After multiple pedestrian complaints about crosswalk safety, changes will be made.

Ever since Westbrook’s new Bridge Street bridge opened just before Christmas, commuters have been getting used to the new traffic pattern along Main Street.

But those changes, which are transforming the face of downtown, have left some pedestrians feeling uneasy, and dozens of residents have complained to the city about safety issues with the new pedestrian crossings.

City officials, including City Engineer Eric Dudley, Mayor Colleen Hilton and several city councilors, have received calls or emails about the intersection since the traffic pattern was switched in late December. The consensus among daily pedestrians is that crossing Main Street is dangerous, mostly because motorists are not yielding to people in the crosswalk when coming off the bridge.

The city is responding to the problem by making some changes.

Dudley said Monday that part of the issue is that hundreds of daily commuters are still getting used to the new pattern. He said some are still turning onto the old Bridge Street, only to quickly find “road closed” signs just before the former bridge.

“Coming off Bridge Street, motorists are now confronted with pedestrians, whereas at the old intersection they weren’t,” he said.

Now, when pedestrians get the walk signal on Main Street, the traffic signal at the foot of the bridge is green, allowing motorists to turn both left and right. Pedestrians report that many drivers coming off the new bridge are not looking or yielding to pedestrians, with some claiming they’ve almost been hit.

Dudley said ever since the complaints began rolling in, there has been some debate among the Maine Department of Transportation, city officials and Stantec, the engineers of the project, about a solution.

Stantec’s original design called for an “exclusive” pedestrian walk signal, meaning traffic would be stopped completely while pedestrians crossed. State transportation officials felt an exclusive signal would affect traffic flow, and decided on the current model prior to construction.

Craig Hurd, the resident engineer from the Maine Department of Transportation for the project, said Tuesday that the light will be changed, at least temporarily, to allow pedestrians to cross exclusively. This means both signals will be red while pedestrians cross. He said in the meantine, new traffic studies will be conducted.

“I think that’s the safest way to proceed,” he said. “People are just not familiar with the new configuration of the roadway.”

Hurd added that drivers are also stopping beyond the crosswalk instead of at the “stop bar.” The configuration of giving motorists a green light while pedestrians have a walk signal is used widely across the state, he said.

Another option, Dudley said, is to give pedestrians more “lead time” for crossing the street, but that would only give pedestrians a few extra seconds before traffic is flowing again, he said.

“We always get some reaction from a project, but this has been a pretty significant reaction from people,” he said.

Hilton said Monday that she’s pleased with the project overall, but has also heard many complaints from pedestrians.

“I just want to let people know that we are aware and we are working to remedy it, and improve the safety down there with the change,” she said during the Westbrook City Council meeting Monday.

Westbrook resident Kristina Priest said this week that the changes have caused her and her husband Chad Priest, who is legally blind, to alter their daily routine completely. She said she used to walk to CVS Pharmacy to get medications, but now doesn’t go unless she takes the bus. She said her husband now travels a different way to work, which takes longer.

“The new bridge has been hard on a lot of people,” she said. “My husband and I have almost been hit twice.”

She said as soon as pedestrians get the walk signal, cars are coming quickly from the bridge.

“It does not say for them to yield,” she said.

Dudley said that as of Monday, there appeared to be some “missing signage.”

In one email to Dudley, dated Dec. 31, Westbrook resident Edward Goulet said the city “needs to be more responsible and safety conscious.”

Goulet said his wife works in the Edwards Block building, and parks across Main Street, requiring her to use the new crosswalk a few times a day.

“I do not want my wife, or anyone else’s family member to get hit at that crosswalk because Westbrook followed the minimum standard for crosswalks,” he said in the email.

The entire $6.2 million bridge project is expected to be complete by August, which also includes a new pedestrian bridge at the site of the former bridge. A temporary sidewalk has been constructed on the new bridge.

A pedestrian crosses Main Street Tuesday while another waits to cross at the new Bridge Street. Since the new bridge opened just before Christmas, the city has received a number of complaints from residents about unsafe conditions. A sign at the new intersection of Main and Bridge streets directs pedestrians on how to make the crossing. 


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