The bicycle is out of the basement, a few weeks later than last year. I don’t like to ride on ice or snow, and both stuck around a little too long this spring in this corner of the country.
Some places are dicey to ride even in clear, warm weather. A small city like Bangor ought to be easy to navigate by bicycle. But a recent presentation by traffic planners at City Hall left me feeling anxious about the future.
The subject was a study of what to do about traffic on Broadway, one of Bangor’s busiest streets. Though fewer than 20 people attended, several parents showed up to point out that many sections of the road are unsafe for bicyclists, and at best uncomfortable for pedestrians.
According to traffic engineer Thomas Errico of T.Y. Lin International, the Falmouth firm that conducted the study, it’s one of the busiest corridors in Maine, carrying 25,000 cars a day. It passes two high schools, a university, a shopping center, a fast food alley, a medical park, an ice cream stand and a truck stop on its way out of town toward Dover-Foxcroft.
Bangor High School presents particular problems. One man said, “I don’t understand why the public transportation in this town isn’t coordinated with the schools.” Other parents described near-death scenarios getting into and out of school entrances. (The other high school, John Bapst, is closer to downtown and lies smack dab on two bus routes, but nonetheless clogs traffic in that area.)
Though fond of phrases that would make E.B. White cringe (“left turn movements,” “a high priority on Interstate facilities,” e.g.), Errico and his team laid out several scenarios for improving bicycle and pedestrian access in the area. There was much talk of moving traffic lights, eliminating driveways, and altering intersections. The millions-of-dollars option is a roundabout at the intersection of Broadway, Center Street, and the interstate.
I like roundabouts. They’re much safer than four-way intersections, for both drivers and bicyclists. And I like the idea of a back road on the Bangor High side, all the way from the shopping center down to the community on the other side of the hill.
But I was dismayed at the paucity of talk about public transportation. The area is not well served by the present bus routes. There is no direct bus between Husson and downtown, for example. The Center Street and Mall Hopper routes converge at the shopping center, but Outer Broadway is not served at all.
And my favorite option – eliminating a lane of automotive traffic in favor of bicycle lanes – was ruled out almost immediately because, in Errico’s words, it would have caused “significant traffic congestion.”
The anarchist in me loves that possibility. It is fun, I admit, to zip past a long line of stalled cars on a bicycle. And if traffic in the short term became intolerable, would that not lead a number of adults and high school students to conclude that bicycles and the bus were more convenient?
A lot, maybe most, of the daily drivers on Broadway would still drive, but consider: If just one of every ten drivers were a bicyclist or a bus passenger, it would reduce the number of cars in a day on Broadway by 2,500. Two and a half thousand fewer cars on the road would resolve many of Broadway’s traffic problems.
The short-term ire of drivers likely precludes anything so bold as taking out a lane. But that’s the direction traffic policy should be heading. We should be looking for ways to reduce the number of cars on the road. Better bicycling and bus service is the way to do it.
I give Errico points for promoting pedestrian access. When someone observed that few people walk on Broadway, he replied, “I like to think that with these street improvements, we’ll see more people walking.” The same is true of bikes and buses.
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This Saturday is the Kenduskeag Canoe Race, which is a lot of fun to follow by bicycle. I like to throw my bike on the Capehart bus and take it to Finson Road. From there it’s a short ride to Six Mile Falls, where cars will be backed up for half a mile along every approaching road. It’s easy to follow to the course downstream from there via Outer-Outer-Broadway, Kenduskeag, Valley, and Harlow into downtown.
I hope to see a lot of bicyclists, weather permitting. Bicyclists and drivers alike: please don’t get in the way of the racers, and observe courtesy on the road at all times.
Spring, finally, is here.