AUBURN — Drivers may see narrower Court and Main streets later this summer, part of an effort to test some tactical urban theories.

City councilors Tuesday were intrigued by suggestions from the Congress for New Urbanism to make the downtown more friendly to pedestrians and streetside businesses. The suggestions involved narrower travel lanes, more on-street parking and more streetside interest.

“They like to get some of the things they are trying to promote in place before the conference, and they think these street improvements could make the downtown more pedestrian-friendly, more viable for downtown businesses,” Eric Cousens, Auburn’s deputy director of planning, said. “We think some of their proposals have merit, and some would be more disruptive than they are worth.”

The Congress for the New Urbanism New England’s Maine chapter is hosting the second BuildMaine conference May 20 and 21 at Bates Mill Building No. 1. The conference brings urban planning professionals together to discuss new ideas about improving Maine’s economy.

Lewiston experimented with specially painted bike lanes, connecting Bates College and the Bates Mill complex for the first conference last fall.

Cousens said the group has three ideas. The first would be for Main Street downtown, replacing the left-hand loading area in front of Naral’s with cafe seating and the lanes in front of Festival Plaza with a 5-foot-wide bicycle lane. Regular special events and food trucks would be invited to take up space at Festival Plaza.


“The general opinion among staff is that this section of Main Street is pretty friendly as it is, and it wouldn’t be worth the loss of parking,” Cousens said.

The second would allow two-way traffic on that section of Main Street. It would also remove the right turn lane from westbound Court Street onto Great Falls Plaza. Cousens said that would take more time to get it right.

“I don’t think we can do a two- or three-day trial because we still have people that try make turns onto Main Street now,” he said. “We could look into this longer-term, but I don’t think it’s realistic for the short term.”

A third option would reduce Court Street to three lanes, allowing on-street parking along either side of the road and creating a dedicated left-hand turning lane in the center of the street.

Cousens said the group had hoped Auburn would make the changes in time for the conference, but he didn’t think that would be possible.

Mayor Jonathan LaBonte agreed.

“The context, in terms of time frame, should really be in terms of this summer,” LaBonte said. “Doing this for two days would be disruptive without a chance to demonstrate any value.”

Cousens said he would work to modify the three ideas and present a plan back to councilors for a yes or no vote at the May 4 meeting.

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