption of traffic. She said the pattern had already been marked and laid out when volunteers arrived, making for an easier launch.
She said the bollard cones, although just plastic, give cyclists in the bike lanes added security from traffic. She said Augusta is considering similar projects.
Tasse said the parking buffer is used extensively in larger cities like New York City and Montreal, Quebec. He said for a cyclist, it “removes the hazards of the door zone on the driver side,” referring to the worry that a door may suddenly open on an oncoming cyclist.
“It’s great to see Maine experimenting with them,” he said.
As volunteers were still piecing together the new traffic pattern throughout the day, officials participating in the workshop took part in guided bike rides or simply watched how the new pattern worked with moving traffic.
He said they had already received good feedback from Lewiston Public Works officials, including Director Dave Jones who went along on one of Tasse’s bike rides.
“I think we’ve demonstrated that it can be done as a demo and still look pro,” he said, referring to the use of temporary materials. The volunteers set up in the former Lincoln Street fire substation, with materials covering the floor, and bicycles set up outside.
Also occurring as part of the conference Thursday was an “open build and plaza” in Dufresne Plaza off Lisbon Street. Organizers said the area would “come alive” with art, lights, games and more.