Pedestrians beware

Negotiating the roads and parking lots of North Windham during the summer is not for the feint of heart. Tourists and locals alike know that Route 302 through North Windham, with its hundreds of curb cuts leading to stores galore, is a gauntlet that is difficult to navigate for drivers and bicyclists.

Even more dangerous is walking around North Windham. The prospect of someone navigating through the commercial district with nothing other than sneakers is daunting. As a result of this reputation, witnessing a pedestrian is a rarity. That needs to change.

In pedestrian safety, perception is everything. If a driver fails to see a person in a crosswalk, serious harm or death will result. There are few crosswalks and sidewalks in North Windham, and the ones that do exist fail because they are hard to see, something seniors at Unity Gardens senior living facility on nearby Route 115 have brought to our attention this week.

Let’s take a little quiz: Think of the last time you drove the Route 302 strip through the commercial district. Now, try to remember where the crosswalks are. It’s not easy, is it? And that’s the problem. Crosswalks are available near Shaw’s and the Windham Mall entrances, but other than that, they are almost non-existent. And the ones that do exist are hard for drivers to see, making it an even more dangerous proposition for crossing pedestrians.

From the point of view of a driver, a good crosswalk is reflective yellow in color, wide enough to see from hundreds of yards away, and highlighted by some sort of overhead sign and flashing light. A good crosswalk should also be easy to navigate for the pedestrian.

According to neighboring residents, the timer at the intersection of routes 302 and 115 doesn’t allow enough time to cross. This is unacceptable, since pedestrians have as much right to use the roads in the center of town as drivers. The town should install better devices and perhaps repaint existing crosswalks. The town should also work with the Maine Department of Transportation to find locations in other parts of North Windham to locate additional crosswalks.

Seniors who reside at the newly built Unity Gardens on Route 115 are one group that would especially enjoy better sidewalks and crosswalks. In the hype leading up to the construction several years ago, Avesta Housing sold seniors on the facility partly due to its proximity to shopping. The idea was that seniors could drive or walk to major shopping outlets in North Windham. The idea was a good one, but has failed to materialize. But it’s not too late. The town should listen to the seniors who are speaking up about the problem and invest in making North Windham friendlier to walkers.

And, who knows, if pedestrians feel more comfortable walking, they may drive less. There are several neighborhoods within walking distance of North Windham, whose residents may enjoy walking to do their errands.

And as the price of gas rises and Mainers become more environmentally minded, walking in North Windham may become more commonplace, but only if it’s safe.

-John Balentine, editor

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