Last week a vehicle struck USM student Albert Lothrop as he attempted to cross the busy intersection at Forest Avenue and Bedford Street. Although Lothrop was not seriously hurt in the accident, students and faculty are concerned about the safety of the intersection.
Those who make the difficult and time-consuming journey across Forest Avenue know first-hand of the danger involved.
“It’s a running dash to the median, and then sometimes a long wait before you can cross to the other side,” said Marissa Leeman, a freshman nursing major.
Leeman and several other students cross the busy intersection each day to compare prices between the USM bookstore and the Campus bookstore located directly across the street from Pier 1 Imports. With limited parking available at the Campus Bookstore, students and faculty find their only choice is to park on campus and walk over.
“It seems highly unlikely that the city would put in a new and improved crosswalk or parking just for my business,” said Wayne Berzinis, owner of the Campus Bookstore.
In addition to the bookstore, many students are choosing to park in the Shop `n Save parking lot to avoid the competitive parking at USM.
“During the day I generally park at Shop `n Save, it’s just not worth the hassle of trying to find a spot [on campus],” said Doug Driesen, a business major. “At night it’s not as much of a problem.”
Many students feel the same way about the intersection as they use their best judgment while timing their walk to avoid the traffic. After successfully crossing the first half of the road, many students and faculty become stranded on the middle island where they wait for the highly unlikely event that traffic will yield to them, or even more unlikely, that a break in the flow of traffic will occur.
Another problem with the intersection is the crosswalk sign that can barely be seen on sunny days and is practically useless when visible. Unlike other Portland intersections that have newly installed, pedestrian-friendly crosswalks which show the amount of time a person has to cross before traffic continues, the crosswalk sign at this intersection seems to be out of order.
“I don’t believe the crosswalk sign works,” says Leeman. “You press it but traffic never stops.”
The crosswalk sign comes on for exactly two seconds, but it’s set up so that traffic must yield to the pedestrian. Without the orange barrels and crosswalk signs stating that vehicles must stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, like those on Bedford Street, drivers just aren’t paying attention.
In addition to the old crosswalk light and lack of a pedestrian crossing sign, vehicles exiting I-295 are continuously flowing into the intersection, making pedestrian crossing even more dangerous.
“Forest Avenue, from Bedford Street through the [I-295] interchange ramps, is a high accident area,” said Dave Early, executive director of Facilities Management. According to Early, the city of Portland has requested federal funds for the reconstruction of the interchange.
Early said the city’s goal is to construct an “urban” interchange that would transform the existing cloverleaf into a system where the ramps are more parallel with the highway. Access to and from the ramps at Forest Avenue would be through a signaled interchange.
Currently there are no traffic lights where the ramps intersect with Forest Avenue, which creates a stop-and-go situation for motorists and a dangerous crossing for students.
According to statistics from the Maine Department of Transportation, the intersection has seen 50 accidents with a 40 percent injury rate between 1997 and 1999.
The University would like to someday eliminate traffic that turns from Forest Avenue onto Bedford Street, but according to Larry Ash of the Traffic Flow Division in Portland, the intersection is very unlikely to see a change.
Although there seems to be no plan for change to the Forest Avenue intersection, the University hopes to make Bedford Street pedestrian friendly.
Helen Gorgas-Goulding, director of Portland Student Life, said that at some point in Phase Two of the University’s 20-year master plan Bedford Street will be closed off to all but emergency and delivery traffic.
Until those changes take place, expect to be trapped on the island at some point in your travels across the busy Forest Avenue intersection.
Staff writer Ryan Milliken can be contacted at [email protected]