Complete Streets: Maine Seeks to Make Roadways More People-Friendly

Dec 10, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine - Maine has adopted a so-called "Complete Streets" policy. It's hoped the policy will lead to Maine roadways that are more friendly to people who aren't in cars.

Portland's Franklin Arterial, which state transportation officials are trying to make more pedestrian-friendly.
Credit Irwin Gratz / MPBN

When Main Street in Bangor was last re-built it wasn't a "Complete Street." Who says so? State Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt. And he ought to know. "I designed that many years ago. Parts of that are 72 feet wide, no sidewalks."

Another prime example is Franklin Street in Portland. Until a few years ago, it was called Franklin Arterial because it was designed to funnel vehicle traffic quickly from I-295 to downtown. To accomplish that, most of the cross-street intersections were eliminated - and, no, there were no sidewalks on it either.

Bernhardt says the Complete Streets policy sends a different message to traffic engineers: "Not only are we talking about the movement of cars; we are also talking about the movement of pedestrians, we're talking about the movement of bicycles," he says. "We're talking about we're going to have bus facilities."

Bernhardt says, in many cases, this street re-engineering will be playing catch up. He says Mainers are already bicycling and walking more. In some cases, they're also putting themselves at risk.

"Franklin Street, for instance," he says. "People - all you got to do is look at the little trails that go across the street and they are crossing in an unsafe manner. And the idea is to make that safe. And that's what 'Complete Streets' is all about."

It was a state representative, Anne Peoples, who introduced legislation calling on the state to adopt a Complete Streets policy. Transportation Commissioner Bernhardt says that made his department realize many of the practices had already been put in place. Now, they're outlined in one, six-page policy, posted on the state's website.

The policy says engineers on many kinds of road and bridge projects should consider things like sidewalks, crossing improvements, and separated facilities like bike lanes. Brian Allenby, of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, says some bicyclists would love to have more off-road paths. But, Allenby also says a wider, paved shoulder would help - or even something in-between.

"Another might be a protected on-road infrastructure - you know, where there is some sort of physical barrier between cars and cyclists."

Nancy Smith, of "GrowSmart Maine," says the benefits of creating, say, a path for kids to bicycle to school, go beyond the obvious. Think money.

"You're going to have a community that probably has higher market values, because that is appealing to families," Smith says. "If people can bike to work, those communities are having an impact with stronger market values because of that addition."

Portland and Lewiston-Auburn have already adopted their own Complete Streets policy. But Complete Streets isn't just for Maine's down towns. Transportation Commissioner Bernhardt says it's also meant to encourage improvements in rural areas, too.

"I could be from a certain area out to a school, because some of our schools are in more rural areas," Bernhardt says. "So, it's to look at the whole, 'safe routes to school.' And we might be putting in a sidewalk, or a wider shoulder. So those things all come into play when you're talking about Complete Streets."

Allenby, of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, says the public can help push this program along. "When Maine DOT is coming to do a project in your area, it's really going to be important - even if your community doesn't have a Complete Streets policy in place - to push Maine DOT,"Allenby says, "to ask them the questions of, 'How will all users be taken into account with this project?' "

Transportation Commissioner Bernhardt says it may take years to gather all the information, but future Mainers will find they have more choices in how they move around the state.

"They're going to be able to get on their bike to go from point 'A' to point 'B.' They're going to be able to walk safely. They're going to be able to have a place where they can go and get on a Metro bus and move from point A to point B."