PORTLAND – One resident’s crusade to curb jaywalking across the four lanes of Franklin Arterial got him into a confrontation with teenagers that led to two arrests during the weekend.
Jay York was on his way to the opening of a photography exhibit when he saw — for the umpteenth time — a group of teenagers walking across the road that cuts across Portland’s peninsula from Interstate 295 to the waterfront.
He activated his iPhone camera to document the crossing. York, a professional photographer who lives in the Wilmot Street area, takes pictures a couple of times a week and sends them to city officials and others to demonstrate the hazards posed by unauthorized routes across the arterial.
In addition to crosswalk scofflaws, York has snapped pictures of homeless people’s encampments, human feces, graffiti and other undesirable goings-on in the neighborhood.
About 5 p.m. Saturday, the youths took issue with York taking their picture. Quickly, they formed a semicircle around him. “They said, ‘What did you just do? Did you just take our picture?’” he said.
York said that he had and held out the iPhone for them to see.
One of the youths tried to grab it, he said, and another shoved him.
York clung to the phone, and after a brief, heated verbal exchange, the boys walked away. York dialed 911 and reported the altercation to police. He said the boys ran when they heard sirens.
“I didn’t touch them except to pull my phone back. I gave them no provocation to do this,” he said. “It was intimidating and I could see where it could be extremely dangerous. Of course, I’m old enough to be their grandfather.”
Officers were dispatched to the area and saw two boys who matched the suspects’ description at the corner of Pearl Street and Cumberland Avenue, police said. Officers detained the two.
When the officers connected with York, he showed them the picture he had taken, which matched the two youths in custody, police said. The boys were arrested on charges that are the juvenile equivalent of assault.
Confrontation over the crossings of Franklin Arterial is nothing new for York. He admits to challenging the city for a few years now. After someone tossed a rock through his studio window six years ago, he locked the nearby gate along the south side of Franklin Arterial to keep people from using the shortcut there.
The city forced him to open it.
Since then, York has been at odds with city officials and others who insist on keeping the path across the arterial open. “It is so blatantly obvious how dangerous these crossings are,” he said.
Routes across Franklin correspond with streets that used to cross it, such as Lancaster and Oxford. York insists that the city could improve safety by sealing the fences that line the arterial and requiring people who want to cross it to use the crosswalks.
Others, like Markos Miller, co-chair of the Franklin Arterial Study Group, say people’s desire to cross the highway at Oxford Street must be recognized, and groups are working to get pedestrian and bicycle crossings there.
“Whether it’s (locked) fences or people getting their pictures taken, people still cross there,” he said. “We think there are some easy solutions that could be made to accommodate pedestrians, and that’s the direction we should be moving in, rather than trying to deter it.”
Michael Bobinski, Portland’s public services director, said the Oxford Street Trail is not a sanctioned crossing but the city has not tried to seal it off. Instead, the city has asked the Maine Department of Transportation to lower the speed limit on the arterial from 35 to 30 mph, he said.
The department will do a traffic-flow study to determine whether the speed needs to be changed there, he said.
The crossing could take years to establish, and the speed assessment could be done later this year — time for York to amass many more photographs of people as they cross the four lanes of Franklin Arterial.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: email@example.com