FALMOUTH, Maine — Bicycle and pedestrian pathways north of Portland are under scrutiny this week in a series of workshops to improve connectivity between towns.
The five-day, five-town series kicked off Tuesday, Nov. 12, with a day-long tour of Falmouth’s paths and trail heads by bicycle and car, followed by back-to-back meetings in Town Hall. Over the next several days, similar tours and meetings are scheduled for North Yarmouth, Freeport, Yarmouth and Cumberland.
The workshops will be conducted by Mike Lydon, principal of The Street Plans Collaborative, an urban planning and design company with offices in Miami, Fla., and New York City.
Lydon’s goal over the five-day period of tours and round-table discussions is to take an inventory of the region’s paths and identify roadways that could quickly be improved to connect communities.
After the tours are complete, Lydon will conduct a regional workshop at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18, at Yarmouth Town Hall. Three weeks later, Lydon will present a draft proposal for pathway improvements at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10, at the Log Cabin in Yarmouth. Both meetings are open to the public.
The $10,000 planning project was paid with a mix of federal grant money and local contributions, said Carl Eppich, senior transportation planner for the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, or PACTS.
PACTS — a federally mandated planning organization with 18 member towns in the Portland region — contributed $8,000 to the planning project. The five towns chipped in $400 each for a 20 percent match, Eppich said.
The planning project scored highest of the 22 grant applications PACTS received this year, because it fostered collaboration between so many member towns — the most of any project to date, Eppich said.
The idea for a regional planning project was hatched four years ago by Dan Ostrye, chairman of Yarmouth’s Bicyclist and Pedestrian Committee. Ostrye said the collaborative effort could help Yarmouth connect with communities on either side, for instance.
For years, Yarmouth has sought to provide a bike lane to the Casco Bay Regional YMCA in neighboring Freeport. The planning effort could also provide residents of a housing development on U.S. Route 1 in Cumberland with pathways into Yarmouth’s nearby business center.
“There’s an economic incentive for us to work together to get [the residents] into town to shop. I think towns are artificial boundaries when it comes to these kinds of activities, and to have disconnects at those town lines is unfortunate,” said Ostrye, who earlier this year was awarded Yarmouth’s annual Latchstring Award for his 25 years of work to develop Yarmouth’s West Side Trail.
The draft proposal that Lydon will submit in December, however, doesn’t guarantee any work will take place. PACTS has not awarded any construction grants at this point, and it’s impossible to know whether officials in the five communities will support Lydon’s proposal when it is submitted, said Theo Holtwijk, Falmouth’s director of long-range planning.
“”This is putting our toe in the waters, seeing if you are interested in that, and what the possibilities are,” Holtwijk told the workshop audience.
On Tuesday night, Lydon played host to back-to-back workshops at Town Hall. The first workshop was Falmouth-centric, with resident cyclists sounding off on bike lanes that suddenly end, lack of shoulders on certain roads and dangerous intersections.
The second workshop identified similar gripes but included paths from all five towns.
About 20 people attended each workshop, including Yarmouth’s town planner and Cumberland’s town manager.
Lydon said Tuesday’s discussion was just a first step, but the upcoming meetings in Yarmouth would provide more “pictures of what’s out there and some early ideas of what can be done in the short and long term.”
Lydon planned to take handlebar tours of North Yarmouth on Wednesday, Freeport on Thursday, Yarmouth on Friday and Cumberland on Monday, Nov. 18.