Lewiston Police Officer Nick Meserve writes a $136 ticket to Donald Clark of Lewiston for crossing Walnut Street and not using a crosswalk.

LEWISTON — Police Officer Nick Meserve on Wednesday handed out what he thought was his first ticket to a pedestrian since joining the department eight years ago.

The Police Department was one of several law enforcement agencies in Maine to participate in a special detail Wednesday targeting motorist behaviors that put cyclists and pedestrians in danger, but the patrols were also designed to catch risky behavior from those on foot or a bike.

In the span of an hour Wednesday, Meserve handed out the $136 ticket and a series of warnings to about 10 people downtown. Each person was either walking or biking, out and about as the summer weather takes hold.

Some people on foot weren’t using sidewalks or crosswalks, and a pair of cyclists were riding against traffic with a toddler who didn’t have a helmet. Meserve was also looking for motorists failing to stop at crosswalks, or texting and driving, which comes with its own stiff fine: $310 for a first offense.

This time of year, with more pedestrians on the streets, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine teams up with state law enforcement agencies to remind people of laws pertaining to “vulnerable users” of the road, whether it’s a cyclist or a wheelchair user.

Depending on the city, local law enforcement conducted the patrols in cruisers, on foot, or on bicycles. Two Lewiston officers were also on bikes Wednesday, and according to Meserve had given out three similar warnings during that same hour. The details continued throughout the day.

For Lewiston, participating was an easy and timely decision given a recent focus on pedestrian safety. A marked increase in pedestrian fatalities hasn’t been isolated to Lewiston, and law enforcement is taking note.

Last year, five agencies took part in the one-day detail. This year, there are 11 participating. It was organized this year with help from South Portland Police Lt. Frank Clark, who sits on the coalition’s Law Enforcement Collaborative. A reference guide was given to each officer taking part, outlining what to look for.

A news release for the initiative said that in 2015, 276 pedestrians and 182 bicyclists were involved in crashes with motor vehicles, resulting in 19 pedestrian fatalities — almost double the number of fatalities seen during the preceding five-year period.

There were three pedestrian deaths in Androscoggin County in 2015. In Lewiston, three occurred over a one-year span between 2015-16. Since that time, the city has hosted public discussions on safety, pledged road improvements to dangerous intersections, and recently passed a “complete streets” ordinance aimed at designing roads for all users.

Listed among the objectives for the detail were “increasing public awareness, voluntary compliance, and public/vulnerable user safety.”

“The ultimate goal isn’t revenue collection, it’s voluntary compliance, which is exactly what you’re seeing today,” Meserve said.

When Meserve handed out the ticket to Donald Clark of Lewiston for crossing between adjacent crosswalks, Clark – visibly upset – began telling other pedestrians to make sure to use the crosswalks.

“If there’s a crosswalk available in the area, you’re supposed to use it,” Meserve said.

Many people aren’t aware of some of the traffic laws that exist, and answers varied Wednesday among those who were stopped. For Clark, he said he was aware of the crosswalk laws.

Later, Meserve issued a warning to a Naples resident for walking across the street despite a “Don’t Walk” signal. The man said he had no idea that it was against the law to do so.

“I’ll definitely hit them from now on, that’s for sure,” he said, pointing to the crossing button at the intersection.

When Meserve stopped two cyclists, one carrying a toddler while also towing materials behind him, the resident said he was aware of the helmet laws but unaware that he shouldn’t ride against traffic.

Also participating Wednesday were police departments in Auburn, Falmouth, Portland, South Portland, Scarborough, Westbrook and others, including the Maine State Police.

Frank Gallagher, communications director for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, said Wednesday afternoon that Lt. Clark of South Portland would be compiling all the data taken from each department following Wednesday’s details. Some departments continued them through the evening rush hour, he said.

The coalition has been active in the region lately, hosting forums on pedestrian safety in both Lewiston and Auburn as well as creating a special installation on Lincoln Street for last week’s Build Maine conference.

The installation is a temporary shift in the traffic pattern, creating bicycle lanes with a parking buffer on one side. The coalition, along with Lewiston Public Works and the Maine Department of Transportation, will use the feedback for future projects.

Riding by the installation on Wednesday, Meserve said he hadn’t heard much feedback regarding the pattern. It’s expected to remain for about two weeks.

Lewiston Lt. David St. Pierre said Wednesday that the patrols were designed to focus on obtaining voluntary compliance from residents, using mostly verbal warnings. Sometimes, if someone was cutting a corner or was close to a crosswalk, Meserve would simply lower his window and direct the person to use it.

For much of the behavior, Meserve said, enforcement can be difficult. Many cyclists, especially near residential neighborhoods, are barely teenagers. As for texting and driving, watching for it has become more difficult, he said. People have now learned to hold phones down near their legs.

For a few minutes Wednesday, he posted up in a parking lot and looked out for motorists not stopping for pedestrians in the crosswalk, but saw nothing risky. Meserve said when motorists see a police car, they’ll always stop for pedestrians.

A cyclist even went by, obeying the rules. It’s also a $136 ticket if a cyclist fails to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Later, when Meserve did another circle through the downtown neighborhood, virtually every pedestrian was using the sidewalks. Between him and the two officers on bicycles, Meserve thought maybe word had spread about the detail.

“Just since that one ticket, there’s been a noticeable difference,” he said.

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