BANGOR, Maine — The city Public Works Department wasted no time Wednesday removing construction barriers and signs that prevented drivers from turning left onto Howard Street from State Street.
Bangor voters, by a comfortable margin Tuesday, chose to overturn a controversial left-turn ban to and from the two busy city streets. The ban had been in place for more than a year.
James Butler, spokesman for the group of area residents that led the petition drive to put the question on the ballot, said he was happy with the outcome.
“It’s a deep-rooted victory,” said Butler, who lives at the corner of Howard and State streets. “Without my family, friends and neighbors, this couldn’t have been possible.”
Even though Tuesday’s vote overturned a decision made by the Bangor City Council, Chair Susan Hawes said there were no hard feelings.
“I think the matter was handled a little unusually is terms of how it was examined, but sometimes that’s the way the system works,” she said. “I had no problem at all letting the voters decide. People worked very hard to get those signatures.”
Howard Street, which many drivers had been using as a throughway to and from the Bangor Mall area, runs between State Street, in front of Eastern Maine Medical Center, and Stillwater Avenue. It crosses Garland Street, near Cohen Middle School, and also intersects Mount Hope Avenue.
Last year, the City Council voted to try the left-turn ban in an effort to reduce the volume and speed of traffic on the street. After a six-month trial period that ended last October, councilors voted 7-2 to make it permanent.
Many residents appealed to the city to overturn the ban, but in May, an eight-member council split on a proposal when a majority was needed. The council then voted in August to send the matter to a referendum after an estimated 2,600 signatures were gathered.
City Manager Edward Barrett said citizen initiative referendums are rare at the local level, but it has happened recently, including when the city was deciding where to build a new police station.
Hawes said she’s glad the matter is resolved, but predicted that traffic would increase again on Howard Street.
“There were several issues associated with [Howard Street], mainly related to safety and speed,” she said. “The no left turn was really based on the amount of oncoming traffic on [State Street.] ”
Butler said he’s glad his street is back to normal. “It was a nice feeling to watch them take those barrels down.”