A man who died while crossing the street in Bangor earlier this month was the 20th pedestrian to die on Maine roads this year, tying 2021 for the deadliest year on record for Maine pedestrians.
The number of Maine pedestrians killed in crashes has generally been on an upward trend since 2015, when 19 pedestrians died, according to the Maine Department of Transportation. Twenty pedestrians died two years later in 2017, setting the record for deadliest year that has now been tied this year.
Among this year’s deaths, three pedestrians were killed in an Augusta crash in May, including a 1-year-old girl, after a driver allegedly fell asleep. In September, Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Luke Gross was killed while on the side of a road in Trenton. And in Bangor, a man died as he attempted to cross Broadway near York and Oak streets on Dec. 17.
The Maine Department of Transportation has noticed a generally rising number of pedestrian deaths since 2016, and has been working to prevent them. However, the agency can’t change every single person’s behavior, nor can it abruptly change a transportation network overnight that has been designed around cars, said Patrick Adams, the department’s active transportation planner.
“The people in Augusta were walking against traffic, they were on the shoulder, they were doing everything correctly. But they were still struck and killed by a vehicle,” he said. “But as a pedestrian, do everything in your power to be aware of the vehicles that are moving around you.”
These crashes can happen any time, but Department of Transportation data show that the evening hours remain most dangerous for pedestrians. December is also the most common month for pedestrian crashes, and Friday is the most common day, according to the department.
But the fix isn’t easy.
The Department of Transportation evaluates every fatal crash to study the circumstances that led up to it. The agency looks into everything including lighting, whether the driver was intoxicated and whether the pedestrian was distracted by a phone, Adams said.
Generally, crashes that kill pedestrians tend to be in rural areas where lighting is more sparse and cars are traveling faster, making it less likely a pedestrian can survive a crash, he said.
Both pedestrians and drivers need to follow the rules of the road, Adams said. That means drivers have to yield to pedestrians at marked crosswalks, but pedestrians shouldn’t just walk off the sidewalk assuming cars will stop, he said.
“Just because the law says you have the right of way, do not let that be the only thing that’s motivating you as you go across the street,” Adams said. “Make sure that as you begin to cross the street, confirm that the drivers who are coming toward you see you, acknowledge you.”
The Department of Transportation is redoing its statewide pedestrian safety plan that will serve as a framework for the agency and road improvements, Adams said. But that work won’t be completed until the end of 2022, he said.
Creating a new plan also won’t be an immediate fix, as so much of the state’s transportation infrastructure is built around automobiles, Adams warned.
“The challenge we face is that we’ve spent years developing our current system and we don’t have the financial or human resource capacity to make changes everywhere overnight,” he said. “It’s a process that’s going to take time.”