LEWISTON — Officials in the Twin Cities are reviewing pedestrian safety in the wake of a fatal collision involving a pickup truck and a 13-year-old student in a crosswalk earlier this week.

Efforts to make city streets more friendly to pedestrians is nothing new here; studies have long pinpointed dangerous traffic corridors and intersections and suggested improvements.

But Thursday’s incident at Main and Frye streets in Lewiston prompted City Administrator Ed Barrett to team with the Public Works Department to launch an inventory of all city crosswalks that would detail the following:

• Their precise location;

• How many lanes they cross;

• Street lighting;

• The presence of signals and signs; and

• The posted speed limit.

This information will give the city a complete database of crosswalks so each one can be scrutinized anew.

“I wouldn’t at all be surprised that coming out of that we’ll be making some recommendations for some changes and improvements,” he said.

Barrett said he spoke with Public Works Director David Jones specifically about the crosswalk on Main Street where Jayden Cho-Sargent was struck and killed, but the two continued their conversation to include the status of all crosswalks that fall within city limits.

“We need to take a look at all of our crosswalks and see what kind of conditions exist at them,” he said. “Obviously, all of us are concerned and would certainly prefer that things like this never happen so we will take a look at that situation and go beyond that and look at all of our crosswalks to see if anything more can or should be done at those locations.”

Barrett said city officials investigated the area of Thursday’s fatality on Main Street between Union Street and Mountain Avenue to review its accident history in the past five years.

In 2011, a pedestrian was hit by a vehicle that was backing out of Rainbow Federal Credit Union parking lot, he said. In 2012, two people were struck while crossing Mountain Avenue by a car turning from Main Street. Before Thursday, there were no pedestrian incidents on Main Street since 2011.

In the latest incident, the truck driven by Laurie Young, 54, of South Paris, struck Cho-Sargent as he was walking to school shortly after 7 a.m. Thursday during a rainstorm. According to a police report released Friday, Young “drove too fast for conditions.”

The posted speed limit on that stretch of Main Street is 25 mph. 

In addition to inspecting existing crosswalks in Lewiston, Barrett said discussions have also revolved around areas with high pedestrian traffic where there are no crosswalks or where they are far apart.

He pointed to Lisbon Street’s commercial strip as the city’s most challenging area to pedestrians seeking to cross the street.

A local man was struck and killed while crossing Lisbon Street near Webber Avenue at night in November 2015 and a local woman was killed on an early morning in December when she crossed the busy street near East Avenue. Neither pedestrian was in a crosswalk.

“We are looking at the situation,” and have planned approaching state officials about suggested changes to the infrastructure that would require Maine Department of Transportation approval because Lisbon Street is a state highway there, Barrett said.

He said factors that make Lisbon Street so problematic include the large number of curb cuts and the distance between intersections with traffic lights where crosswalks exist.

In Auburn, Mayor Jonathan LaBonte posted on his Facebook page Friday that his city shares in the grief sparked by the tragic death that occurred in the greater Twin Cities community.

“A response to honor this young man’s life would be an aggressive audit of crosswalks in our community for improvements for visibility and increased enforcement for drivers to slow down and yield to pedestrians,” he wrote.

“It’s been a real challenge in this community for probably the last 60 years or so that we’ve built most of our streets, in particular those streets through the heart of our downtown, to exclusively accommodate cars,” he said in an interview with the Sun Journal. “When they’re built for cars to feel comfortable going 35 to 40 mph in a 25 mph (zone,) they’re inherently going to be unsafe for pedestrians.”

Pedestrians seeking to cross busy downtown streets is the one of the most common complaints LaBonte hears from his constituents, he said.

When Norway Savings Bank moved into its downtown location across from City Hall, LaBonte said bank employers preferred adding permitted parking on the west side of Court Street so they wouldn’t have to cross the busy street out of fear for their safety, despite a parking garage behind City Hall that offers hundreds of available spaces, he said.

LaBonte said the emotional tenor of the community is primed for the discussion of this “fundamental” issue.

“What’s the aftermath of this young boy losing his life?” he said. “Can we try to channel ourselves to really commit to making this a community where it is safer to walk, whether it’s walking to school or walking to work or just walking in your neighborhood?

“I think this is something where their needs to be some political will to change the culture of how both cities look at transportation infrastructure, roads and streets,” LaBonte said.

A map included in a bicycle and pedestrian study commissioned by the cities 18 months ago and paid partially with federal money shows that most crashes involving automobiles with pedestrians and bicycles from 2010-14 occurred along major traffic corridors and are more concentrated in the cities’ downtown areas.

The majority of the crashes, according to the study, happened during daylight with clear and dry weather conditions, not the cloudy, drizzly conditions present during Thursday’s crash.

“Common crash causes are driver inattentiveness, crossing without a signal or marked crossing and bicycling against traffic,” the study says.

That study, which includes suggested improvements, is expected to be presented soon to both Twin Cities councils.

Statewide, the number of pedestrians killed has jumped in the past two years, according to statistics compiled at the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety. From 2005-14, fatalities numbered between seven and 12. Last year, the number shot up to 19, more than double the nine pedestrians killed the previous year. So far this year, there have been 13 pedestrian fatalities, more than in any other year since 2005, with the exception of 2015. Officials didn’t explain the jump in the numbers.

Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson said a contributing factor that could help explain the spike in pedestrian fatalities over the past two years could be the ubiquitous use of electronic devices, such as cellphones. The state boosted five years ago its “distracted driving” law that specifically banned texting.

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Total Maine pedestrian fatalities

2016 (to date)    13

2015                 19
2014                  9
2013                 11
2012                  9
2011                 10
2010                 11
2009                 11
2008                 12
2007                 10
2006                 11
2005                  7
 
Source: Maine Bureau of Highway Safety

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