In Sync for Safer Streets
The Bicycle Coalition of Maine partners with AARP Maine’s Age-Friendly Communities
If you’ve driven through an intersection and noticed white poles with reflector tape marking a crosswalk or delineating a turn in the road, you may have seen the Bicycle Coalition of Maine (BCM) in action. Despite its name, BCM is just as concerned with safety for walkers as it is for cyclists. The statewide organization has recently partnered with AARP Maine in an effort to create safer conditions for both pedestrians and cyclists in Maine’s Network of Age-Friendly Communities.
Part of an international initiative launched by the World Health Organization in 2006, the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities helps people to age in place through community-led development of inclusive infrastructure and services. The process is tracked via AARP’s Livability Index, one element of which is transportation—including streets that are safe for walking and bicycling. Maine has 65 Age-Friendly Communities, more than any other state in the country.
“We noticed a lot of overlap between the work we do and the work they do, so we’re trying to partner more closely with them,” says Jim Tasse, assistant director and advocacy director for BCM. Just as Maine’s Age-Friendly Communities have passionate advocates who work with local officials to advance Age-Friendly initiatives, BCM has the Community Spokes Program, whose members (162 statewide) advocate for making their communities more friendly to cyclists and pedestrians. “The idea behind the program is to give people training and support in how to have conversations with decision makers,” says Tasse. “It’s much more effective having a local person communicate about changes they’d like to see, rather than hearing from a BCM staff person. This seems to be very similar to what the Age-Friendly Community Groups seek to do.”
Tasse is developing a training initiative that introduces Age-Friendly Community members to the tools used by Community Spokes, in particular, BCM’s “tactical urbanist” demonstration project program. Called Imagine People Here, its goal is to make temporary, low-cost changes to the streetscape in an effort to calm traffic and to increase safety and access for pedestrians and cyclists. “A lot of our projects are about taking excess asphalt capacity and reclaiming it for non-vehicle humanity,” he says. In North Yarmouth, for example, the Age-Friendly group is involved with trying to calm traffic on Route 115, using flexible bollards to create curb extensions, narrower traffic lanes and easier-to-see crosswalks. “We make it clear that if you drive up to one of these crosswalks, you see more than just a faded white line.”
After the demonstration period, BCM will either remove the materials and move on to another project, or sell them to the town. In Brunswick, bollards were used to make a curb radius change designed to slow traffic as it approached a crosswalk. The town bought and repurposed the bollards to mark an on-street walking area. BCM is in the process of rebranding to reflect its work on behalf of pedestrians as well as cyclists. “We’re the lead contractor on a Department of Transportation safety initiative, Heads Up, that tries to identify problematic pedestrian spots and figure out ways to improve behavior,” Tasse says. “The partnership with AARP Maine is exciting because they are interested in making communities more walkable, more bikeable, and more liveable.”