LEWISTON — City officials were optimistic Tuesday that a report on pedestrian safety can serve as a guide to create lasting upgrades at a number of hazardous intersections. 

The report identifying the problem areas and possible fixes was created in the wake of three deadly accidents involving pedestrians in the span of a year, and was presented by the City Council on Tuesday.

Lewiston suffered three pedestrian fatalities between November 2015 and November 2016. The most-recent victim was 13-year-old Jayden Cho-Sargent, who was struck and killed on his way to school Nov. 3.

Cho-Sargent’s death jolted efforts to address pedestrian safety in the city, where the issue had already been in the spotlight. Just days after the accident, more than 50 people packed a community forum on pedestrian safety and city staff began an inventory of city crosswalks. 

Since then, a pedestrian safety report was compiled by City Council President Kristen Cloutier, state Sen. Nate Libby and School Committee Chairwoman Linda Scott, who hosted the November forum.

“It was a wake-up call for all of us, that we need to be more adamant about pedestrian safety in this community,” Cloutier said during the workshop Tuesday, adding that officials “heard loud and clear from residents that we really needed to take some steps to address” the issue during the forum.

The report released this week identifies a number of problem intersections based on a tiered system, while laying out possible fixes and next steps.

Tier 1 intersections, meaning the most hazardous, include the intersection of Sabattus, Webster and Ash streets, and Central Avenue (Five Corners), the intersection of East Avenue and Lisbon Street, the intersection of Ash and Bartlett streets, the intersection of Bartlett and College streets, and numerous others.  

Cloutier said the report is meant to be used as a guide by city staff, Lewiston Public Works and Maine Department of Transportation officials to identify specific projects. 

The intersection of Main and Frye streets, where Cho-Sargent was struck, will be addressed this year, City Administrator Ed Barrett said.

He said Lewiston has entered into an agreement with MDOT to split the costs of upgrades at the location, and both sides have begun sharing concept designs. 

“We’re pretty convinced it will be constructed this summer,” he said. 

Barrett said $175,000 in funding for fiscal 2017-18 is included in the newest Capital Improvement Program, including an increase in the street painting budget for “zebra-striped” crosswalks. The city is also set to receive portable speed signs, he said, which can be placed near problem areas to remind motorists to slow down.  

According to data contained in the report, 17 accidents involving pedestrians occurred in Lewiston in 2016, with one fatality and six “incapacitating injuries.” There were 224 crashes involving pedestrians between 2006 and 2016, resulting in five fatalities and 30 incapacitating injuries. 

According to the report, short-term fixes could include additional lighting at crosswalks, flashing crosswalk lights, signs or beacons, or additional signals at busy intersections.

Sen. Libby said the city will likely be able to get more flashing beacons from the state. He’s also sponsoring a bill in the Maine Legislature to establish a fund for municipalities to address pedestrian safety. Barrett said the Maine Municipal Association has already pledged to support the bill. 

The city has installed a number of flashing lights at crosswalks over the past few years, including two coincidentally installed just days after November’s deadly accident.

Those included the crosswalks on Park Street between Victor News and the parking garage, and on Lisbon Street by Kaplan University. The lights have rapid flashing beacons that pedestrians activate by pushing a button as they’re about to cross.

The flashers are becoming more common on busy streets, but School Committee Chairwoman Linda Scott said traffic engineers have said using too many of the same type of signs results in drivers getting used to — and possibly ignoring — the signs. 

The report lists longer-term projects such as traffic-calming measures often used by the MDOT: raised crosswalks, bike lanes, extended curbs and “pedestrian refuge islands,” where pedestrians can wait while crossing the street in two phases. Cloutier said long-term projects also tend to get the most resistance from residents. 

“This is just a starting point,” Scott said of the report. “This is something that should continue for many years forward.”

Lewiston Public Works Director David Jones said raised crosswalks can cause issues for plowing and drainage but that locations are evaluated individually. 

Also detailed in the report are “next steps,” which Cloutier called the most important piece. The bulleted items essentially give “marching orders,” she said, to the various stakeholders moving forward. That includes recommendations to city and school officials, legislators and MDOT. 

Jones is serving on the MDOT Task Force on Roadway Safety, which will release its own report at the end of the year. 

Jones said projects in the queue also include Oxford Street and the intersection of Bartlett and Ash streets, which are on the Capital Improvement Program schedule for 2018. He said the city will also look at the “five corners” intersection, which he called “complicated.”

“It’s not an easy intersection to make changes on,” he said. 

Questions from the public centered on speed limits, and how the proposed intersection upgrades would interact with the “complete streets” policy used now. 

Resident Heidi Sawyer said the overall number of speed limit signs in the city is “severely lacking,” and asked if the report addressed signage. 

Jones said his department will evaluate the need for more signs. 

The report states the list of next steps “is not meant to be extensive or final, but to help create a clear path forward in addressing the concerns raised and in supporting the recommendations made in this report.”

In response to a question about which city committee would provide oversight on the pedestrian safety measures, Cloutier said, “It’s all of our responsibilities.”

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A flashing cross signal was installed in November 2016 on Park Street near the parking garage. After three pedestrian deaths in the span of a year, city officials responded to a report on problem intersections and how to address them. 

• The entire pedestrian safety report can be viewed here

Bill would create pedestrian safety fund 

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Nate Libby to fund pedestrian safety measures is set for a public hearing on March 17 at 9 a.m. before the Transportation Committee in Augusta. 

The bill would create a “Fund for Municipalities To Improve Pedestrian Safety” as a program account in the Highway Fund within the Maine Department of Transportation. According to a summary of the bill, the fund “must be used for pedestrian safety improvements, such as lights, paint, signs, speed bumps and reconstruction of intersections.”

A municipality or a group of municipalities may apply for funding, with up to two-thirds of project costs for pedestrian safety improvements financed from the fund with the remainder of the costs provided by the municipality.

The full language of the bill can be viewed here

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