AUBURN — In a room on the second floor at City Hall on Wednesday, two groups of people leaned over tables, studying maps like war generals.

But it wasn’t warfare they were mulling. The men and women were examining maps of Auburn and charting the areas most dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists.

As they assembled their grim lists, they exchanged war stories.

“I run, I walk, I’ve recently started riding a bicycle,” said Joe Berry, who lives in the area of Northern Avenue. “I’ve become very concerned about these safety issues.”

Larry Pelletier of New Auburn hears that. Recently retired, he walks a lot and has experimented with riding a bike.

“People were so inconsiderate,” he told the others. “They’d yell, ‘Get a car, old man!’ One of them threw a can of soda at me.”

Just about everybody had a horror story connected to walking or biking. But the “Head’s Up” initiative, hosted by the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Bicycle Coalition, goes beyond mere anecdotes. There are also statistics, and those statistics show that pedestrian fatalities in Maine are on the rise.

The MDOT recently conducted a study to identify 21 cities and towns with above-average numbers of pedestrian crashes.

“Auburn is one of those communities,” said Patrick Adams, bicycle and pedestrian program manager for MDOT. “We’re concerned about what we’re seeing.”

“Something is amiss,” agreed James C. Tassé, assistant director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. “Is it distraction? Is it road design? We don’t know.”

They do know some things, though. For example, a pedestrian is much less likely to be involved in a crash if they are crossing at crosswalks that are marked with a lighted signal.

They know that most crashes involving pedestrians occur in daylight (although most fatalities occur at night) and that reflective clothing worn on the arms can vastly improve the chances of being seen by oncoming motorists.

Those things apply everywhere. What “Heads Up” organizers are trying to do now is to pin down problem areas in each individual city and town.

At Auburn Hall, those who attended the Wednesday night forum were glad to help. Working in groups, they used maps to narrow in on the city’s most problematic areas.

Several hot spots emerged, including Center Street near Mount Auburn Avenue, Court Street in the downtown area and farther up near Edward Little High School, the rotary at Minot Avenue and Washington Street, the entire stretch of the the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge and several areas in and around New Auburn.

What’s next?

Tassé, Adams and others involved in the initiative will visit the sites in question and begin the process of finding solutions.

Similar efforts are happening across Maine in the wake of that spike in pedestrian fatalities.

Following a string of pedestrian accidents in a one-year span, Lewiston has held its own share of pedestrian safety discussions. On Thursday, as part of the Build Maine conference, a temporary installation on Lincoln Street will create a traffic pattern with designated bike lanes and piano-key crosswalks.

Both cities are also funding significant improvements on either side of the Bernard Lown Peace Bridge in New Auburn and Lewiston as part of a major MDOT renovation project. The traffic patterns will be altered to be more pedestrian-friendly.


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