In attending the Nov. 16 public forum regarding pedestrian and crosswalk safety, it was humbling to hear from so many residents and neighbors. I greatly respect all of them for their frankness and heartfelt dialog. They were the voices of Lewiston.

What happened on Nov. 3 was a great loss and, again, I offer my deepest condolences to Jayden Cho-Sargent’s family and friends. From his loss, Lewiston officials have an historic opportunity to make our city safer.

I am encouraged that, after Wednesday’s forum, we finally have an opportunity to address pedestrian safety in many problem areas of Lewiston. It is always a good thing when community comes together to discuss and stay focused on important issues, and our residents clearly identified direct areas of concern. Throughout the forum I was feeling the power of community; feeling like we were all headed in the same direction.

But while the forum itself ended positively, there is another issue that I must discuss. Maybe I am too empathetic and I definitely risk losing political “points” for calling this out — but it appears there is an effort to use this tragedy for political advantage. That might be a tactic regularly used in Washington, D.C., or Augusta, but it has no place here in Lewiston.

The safety of city residents is important to every city councilor who currently serves in Lewiston. While still trying to wrap our heads around the horrific accident that took a 13-year-old’s life on the morning of Nov. 3, Lewiston city councilors received an email just three hours and seven minutes after the accident from Sen. Nate Libby. The senator indignantly urged us to change our vote, rejecting the “Road Diet/Complete Street/Bike Lane” proposal for Outer Sabattus Street. I indicated to the senator that I would not be in favor of a reversal. Shortly thereafter, Libby and Councilor Kristen Cloutier set up the Pedestrian Safety Forum.

The council’s decision was made only after careful consideration over several meetings. Here is why the City Council was not supportive of the Outer Sabattus Street plan, and why I would not support such a reversal: While the proposal would have implemented changes that can be effective in areas with high rates of pedestrian and bicycle accidents, the data for Outer Sabattus Street shows no such conditions exist. Additionally, overwhelming resident and business opposition for the proposal was another factor that Councilors Joline Beam, Shane Bouchard, Tim Lajoie and myself respected in our vote.

That positive feeling I had during the forum carried through until I found myself cornered by Sen. Libby after the forum concluded.

The senator again demanded I re-visit the Sabattus Street project and that I vote “yes” to approve it. Clearly agitated, he seemed focused only on the Outer Sabattus Street project and the “Complete Streets/Bike Lane” opportunity there. He showed no interest in discussing Main or Lisbon streets, where there have been many accidents and a number of recent fatalities. Even after I repeatedly shifted the discussion back to Main and Lisbon streets, Sen. Libby insisted I support the Outer Sabattus Street “Road Diet” proposal.

It was clear to me Libby wasn’t concerned about actual traffic and accident data for that stretch of road (which I attempted to discuss). In his agitated state, he showed no interest in discussing the immediate need downtown and on Lisbon Street for such measures.

Road diets and complete streets initiatives have a valuable place in today’s cities and towns, but in the case of Outer Sabattus Street the data does not support a need. Perhaps Sen. Libby should focus more on facts and less on crusades of political expedience.

It was also clear after Wednesday’s forum, that there are dire pedestrian safety issues on a number of streets in Lewiston. I urge all my fellow elected officials to address the areas of most concern — Main Street, Lisbon Street and the downtown arterials.

Let’s get to work, together, to make Lewiston a better, safer place to live. Together we can save lives. Today is Day One.

Michael Lachance is the Lewiston City Councilor for Ward 7.


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