A vehicle is pictured parked close to a crosswalk on Main Street in Biddeford Wednesday. The City Council voted last week to adopt 20-foot barriers between parking spaces and crosswalks, as recommended by state and federal safety regulations.

A vehicle is pictured parked close to a crosswalk on Main Street in Biddeford Wednesday. The City Council voted last week to adopt 20-foot barriers between parking spaces and crosswalks, as recommended by state and federal safety regulations.

BIDDEFORD — The City Council voted 6-3 last week to adopt 20- foot barriers between crosswalks and parking spaces, as recommended by the Maine Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration.

City Planner Greg Tansley told councilors that it is unsafe to have parking spaces just a few feet away from crosswalks – as is currently the case in many spots downtown – because cars parked there hinder pedestrians’ ability to see moving vehicles as well as drivers’ ability to see pedestrians trying to cross the street.

“As many of you know who’ve walked around downtown when you’re trying to get out at a crosswalk and a car is blocking the sight of vehicles to see you, that’s a real problem,” he said. “Pedestrians can’t see vehicles coming so they poke their head out around a vehicle in order to try to see if it’s safe to cross and by that time, they’re already poking their head out into traffic so it’s a real problem.”

Tansley said the city decided now was the time to pursue the change for two reasons: One, because Jefferson, Adams and Main streets have recently been paved or soon will be, and are in need of painting; and two, approved housing projects in the mill district mean an estimated 450-500 more people will be moving to downtown Biddeford in the coming years.

“It certainly puts added pressure on ensuring pedestrian safety for all those folks walking around,” Tansley said of the expected increase in the city’s population.

Tansley said the city has already made the change to some crosswalks, such as the ones on lower Main Street, near the bottom of York Hill. In that area, striping has been added around crosswalks to indicate drivers can’t park there, he said, and the system has been effective.

For the most part, councilors agreed with the change.

“If you’ve ever walked out of where McArthur Library is you’ve got to sneak out of there to get across the street,” said Councilor John McCurry. “I think you need to have some sort of delineation of distance so people can see around cars and they can see you.”

“It’s just common sense, that 20-foot crosswalk (barrier),” said Councilor Clement Fleurent.

Councilor Marc Lessard said the change makes sense as the first step in establishing a parking plan for downtown Biddeford.

However, Councilor Bob Mills disagreed and said he would rather see one complete plan. “This is just piecemeal,” he said of the ordinance change, before voting against it.

Two citizens who spoke at the meeting also opposed the change, claiming that it was less about improving safety and more about taking away parking spaces so that the city can eventually justify building a parking garage.

“I think this is all a bad idea,” said former Mayor Joanne Twomey. “Have we ever had any accidents with the crosswalks? I’ve not heard of any. … All I’m hearing is, ‘No parking, no parking, no parking,’ until eventually we’ll have to have a parking garage. That’s what this is all about so I really believe that this is not the way to go.”

Resident Terry Belanger echoed Twomey’s sentiments. “Why is it going to be safer if you have a longer distance?” he asked officials. “How much space do you need between a crosswalk? Come on. Wake up.”

But while Tansley estimated the crosswalk change will eliminate 11 parking spaces on Main Street, he also proposed another change that would add nearly as many back to the area: eliminating on-street parking striping, as has been done on many of Portland’s busy streets.

Without on-street striping people just “squeeze in” wherever they can find room for their vehicle, said Tansley, rather than fitting into an outlined space. This system reduces costs for the city, he said, and studies show it adds parking spaces “largely because of people driving smaller vehicles now than they ever did before.”

“If you go up and down Main Street you’ll see that not everybody is driving (a vehicle) the size of a Ford F-150 truck,” which is the vehicle spaces have traditionally been sized for, said Tansley. “You don’t have to have a small vehicle taking up 24 feet of parking space because you’re no longer delineating those stalls, and it really allows us to focus on where we don’t want people to park, such as within that 20 feet of a crosswalk, rather than where we want to allow people to park.”

Tansley said the city already offers on-street parking without striping on Lincoln Street, and by his observations, more cars are able to park there because of it. He also stressed that under the proposed change, handicap spaces would still be clearly marked.

Tansley also said there is no ordinance stating the city must mark on-street parking spaces and suggested councilors “give it a try” for a few months on newly paved roads. Then, in the spring, they could choose to restripe spaces if they are unhappy with the change, he said.

In an email Wednesday, Mayor Alan Casavant said he suspects the Public Safety Committee will review the concept at some point before the council then considers it.

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]

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