The Bangor City Council is wise to formally respond to traffic concerns by adopting a policy that set parameters for applying measures to “calm” drivers who speed along residential streets. As appropriate as such action is, it resembles tossing a single sandbag on the levee a week after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
Bangor has had ample time to realize that the city has become an essential service center for much of eastern and northern Maine. The Bangor Mall and its ever-increasing adjacent businesses, Eastern Maine Health Care’s facilities and the various state and city government agencies scattered through the city are accessed largely by cars, and they come from several directions and roads.
Earlier planning could have headed off what may be the now inevitable new road construction, such as the recent addition of the Stillwater Avenue exit and entrance on I-95. Bangor’s future may be seen in Augusta, which waited too long to manage its retail development. The fix in Augusta was a new bridge across the Kennebec and a highway spur, at a cost of about $35 million.
The city’s traffic calming policy is well-crafted. It provides quantifiable terms to guide the city’s consideration of adding raised crosswalks and islands, which tend to make drivers slow down. The policy is aimed at residential streets traveled by 1,000 or more cars on some days, with about 30 percent of that traffic deemed as “cut through,” meaning drivers are using the road as a shortcut between a secondary road and a commercial district. The policy also responds to streets where drivers consistently travel at speeds 7 to 10 miles per hour faster than the posted 25 mph limit.
Most significantly, it levels the playing field among city residents, so hard data, and not the vociferousness of those complaining, determines whether the city takes action.
Calming measures, because they slow traffic, can succeed in persuading drivers in a rush to take alternate routes, so the new policy may actually forestall the need for more expensive road construction remedies. As much as planners might love to go back in time to rethink Greater Bangor’s commercial development and the roads that serve it, that is not possible. The next best thing is to work to require new development to be assessed in terms of how it will impact traffic flow, taking into account possible shortcuts and extrapolating out several intersections to determine how it will affect travel.
A serious, comprehensive study of existing traffic patterns also would be prudent. The city doesn’t have to start from scratch; there are many like-sized communities around the country that have successfully managed such problems.