MOUNT DESERT — The safest place to cross the street is at a crosswalk, right?
State law says drivers must yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. But if drivers can’t see someone crossing until it’s almost too late to stop, then the crosswalk can give pedestrians a false sense of safety. That’s why the town and the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) have allowed a crosswalk on Main Street (Route 102) in Somesville to literally fade away.
But some Somesville residents want it repainted.
The crosswalk in question goes from in front of the E. Pat Foster Real Estate office on the west side of the street to the Somes Landing access drive.
Main Street resident Rogier van Bakel said in a June 20 email to Town Manager Durlin Lunt, “I rue the disappearance of the crosswalk and must point out to you that it will be a serious liability issue for the Town of Mt. Desert if a pedestrian gets hit at that location, as seems likely to happen sooner or later.”
He and several other Somesville residents attended Monday’s meeting of the Board of Selectmen to ask for restoration of the crosswalk, as well as beefed-up speed control measures.
Patrick Adams, the DOT’s active transportation planner, whose responsibilities include pedestrian safety, told the selectmen that the crosswalk is extremely unsafe.
“That location is probably one of the more concerning that I’ve seen in communities across the state,” he said. “We need to move away from the concept of crossing at that location.”
The main problem, he said, is that the crosswalk is not far enough from the crest of the hill at the northern end of the village of Somesville. He said that, prior to the selectmen’s meeting, he spent some time observing traffic at that location.
“If you stand on the real estate agency side of the street where the crossing is and you look up the hill, from the time you can see a vehicle starting to crest the hill to the time they have reached the crosswalk was never more than four seconds,” Adams said. “That was with people doing the speed limit.
“Knowing that it takes about two seconds for a person who is fully aware and paying attention to react and put their foot on the brake, that leaves just two seconds to stop. And by that time they have already gone past the crosswalk.”
He said a crosswalk at that location increases the risk to pedestrians.
“Pedestrians have been taught to think that a crosswalk is a safe location to cross the road, and when it’s not, they have a false sense of security; they cross the road without properly vetting whether it is safe to cross.”
Selectman Matt Hart suggested that a new crosswalk might be painted farther down the hill, closer to the Somesville Library. But Mount Desert Public Works Director Tony Smith said that would be too close to the crosswalk at the library, per DOT regulations.
Adams said his recommendation would be for the town to build a sidewalk from the crosswalk at the library to Somes Landing.
“That is the safest way to do it, but there is a significant cost to that,” he said.
And resident Debra Deal, who is married to van Bakel, said, “There’s not going to be enough room to put a sidewalk in there; I know that for certain.”
She and others said that, aside from the crosswalk issue, the town needs to do more to slow traffic through Somesville.
“We have a very dangerous situation, where there is rarely law enforcement or we have the signs that flash people’s speeds,” Deal said. “In the summertime in particular, it’s out of control, day and night.”
Smith said he has ordered four flashing speed signs, which he said are effective at causing drivers to go slower.
Several of the Somesville residents at the selectmen’s meeting also suggested installing speed humps or plateaus as a traffic calming measure. The town and the state have rejected such solutions in other areas in the past, citing safety and road maintenance concerns.
As for increased speed monitoring by police, Hart said, “If we’re talking about policing issues, I’d like to have our chief of police here. The person with the facts is the one who is not in this room, and that is Chief Willis.”
The selectmen said they would like to have Willis attend their July 15 meeting to talk about the traffic concerns of Somesville residents.