BANGOR, Maine — This summer, Main Street will see major changes — wider sidewalks to accommodate pedestrians and bikes, more lighting, and medians.
The last item wasn’t popular among residents and business owners attending a Wednesday evening meeting held to gauge their feelings and take questions about the Main Street projects, as well as plans to revitalize the West Side Village.
The Maine Department of Transportation-administered construction project launches this summer. Work starts underground this spring, with the replacement of aging and decaying water and sewer lines as well as stormwater infrastructure along Main Street.
One of the main goals of the surface project is to improve pedestrian and vehicle safety along that stretch of road, where vehicles frequently exceed the speed limit and pedestrians need to cross five lanes of traffic to reach the other side. Main Street has seen more pedestrian traffic since the introduction of events like the American Folk Festival and Waterfront Concerts.
MDOT would like to see the 6-inch-tall medians at intervals along the street because they tend to slow traffic and provide pedestrians a place to take a breather while crossing the wide road, according to Tanya Emery, Bangor’s director of community and economic development. There also are concerns about the center lane, which allows vehicles traveling in both directions a place to line up while waiting to turn onto an adjacent street.
The consensus in the room was against the medians. Residents and business owners expressed concerns about access to businesses and eliminating left-hand turns onto Main Street from some side streets. One resident asked if the city or MDOT had considered speed tables as a traffic-calming measure to replace the median.
Bangor officials have proposed several alternatives to the original median plan, which decrease the length of medians and increase the distance between them. Emery said it was unclear whether MDOT would accept an alternative in which there are no medians.
A few residents at Wednesday’s meeting expressed support for the medians because of their aesthetics and added safety for pedestrians.
While the median issue sparked the most debate, Wednesday’s meeting also was meant to update residents on the progress and future of West Side Village’s revitalization. West Side Village stretches from Main Street to Third Street and Buck Street to Union Street. Residents and the city hope to tackle problems related to housing, vacant properties, crime, aesthetics and aging utility infrastructure.
City workers started chipping away at early stages of the project last fall. That included a lot of work around Second Street Park, such as trimming vegetation and placing bases for lights to improve visibility and paving a main path through the park. It also meant improving sidewalks and underground infrastructure. Bangor Housing Development Corp. tore down several buildings on First Street to make way for a new housing project.
City staff outlined the city’s housing rehabilitation program, meant to provide loans to property owners who want to improve their homes or apartments. The program provides a competitive interest rate — 3 percent for owner-occupied homes — for owners who want to do anything from replace windows or siding to replacing a heating system.
The city has doubled funding for that program from $200,000 to $400,000 and plans on promoting it heavily.
“We really want to see this money go out the door,” Emery said. “We don’t want it to sit in City Hall.”
The hope is that as more property owners improve their buildings, neighbors will follow suit and the whole neighborhood will start to spruce up.
For further motivation, the West Side Watch group, originally formed to improve safety and security in the neighborhood, has launched a “curb appeal” initiative, asking their neighbors to invest in repairs, renovations and upgrades to their homes during the next 6-10 years.
A golden gnome lawn ornament will be passed around to recognize residents who put the effort into improving the appearance of their homes. More information may be found at http://westsidewatchbangor.org/NeighborhoodRevitalization.htm.