Over the last two years, several communities around the state have adopted “Complete Streets” policies to ensure the needs of everyone on Maine roads are taken into account.
“In a Complete Streets community, anytime there is planning for a new project or breaking ground, it must be looked at from all angles,” Brian Allenby, communications director with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, said Tuesday. “That includes how drivers, cyclists, walkers, people in wheelchairs or other forms of nonmotorized transportation will use it.”
The idea, according to Allenby, is a “shift in mindset” to encourage city and community planners to consider the needs of everyone, not just drivers.
A project of the national advocacy group Smart Growth America, Complete Streets provides the starting points for communities to “direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users, regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation,” according to the group’s website. “This means that every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians and bicyclists.”
So far in Maine, Portland, South Portland, Lewiston-Auburn, Windham, Fort Kent and Bangor have adopted Complete Streets policies, and last June, the Maine Department of Transportation got on board and approved using the policy in all future state transportation infrastructure development.
Lewiston and Auburn joined forces three years ago to create the Lewiston-Auburn Bike Ped Committee to look at cost effective ways to support nonmotorized transportation in their cities.
“That group has become the driving force behind Complete Streets,” Edward Barrett, Lewiston’s city administrator, said Tuesday. “By coming together, we have brought together people interested in biking, pedestrians and other users of the public infrastructure.”
Lewiston, Barrett said, has a significant population of nondrivers who prefer to walk or bike to get around.
“They are clustered in our downtown, residential area,” he said. “We also hear from students at Bates College and other younger people that having the ability to get around town without a car would be advantageous for them and would bring them into the downtown area.”
Funneling cyclists and walkers into downtowns and onto main streets makes good economic sense, according to Abby King, Bicycle Coalition of Maine’s community advocacy coordinator.
“What we have found all over Maine is communities that focus on developments of their downtowns and main streets into walkable areas are the towns that do really well,” she said. “This does not mean you can’t drive to them, but it does mean the businesses and residents in those downtowns welcome cyclists and pedestrians.”
Lewiston-Auburn’s work incorporating Complete Streets is a great example, King said.
“They are focusing their energy on getting people downtown,” she said. “They have a lot of large streets and roads, and now with a Complete Streets policy, they are focusing on ideas that take all needs into account and who will be using the roads in the future.”
Barrett pointed to a bike lane that was put in on Pine Street in Lewiston as an example of Complete Streets planning.
“We tried to put in a buffer area between the parking and the bike lanes,” he said, but that buffer ended up being a bit too wide and was forcing drivers far to the left on the one-way road. There are plans to re-draw the buffer area to make more room for vehicles but maintain safe lanes for cyclists, he said.
“We tried to take everyone’s needs into account,” Barrett said.
Creating bike and pedestrian lanes does not need to come at any extra cost to a town, and becoming a Complete Streets community does not provide any direct funding, King said. It’s often simply a matter of drawing them.
“They are just looking at the striping patterns,” she said. “It’s a matter of moving them around to accommodate users other than drivers.”
In Bangor, where Complete Streets is part of the city’s comprehensive plan, according to city engineer John Theriault, work is ongoing to create bike and pedestrian-friendly routes within the community’s existing infrastructure.
“We try to do the best we can,” he said Wednesday morning. “We are an old city with old right-of-ways, [and] we do the best we can with the available roadway width as we look at accommodating different modes of transportation.”
New crosswalks with pedestrian-activated signal lights have been installed around the city as part of the plan and are proving to be very popular with Bangor walkers, Theriault said.
“There is one near the library, and people are using it left and right,” he said. “They are very popular, and if we went by requests, we would have them at every crosswalk in the city.”
On May 11, Fort Kent became the newest Complete Streets community in Maine and the first in Aroostook County.
“Our bike-pedestrian committee [in Fort Kent] is currently partnering with the [Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry] to look at adding another downtown bike trail,” said Julie Daigle, the community outreach coordinator for Power of Prevention, a local group that promotes healthy living. “This is part of making our community more walkable, bikeable and accessible for all people.”
That, according to Fort Kent Town Manager Don Guimond, benefits the entire town.
“It’s important that we consider all users,” he said earlier this month. “Because it brings the community that much more together.”
At the state level, the Maine Department of Transportation recently incorporated bicycle and pedestrian lanes into construction on the Casco Bay Bridge connecting Portland and South Portland, according to Allenby.
“We called [the Maine Department of Transportation] and said work on the bridge could be a perfect example of incorporating the Complete Streets policy,” Allenby said. “We said it would not be hard to create a better path for cyclists and pedestrians, and within a week, it was created. It was awesome.”
It also was an example of planners giving real consideration to all transportation users, he said.
“The hope is in five or so years, people won’t even have to think about it,” Allenby said. “It will just be how they do business.”