A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Negligence on the Bayside Trail

Anyone who's been on the new Bayside Trail has probably noticed the hair-raising crossing of Franklin Street, where trail users are forced to detour to a new, but incomplete, crosswalk at the Marginal Way intersection (next to the Planet Dog store):

The Maine DOT installed the new crosswalk across Franklin this summer to help trail users get across. It's a fairly lousy design that forces a clunky detour from the trail's natural path, which is cut off by a fence that Maine DOT installed on the median strip of Franklin Street (the red line in the aerial view above).

The fence forces trail users onto the new crosswalk, but there they find a more substantial problem: there's no walk signal to cross Franklin, and if you try to cross with a green light, you'll be forced to contend with a lot of vehicles making left or right turns from Marginal Way onto Franklin Street.

Crossing pedestrians tend to be in the peripheral vision for turning cars, especially at such a busy intersection. Everyone would be safer if the trail crossed in the middle of the block, where cars are frequently stopped anyway to wait for red lights to change, and crossing pedestrians would be more visible in the front of drivers' windshields. But to deal with the Maine DOT's lousy design, a pedestrian crossing signal was supposed to be installed at the crosswalk, and let pedestrians cross only when the rest of the intersection's traffic is facing red lights.

Several months after the trail's opening, that pedestrian signal still isn't there. According to neighborhood activist Alex Landry, "The company that MaineDOT has contracted to do this has ordered the signal, and is now waiting on it; as we all are. But the responsibility lies with MaineDOT, for not having started studying the crosswalks seriously until about January of this year. Their failure to provide a signal in a timely manner is unconscionable."

It's not just unconscionable, it's criminally negligent - as another Committee pointed out, the Maine DOT would never open up a major intersection to traffic without a functioning traffic light.

If you know anyone who's been hit or injured by a turning vehicle at this intersection this summer, whether on foot or on a bicycle, they should pursue legal action against the Maine DOT and project engineer Ernie Martin, who need to be held responsible for their petulant and threatening treatment of non-motorists in this neighborhood. A number of neighbors (including me) would be willing to help cover interim legal expenses on their behalf. Please leave a comment or shoot me an email (c.neal.milneil at Google's email service) if you're interested in taking action. In the meantime, be careful out there.


Padraig said...

Criminal negligence, in contrast to civil, requires an elevated stated of culpability--something that is lacking here. And although the actions of MDOT may be negligent in a more general, civil, sense, suing the engineer personally won't work. His actions are attributable to his employer, MDOT, as they took place within the scope of his employment. However, MDOT, as a state entity, can't be sued for a tort claim (including civil negligence) unless it consents to this. The Maine Tort Claims Act provides all governmental entities with immunity from torts suits seeking damages, with limited exceptions, into which the situation you described doesn't fit. Even if the actions about which you so rightly complain fit within an applicable exception to state immunity, MDOT's likely response would be that it STILL is not liable, because the outcome is attributable to an independent contractor. Unfortunately, despite the less than optimal outcome for the trail, MDOT is probably safer than safe on this one and suing would be a waste of time for all involved. However, that said, I agree that the fence is a blunder.

Scott said...

This sounds like a problem that a pair of bolt cutters and a can of white paint could fix...

Ari said...

@Scott, the fence between the trail and Trader Joes could be remedied in a similar manner.