PORTLAND — It’s an “octopus-type thing,” says one witness, Carol Schiller of Longfellow Street.
It’s dangerous, “a recipe for disaster,” says Bob Caswell, spokesman for the University of Southern Maine.
A monster emerging from the mud flats of Back Cove? Not quite.
Schiller and Caswell are talking about a six-way intersection, where Deering and Brighton avenues meet at oblique angles with Falmouth and Bedford streets.
Traffic engineers are studying ways to improve the intersection, including building a roundabout or eliminating the Brighton Avenue spur, between Falmouth and Bedford streets, and adding a traffic light at the intersection of Deering Avenue and Bedford Street.
They’re also looking at short-term solutions, such as changing traffic lane configurations, signal timing, bikeway and crosswalk markings, and adding curb ramps and lighting.
The engineers say it’s a confusing intersection that makes motorists unsure about which lanes they’re supposed to use as they maneuver across an unusually wide expanse of pavement.
You don’t have to take their word for it. They have statistics. There were 25 crashes at the intersection from 2007 to 2009, giving the intersection a “high crash location” designation from the Maine Department of Transportation.
The accident rate is 17 percent higher than for other intersections with similar traffic volumes.
The intersection is also intimidating for pedestrians and bicyclists, says Schiller, who is president of the University Neighborhood Association, in the area of USM.
When her children attended the Nathan Clifford School, she refused to let them walk to school on their own.
Because of the long distance between stop lines, traffic signals have to be delayed, to give drivers time to get through the intersection, said Ethan Boxer-Macomber, who lives on Glenwood Avenue and drives though the intersection several times a day.
“It’s a stretch from one stop line to another,” he said. “It’s a challenge when you get out in the middle of the intersection. You feel very vulnerable.”
Officials with the city and the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System held a poorly attended public meeting to discuss the intersection last month. They will hold another meeting on April 26.
Feedback from that meeting will help officials determine which proposal to bring forward, said Bruce Hyman, Portland’s bicycle and pedestrian program coordinator.
The money for the $7,000 traffic study comes from $250,000 that the university gave to the city several years ago as part of its campus expansion.
To pay for the improvements, the city would use the rest of the money and possibly add its own funds if the cost exceeds $250,000.
One way to reduce the accident rate would be to build a roundabout, Hyman said. Roundabouts slow traffic, reducing the number of crashes by 50 percent and reducing the severity of accidents that do happen, he said.
Schiller, who attended the meeting last month, said she worries that a roundabout would impede emergency vehicles, which pass through the intersection frequently.
She prefers closing the Brighton Avenue spur, turning the end of Bedford Street into a two-way street and adding a traffic light there. That plan would have the additional benefit of increasing the amount of green space for USM and would even provide space for the university to put up another building in the future.
Caswell said the university doesn’t have a preferred solution. Anything that makes the intersection safer for pedestrians would be a positive step, he said.
Schiller said she hopes that more neighborhood residents will get involved in the planning process.
The meeting April 26 will begin at 6 p.m. in Room 102 at the university’s Wishcamper Center on Bedford Street.
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]