When a left turn is more than a left turn: Improving Bangor’s livability

&quotI thought it was already open," said Dave Lawson of Brewer as he sits in his truck and waits in a line of traffic on Stillwater Avenue in Bangor during the opening ceremony for the Interstate 95 exit in 2001 .
Kevin Bennett | BDN
"I thought it was already open," said Dave Lawson of Brewer as he sits in his truck and waits in a line of traffic on Stillwater Avenue in Bangor during the opening ceremony for the Interstate 95 exit in 2001 . Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 29, 2013, at 4:57 p.m.

Bangor residents may have noticed a survey from the city in the mail recently asking whether they favor allowing a left turn at the Interstate 95 offramp onto Stillwater Avenue. The question has been pending for several years and Bangor is trying to gauge public sentiment as part of the state Department of Transportation’s review process.

Deciding whether to lift the prohibition on the left turn may seem simple. In reality, it’s a lengthy process that involves city, state and federal agencies. The final determination won’t be reached by the Bangor City Council but the Federal Highway Administration, which has jurisdiction over the interstate.

Between now and then, however, Bangor has an opportunity to use the process to its advantage to improve the quality of life in the city’s residential neighborhoods.

It’s likely drivers exiting I-95 one day will be able to turn left onto Stillwater, as residents clearly support the change. So far, a strong 85 percent of survey respondents — 2,105 out of 2,563 — said they want to allow the left turn, according to Director of Public Services Art Morgan. Just 375 have opposed the change; 21 were undecided and 62 surveys were blank. About 27 percent of the 9,600 surveys were returned to the city.

The concerns people have — largely that more traffic will cut through the residential “tree streets” to State Street, devaluing homes and disrupting the peace — certainly are justified. When the ramp was built 12 years ago, a condition of construction was that there would be no left turn for those reasons. Instead, it was decided, drivers would go straight ahead into a shopping plaza or make a right turn onto Stillwater.

The truth, of course, is that times and public opinions change. Residents and business owners have been asking the city for years now to pursue the left turn authorization. They want to be able to reach their homes, work, Howard and Essex streets, or Broadway more quickly. It’s not as if they’re not already driving that way. They are. They simply turn around in the shopping plaza or make an illegal left turn.

Though it’s not apparent there will be a drastic increase in traffic, it’s understandable people don’t want to run the risk. If anything, they probably want to see fewer cars speed down the street on which they’re raising children, biking or walking. But the decision doesn’t have to harm Bangor’s livability. In fact, if done right, it has the potential to improve it. As traffic studies and public hearings are conducted as part of the decision-making process, residents will have opportunities to say how their streets should be updated.

Should traffic calming circles be installed? Has traffic reached a level that necessitates four-way stop signs? Then there’s the option of installing elevated crosswalks or speed tables. Or, a new measure to calm traffic is the speed cushion. Made of recycled rubber, the cushions are narrow enough to slow cars but not larger emergency vehicles, which can straddle them. They can be removed for the winter to allow snowplowing and reinstalled later.

Livability is an essential part of any city’s long-term success, and the city should always be actively searching for ways to improve it. The debate about the left turn onto Stillwater provides a good chance for ideas, not just traffic, to flow.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/08/29/opinion/editorials/when-a-left-turn-is-more-than-a-left-turn-improving-bangors-livability/ printed on July 22, 2014