By SHOSHANA HOOSE - Posted October 25
[Ed. note: Be sure to read this entire article - the Eastern Trail is specifically mentioned near the end]
You can do two things in the next week and a half to improve bicycling and walking in Maine.
First, vote for the $85 million state transportation bond on the November ballot. A small portion of that money will pay for bicycle and pedestrian improvements. Read on to learn details.
Second, ask those running for office in your city or town where they stand on bicycling and walking issues. For example:
• Does your town have a plan to create more multi-use trails and/or bike lanes?
• Would candidates support using local funds to match state and federal money so that your town qualifies for new sidewalks, improved crosswalks and other infrastructure?
• Do they support having your city or town adopt a Complete Streets policy that takes into account the needs of all users, not just motorists, when planning road projects?
• What would they do to improve your village center or downtown so that more people can walk and bike to do shopping and other errands?
• How would they make transportation in your town or city more accessible for Maine’s aging population?
Just asking those questions will get candidates thinking about the needs of pedestrians and cyclists. If they’re elected, you’ve already begun a relationship that you can build on as issues arise.
The state transportation bond on the ballot includes $68 million for roads and bridges. The Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) adopted a Complete Streets policy last year that requires all road and bridge projects to be built with bicyclists, pedestrians and other non-vehicle users in mind, in addition to motorists.
Anyone who has crossed the Martins Point Bridge between Portland and Falmouth or the Veterans Bridge between Portland and South Portland can see how that approach pays off. Both bridges have wide paths for cyclists and pedestrians that are separated from the roadway.
Last session, the Maine Legislature considered a bill sponsored by Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, that would have set aside $13.9 million of bond money for standalone bicycle-pedestrian projects. Had it passed as proposed, it would have allowed the state to move forward with 50 projects. Maine DOT already has approved many of those projects, and local matching funds have been allocated.
In the final weeks of the session, legislators combined all of the transportation bond bills into a single one that does not specifically allocate any money for bicycle-pedestrian projects.
Instead, it says that $17 million of the bond will be used for “ports, harbors, marine transportation, aviation, freight and passenger railroads, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails” – in other words, everything other than roads and bridges.
If the bond passes, DOT will have discretion about how to spend the $17 million. Deputy Commissioner Jonathan Nass said one project that might be funded is a segment of the Eastern Trail between the Nonesuch River and Pleasant Hill Road in Scarborough. That would provide a continuous segment of the bicycle and pedestrian trail from South Portland to Saco. DOT would provide up to $1.5 million in matching funds for the trail.