DAN BURDEN, OF WALKABLE AND LIVABLE COMMUNITIES INSTITUTE, explains to participants of a walk audit in Topsham’s Lower Village Monday morning why a roundabout would be better on Main Street at the Bowdoin Mill Island and Summer Street intersection rather than at the Green Street intersection.

DAN BURDEN, OF WALKABLE AND LIVABLE COMMUNITIES INSTITUTE, explains to participants of a walk audit in Topsham’s Lower Village Monday morning why a roundabout would be better on Main Street at the Bowdoin Mill Island and Summer Street intersection rather than at the Green Street intersection.

TOPSHAM

It wasn’t what many were expecting to hear from an expert on walkability — the Lower Village has more offroad parking than it needs.

A GROUP PARTICIPATING IN A WALK AUDIT in the Lower Village of Topsham Monday morning see the backup of vehicles after a car had stopped to let the audit group pass through the entrance of the Bowdoin Mill Island.

A GROUP PARTICIPATING IN A WALK AUDIT in the Lower Village of Topsham Monday morning see the backup of vehicles after a car had stopped to let the audit group pass through the entrance of the Bowdoin Mill Island.

Dan Burden, co-founder of Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, said the audit and presentation he conducted on the walkability of the Lower Village should be a turning point for the community. He recommends communities take steps in stages. A good town can “really come alive in five years,” but no one builds a town in five years; it takes time, he said.

Burden walked around the Lower Village to discuss issues, and conducting visioning and workshops with people attending through the day Monday. The presentation was provided by the town’s Lower Village Development Committee. Scott Hastings and Audra Caler from Midcoast Economic Development District will generate a report for the town based on Burden’s work. Burden has also done studies for Brunswick, Wiscasset and Belfast.

“What have we done to our built environment to make it where walking is no longer natural?” Burden said we must ask ourselves. If you design a street that is stunning and beautiful, “not only will people walk, but they’ll spend a lot of money.”

Part of the problem is not that we don’t know what to build, he told residents and officials at his evening presentation — but that we don’t know how to work together. It is economically devastating, he said. The U.S. is increasing the cost of health care faster than any other nation on earth, with is unsustainable.

“We can no longer afford to build streets that do not increase the adjacent land value,” Burden stressed. “It’s time for change.”

Burden said he was surprised to find that out of all the green Topsham has in the Lower Village, how much pavement it has as well, and “we can do better.” He encourages communities to work from their assets — for Topsham its bridges, mill buildings — to use as a benchmark for going forward. He pointed to a picture of cars parked beside the Bowdoin Mill at the edge of the Androscoggin River. Those cars “have the best view of the river. Why not make this the best view for people?”

Looking at Topsham from the sky, “I see a lot of parking that could be joined together off site so that you didn’t have anywhere near that much, and now you have more building footprint that you could create,” Burden said. If the town offered half of that parking, businesses would be better off, he said. There are 355 parking spaces in the Lower Village on or accessed from Main Street.

Green Street residents have expressed concerns that their road is used for vehicles to change direction on or bypass Main Street. The double yellow line on Green Street is adding to bad behavior, and removing those yellow lines could reduce speeds on the street, he said, and increase pedestrian access.

For 70 or 80 years, “our goals has been to build places for cars,” Burden said. “We now have reached the point where we can prove it’s not sustainable. We have more miles of roads out there than we can possibly maintain, and they’re getting older. So we can’t afford to build more traffic.

“So what is the solution? Build communities for people,” Burden said, “and accommodate cars.” If you start to design a city for people, they will spend more time there. Build your streets for people, he said, and jobs will come. Give people a view of and access to the water, he said, and utilize the asset.

Even traffic speeds are a factor and 15 miles per hour maximizes profit, Burden said, for a Main Street, and people respond to color, green, curb extensions and medians. He recommended a roundabout for Main Street at the Summer Street and Bowdoin Mill Island intersection. A roundabout can handle 25,000 vehicles, taking up less space than a signalized intersection, drops speeds to 12 to 18 miles per hour, move 30 percent more traffic per lane, and drop personal injury crashes on average 70 to 90 percent.

Providing the town these tools, Burden said during his evening presentation Monday that the process will be just as important, and it is stakeholders who will have to support and sell whatever plan the town develops.

The town has been working on the problem of a waterfront park for more than 20 years, said John Shattuck, the town’s economic and community development director, following the presentation Monday night. The town has looked at issues of traffic constraints and impairment of walkability in the Lower Village.

“We may not have a specific plan tonight,” Shattuck said, but the Lower Village Development Committee have focused on some of these solutions Burden is suggested — such as working with the state to build a smaller roundabout than they regularly allow at the Main and Summer street intersection he argued would work better than a large one at the Main and Green street intersection.

Douglas Bennett, chairman of the Lower Village Development Committee said “We have come to understand how a number of different things all intersect … that a riverfront park doesn’t work without our addressing some issues about access and transportation flow for bikes, for cars, for people. That doesn’t work without really doing some fresh things about parking.”

Bennett said the committee came to think a roundabout was a key piece to make a solution possible, and Burden’s visit “both reinforces that but also gives us a number of very exciting new ideas that amplify the possible things that we have to think about.” An important message he takes from Burden is, “first think about how you want to use the land, and then plan the traffic flow.”

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