On Wednesday, Nov. 1, the Orono City Council held an open forum titled “Heads Up! Safety is a Two-Way Street” to discuss pedestrian safety. Approximately 60 people were in attendance, including both Orono and University of Maine residents.
Some groups in attendance included the Bureau of Highway Safety, the Maine Department of Transportation, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, town staff, Orono School District staff, police staff from both Orono and the University of Maine, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee and the Active Community Environment Team.
Concerns with pedestrian safety are increasing as more fatalities are being reported in the state of Maine. In 2014, the state reported 10 pedestrian fatalities. While other states have had higher numbers, Patrick Adams, the state’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Program Manager, added, “We are less excited with this number in Maine.” His goal is clear. “My role is to work with communities across the state to make them more livable and walkable.”
In 2015, 19 pedestrian deaths were reported in the state of Maine.
“We hope it was a blip or a freak year,” Adams said.
In 2016, 17 fatalities were reported, and thus far in 2017, 18 deaths have been reported.
“We are looking at large numbers this year,” Adams said. “We hope to identify the issues and challenges.”
Jim Tasse, the Assistant Director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, gave a lesson on the difference between a crash and an accident.
“An accident is when a deer runs in front of your car. An accident attributes to decisions that you made, and you hold a certain degree of accountability for that act.”
In order for a collision to be considered a crash, it must include two of the following factors: a moving motor vehicle, personal injury or death or $1,000 or more in damages.
The increase in pedestrian fatalities is not just an issue in the state of Maine. “This is proving to not be an anomaly,” Tasse began. “This is a problem we are seeing nationally.”
Tasse’s presentation focused heavily on the fact that by law, drivers are required to stop at a crosswalk, but that does not mean that they will. However, pedestrians should yield to traffic in these instances. In the case that there is not a crosswalk, pedestrians must yield to traffic.
“Drivers still hold the duty of care,” Tasse said. “They are not supposed to hit you, no matter what. Pedestrians should always walk against traffic. If a sidewalk is available, you should use it.”
Tasse ended his presentation with some advice, “Drivers, slow down, pay attention, and yield to pedestrians. It is important that we change the norms of behavior on the roadway. We all need to slow down. We have to do better.”