Traffic converges from several directions at Woodfords Corner in Portland on Thursday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

At Woodfords Corner in Portland: “Intersection and lighting designed to fail. Cars regularly fill intersection and ignore lights for crossing motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians.”

On Gray Road in Gorham: “High speed road and four way intersection with many neighborhoods. Recent fatality here.”

In Cape Elizabeth: “Poor visibility. Turning left onto 77 from Sawyer, vehicles traveling from Scarborough to Cape Elizabeth pop over a small hill at speed and cannot see cyclists emerging from Sawyer.”

These are some of the comments the Greater Portland Council of Governments has received so far in a survey asking which streets, roads and intersections make residents feel unsafe.

Maine ended 2022 with the highest number of traffic deaths recorded in 15 years, following a national trend. Experts have attributed the spike to risky driving that became more common when fewer cars were on the roads in 2020 – but did not abate as travel returned to normal levels.

That trend prompted GPCOG last year to pursue Vision Zero, an international initiative to eliminate fatalities and severe injuries from vehicle crashes by making changes in road design. The regional agency has been gathering public input and will publish a draft action plan this spring that could help towns and cities access federal funds for safety improvements.


The project covers 18 communities but may eventually expand to 30.

Cars weren’t the only vehicles plying Forest Avenue near Woodfords Corner last week. A new initiative is aimed at reducing deaths and injuries among all users of the region’s roadways. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Belinda Ray, the director of strategic partnerships at GPCOG, said Vision Zero focuses on changes that are proven to slow down drivers and reduce the severity of crashes. Those changes can be small and relatively inexpensive (such as reducing the speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph) or large and costly (such as building a new traffic circle).

“The big emphasis of Vision Zero is designing to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries, designing with human error in mind, knowing that people are going to make mistakes but making it so that the roads are designed in a way that those mistakes don’t cost lives,” said Ray.

The Vision Zero website says more than 45 communities across the U.S. have committed to this model. In New England, that list includes three Massachusetts cities – Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.

Another adopter is Jersey City, New Jersey, where there wasn’t a single roadway fatality last year, Bloomberg reported. (That data did not include major state or county highways.) The city of more than 280,000 committed to Vision Zero in 2018.

Among the tactics employed by planners there was the use of temporary traffic circles, created with cones for just a week at a time. The pilot project allowed residents to see how redesigns slowed cars and then to test out new traffic patterns, Bloomberg said, and a majority ultimately favored a permanent change.



To create a Vision Zero plan in Maine, GPCOG hosted four public forums last fall drawing roughly 100 people. An online survey has generated 150 responses, and people have marked 120 “hazards” on a map of area roads. The agency hopes to gather more feedback in the coming weeks to inform a draft report that will go to the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System board for approval.

Generally, Ray said people report feeling unsafe in areas where data shows traffic incidents do occur. Maine reported 179 traffic fatalities last year, and Ray said another 700 crashes resulted in suspected serious injuries.

During public forums, people have also identified areas where they feel safest, such as the new roundabout near the University of Maine School of Law in Portland. Ray said data shows a reduction in the number of crashes at what used to be a six-way junction. In 2018, there were nine crashes at the site; in 2019, seven.

Since the city began construction of the roundabout in 2020 and opened it in 2021, there have been only three crashes each year.

Lauren Stewart, director of the state Bureau of Highway Safety, said Vision Zero aligns with national goals for road safety.


“Vision Zero is not a new initiative, but it is a good community effort to encourage collaboration and I applaud their efforts in the greater Portland area … While many of the improvement initiatives appear to be infrastructure-related, our behavioral approach still plays a large part in changing driver behavior and preparing them for new road designs, etc.,” she wrote in an email.


Ray said an advisory panel that includes state and municipal officials will convene for the first time this month, and she is confident that the Vision Zero approach has support from local cities and towns. Some communities are already looking at problem intersections, creating plans for pedestrian safety or working on these issues in other ways, she said.

“There is buy-in,” she said. “People want this kind of infrastructure where their residents can safely navigate to and from work, to and from play, without a vehicle. The tough thing for municipalities is that they are so cash-strapped and resource-strapped. Knowing that this will create one other place from which to potentially draw funds, I think is helpful.”

Among the people who attended one of the forums was Colin Durrant. A Yarmouth resident, he is the chairperson of his town’s Bike and Pedestrian Committee. He pointed out that his town has a dedicated pathway along U.S. Route 1 that allows him to cycle safely beside that stretch of busy road, on his way to buy groceries or run errands.

But the town residents haven’t always been so fortunate. The Beth Condon Memorial Pathway is named for a teenager who was hit and killed by a drunken driver while she was walking on Route 1 in Yarmouth in 1993. And many other towns still don’t have similar infrastructure, so a disjointed network of protected pathways and trails is a problem for cyclists, he said.


“It feels like the transportation system here is almost entirely focused on moving people in cars and trucks to where they’re going as quickly as possible, and if you’re not driving a car, good luck,” he said.

Durrant said he is excited about the Vision Zero approach in Greater Portland and hopes the initiative spurs more action by state and local governments.

“Unlocking more funding just opens up an opportunity for more of these projects to happen more quickly,” he said.

Leeann Brionez, who lives in downtown Portland, also attended a Vision Zero forum. She gets around the city primarily by walking, taking the bus or calling an Uber. But she does not feel safe walking in the city at night.

“The crosswalks at night aren’t safe,” she said. “Because cars just won’t stop.”

Brionez, 23, is moving to South Portland later this month. She feels installing blinking lights at more crosswalks in the region would make her feel safer where she walks and prompt more drivers to stop.

“I can’t control cars, but it would be helpful,” she said.

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