A pedestrian crosses Hogan Road in Bangor on Wednesday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Bangor aims to have wider sidewalks and road shoulders to create more space for pedestrians and bikers as it undertakes future road projects.

The goal of making the city safer for pedestrians and bikers is part of a long-term guiding vision for Bangor that city staff are discussing and drafting. That work is also happening in the wake of a crash that killed a pedestrian last Friday, highlighting how dangerous Bangor can be for people traveling on foot.

As the city tackles future road projects, it hopes when possible to create 5-foot-wide road shoulders to accommodate bikes and 5- to 6-foot-wide sidewalks that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, City Engineer John Theriault said. The city could also add marked bike lanes; it has none right now.

Last Friday’s crash that killed 28-year-old Ryan Hersey of Enfield on the Union Street exit ramp off Interstate 95 was the city’s third fatal pedestrian crash so far this year, according to Shannon Moss, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety. The state has seen 20 pedestrian fatalities this year, including the Wednesday deaths of a pedestrian in Hancock and another in Lewiston.

A pedestrian crosses S. Park Street to get to the sidewalk on Center Street in Bangor on Wednesday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Maine saw 20 fatal pedestrian crashes last year, tying a state record, and two fatal bicycle crashes. Bangor, meanwhile, saw only one fatal pedestrian crash and no fatal bicycle crashes. 

Making space for people using all modes of transportation is a drastic shift from how engineers designed roads and intersections over the last 30 years, Theriault said.

“We used to design intersections by thinking about the biggest truck that may travel through the intersection,” he said. “That resulted in large intersections with very long crosswalks for pedestrians to cross. Now we’re getting away from that and thinking about how bicycles and pedestrians can be accommodated along with those large trucks.”

Narrowing travel lanes and adding wider shoulders automatically cause drivers to slow down, making roads safer for people not in cars and creating space for bicyclists, said Jean Sideris, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, a Portland-based bicycle and pedestrian education and advocacy nonprofit.

Creating safer environments for people to walk and bike will naturally encourage more people to do so, and that comes with public and mental health benefits, Theriault said.

A sidewalk in disrepair on Blackstone Street in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Currently, few people in Bangor walk or bike to work. Of the more than 15,000 employed people living in Bangor between 2013 and 2017, just 796 walked to work and 25 rode a bicycle, according to a 2019 long-range pedestrian and bicycle transportation plan for the Bangor region.

“We hear people want to bike, walk or take the bus, but they don’t because they don’t feel safe, and that’s a problem we need to fix,” Sideris said. “Any improvements are important and valuable, but we need to keep our eye on investing in and thinking about transporting people and not just cars.”

A pedestrian walks a section of sidewalk along Kenduskeag Avenue that is only separated from the road by a strip of grass in Bangor on Wednesday. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Painting a line on the side of the road to mark where bikes can travel is a far cry from infrastructure found in some major cities that protects bicyclists and pedestrians with physical barriers, but it’s still an improvement to celebrate, Sideris said.

“The only way we’re going to undo car-centric infrastructure is if we make a dramatic shift to prioritizing other users,” she said. “It’s going to take time and a shift in how we spend money and allocate resources.”

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Kathleen O'Brien

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...