BANGOR, Maine — Monday afternoon’s Bangor City Council workshop on Pickering Square attracted a lot of interest from local merchants and included news on a possible major redesign of the downtown park and busing hub.
The workshop was organized as a three-pronged update as Bangor police Lt. Mark Hathaway briefed councilors and city staff members on the addition of foot patrols and an increased police presence in the area, something that the local merchants effusively praised.
But it was the presentation by Peter Witham and Amanda Soucy from the planning department and a report by Bangor Community Connector Superintendent Joe McNeil that generated even more interest.
“The problem we have now is we’re outgrowing the area,” McNeil said. “We’ve really maxed ourselves out in terms of the size of that operation.
“We have sorely outgrown the current location at Pickering, going from a low of about about 480,000 rides per year to currently just over a million.”
McNeil said Bangor’s public bus service currently operates nine buses at the Pickering hub.
An ongoing effort to redesign the area to better use the square space by city staff members may pair two complementary efforts.
“They’re looking at redesigning the Pickering Square area to better serve Bangor’s needs and we’re obviously a major part of Pickering Square now, so if we can find another location to serve our needs, well, that’s what we’ll look at,” McNeil said.
Witham and Soucy presented four options for consideration, ranging from slight tweaking to what amounted to an almost complete redesign of the square, closing down Broad Street to traffic and opening the current Pickering bus oval and park for more parking while shifting the location of the park and bus hub operations.
“First we’ll have to conduct a study and then go from there,” McNeil said.
There’s also a matter of economics. Since Federal Transit Authority aid funds were used to build Pickering 20 years ago and it was designed to be in use 40 years, the city would have to pay half of the funds back, which McNeil pegged at around “the high one hundred thousands.”
Growing pains have been a concern for Community Connector for a number of years.
“We had a consultant look at it in 2002 and he came up with 12 alternate locations, two of which are now occupied,” said McNeil. “And now that we have larger buses with greater turning radiuses, even fewer of those are viable.”
McNeil said the Community Connector operates a hub or pulse system with buses running from several different locations.
Lt. Mark Hathaway, the interim Bangor police chief, said that the increased police presence — which includes one mobile unit dedicated solely to downtown, a regular foot patrol and a plainclothes officer — has been well received by merchants and residents.
Many people had complained about public drunkenness, panhandling, vandalism and objectionable behavior by transients and a few youths around the square. They also lamented the loss of the police bike patrol.
“We have increased our contact downtown,” Hathaway said. “The biggest thing is having a presence. Those who may want to start something don’t if we’re there.”
The foot patrols will continue for another month or two.
When asked what he needed from the council such as new ordinances or penalties, Hathaway said the first thing he needed was patience.
“I’m hopeful we can develop a more permanent, year-round presence downtown and at the square and I don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t bring it back in the spring,” Hathaway said.