Residents rally for crosswalks

CROSSING BUSY ROUTE 302 — New Yorker Laurie Brennan and her daughter Jen, along with their on-leash dog Abby, utilize one of the crosswalks on the Naples Causeway recently. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

NAPLES – Two residents sounded the alarm, saying pedestrians on the Naples Causeway are putting themselves in danger by walking across Route 302, where an old crosswalk used to exist and where traffic patterns have changed.

“I don’t want to make that phone call to 9-1-1 because someone is injured or is killed,” Edward Osborne, the co-owner of Rick’s Café, said. “It’s really, really unsafe, and I am not talking about just outside Rick’s.”

Osborne and David Kilton conveyed their crosswalk concerns to the Naples Board of Selectmen on Monday.

The two men cited examples of jaywalkers stepping from behind parked cars, while other vehicles sped so fast smoke rose from the tires when sudden braking was required.

Both pushed for another crosswalk and signage, including a digital sign that displays the speeds at which vehicles are traveling. Plus, Kilton has posted photos and comments about the issue on the webpage,  HYPERLINK "http://www.naplesmaine.weekly.com" www.naplesmaine.weekly.com.

The best plan of action – as recommended by Town Manager Derik Goodine and Selectmen Chairman Christine Powers – is for a group of concerned residents to attend the next Causeway Restoration Committee meeting on Aug. 17.

“It’s dangerous everywhere, especially in the summer, and with parking on the Causeway,” Powers said.

Two weeks ago, Powers said, “I still contend we need another crosswalk because it’s dangerous” for people to continue crossing Route 302 by Rick’s Café.

She encouraged residents and fellow selectmen to go to the Causeway Committee’s August meeting, and “get concerns out in the air.”

Recently, at that committee’s meeting on Aug. 3, members decided not to campaign for another crosswalk – at least, for the time being.

The primary reason for taking that stance: the loss of parking spaces required to make room for a crosswalk.

In order to install one crosswalk, typically three parking spaces would be eliminated, according to a state transportation department official.

Crosswalks have come up during the conversations that community members have struck up with Craig Hurd, the resident engineer with Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT), which has an office in Naples during its two-year project to upgrade the Causeway and build a new fixed bridge.

“There have been comments about people crossing wherever they want,” he said.

The MDOT has no “rules” determining how many crosswalks are needed, and adding one more might still be considered, Hurd said.

“It’s kind of undetermined right now” as to whether or not another crosswalk might be included in the final look of the Causeway, he said. “I think it’s going to be an ongoing discussion. If they want one, we will put it in. There will be four chances for people to get across.”

As plans stand, when the project is done there will be the three existing crosswalks, and an under-bridge pathway to get between Long Lake and Brandy Pond, according to Hurd.

Currently, one crosswalk is the east side of the Naples swing bridge near Merced’s. The other crosses to the boardwalk from Gazebo T’s, while the third one crosses to the Songo River Queen dock from the sidewalk in front of Dick Dyke’s property.

In the past, crosswalks have come to the table at several selectmen’s meetings. As was expressed on Monday, the main concern has been public safety.

A Catch-22, which was pointed out by Selectman Rick Paraschak, is that MDOT will not recommend the location near Rick’s Café as a safe crossing – although blue prints were drafted for it.

“The majority of us want a crosswalk there,” he said.

A crosswalk in that spot would require an island between lanes and a traffic signal. However, it doesn’t meet MDOT criteria for needing a traffic signal, he said.

“If the state doesn’t want to put their liability out there, the town doesn’t want to be liable either,” Paraschak said.

Naples’ resident Kilton said providing too few crosswalks is resulting in jaywalking incidents and potential injuries.

“The two (crosswalks) you have are too far apart. People just aren’t going to do it,” he said.

Osborne agreed, “When there has been a crosswalk, the majority of people will stop and use it. We’ve always had five crosswalks in this town. Now, we’re down to two.”

Selectman Dana Watson pointed out people do have a tendency to jaywalk. People cross where it is most convenient, he said.
It is not just people who are summering in Naples or passing through town who are unfamiliar with the new foot-traffic patterns.

According to Watson, locals are adjusting to the changes, too. Drivers making a right-hand turn from Route 302 onto Route 114 are sometimes surprised by pedestrians in the road – people using a crosswalk that was never there in the past, he said.

On Saturday during the Naples’ Antique and Classic Boat Show and Classic Car Show, the Causeway experienced an influx of pedestrians. Some of them shared their opinion on the crosswalks.

This weekend, Boston-based Matt Moreau was visiting the Causeway. He used to live off Long Lake.

“People are nice and stopped for us,” Moreau said. “But, the Causeway could use more crosswalks.”

Dana Place, who summers in Naples from California, said another crosswalk would be a major improvement.

“We had to walk far to get to this one,” she said.

She explained that when she saw the crosswalk at Rick’s Cafe was gone, she and her son, Jacob, stayed on the sidewalk. They walked toward the library, expecting to see one at Sandy’s Flight Deck. But, they didn’t see any crosswalks. So, they re-traced their steps back.

The summer resident said she feels safe using Naples’ crosswalks in comparison to ones on the West Coast.

“There is a crosswalk near our house that no one stops at,” she said. “The drivers here are polite to the pedestrians and stop.”

Arriving on the Causeway with a group of cyclists, local resident Ric Chace agreed with Place’s assessment of the drivers.
“All the time, drivers have been courteous to people crossing in crosswalks,” he said.

But, much of the responsibility should fall on the shoulders of the folks using the crosswalks, Chace said.

“I think pedestrians should know to cross at the crosswalks, and not randomly,” he said.

Fellow cyclist Scott Johnson, of Byfield, Mass., concurred that people should avoid jaywalking.

“And, people in the crosswalks shouldn’t shuffle slowly across. Don’t dilly-dally. Don’t hold up traffic,” Johnson said.

Holding up traffic is a concern for a Naples community member, who withheld her name.

One local resident, crossing Route 114’s crosswalk with a miniature-breed dog in her arms, said adding another crosswalk had more drawbacks than benefits.

“More crosswalks would cause traffic to back up,” she said.

The people who are jaywalking are doing so when no vehicles are passing, she said.

The year-round resident said in addition to existing crosswalks, the pathway under the new bridge would provide people with enough places to cross.

Some people have caught on quickly to the changes on the Causeway.

For almost a decade, New Yorker Laurie Brennan has been bringing her daughter, Jen, to summer camp in Naples.

This summer, they noticed the familiar crosswalk near Rick’s Café was no longer there. On Saturday, the pair walked a little farther and found a new crosswalk.

Brennan said another crosswalk would be convenient, but drivers “did a good job of stopping.”

“We try to use the crosswalks,” Brennan said, “because it’s too busy to cross just anywhere.”

Kilton said, over the weekend, he polled folks spending time on the Causeway.

“People have said it’s a ‘no-brainer,’ we need another crosswalk,” Kilton said.

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