2012-06-22 / Front Page

South Portland residents aim to curb Highland Avenue speeding

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


South Portland city officials say the crosswalk on Highland Avenue leading to the Wainwright Athletic Complex is illegal because no crosswalks are permitted in an area with a speed limit of 40 mph or higher. (Jack Flagler photos) South Portland city officials say the crosswalk on Highland Avenue leading to the Wainwright Athletic Complex is illegal because no crosswalks are permitted in an area with a speed limit of 40 mph or higher. (Jack Flagler photos) Kristy Giles lives at the corner of Old Farm Road and Highland Avenue in South Portland. Recently, she noticed drivers going too fast down Highland Avenue in the 40 mph speed limit zone, which worried her since the neighborhood includes athletic fields, an ice cream shop and a high concentration of family homes.

So Giles took action.

She met with city officials to discuss reducing the speed last month. On Monday, June 18, the South Portland City Council voted unanimously to submit a request to the Maine Department of Transportation asking it to reduce the speed limit on Highland Avenue between the Scarborough town line and Highland Memorial Cemetery. The speed limit in that stretch is currently 40 mph, the city hopes to knock it down to 35 mph.

“I believe 35 miles an hour signals an entrance into a residential neighborhood that has a lot of children and pedestrians using the area,” Giles said.

She added that the presence of Wainwright Fields and Maples Organic Desserts on the disputed stretch of Highland Avenue mean many children and other pedestrians are often crossing the street. Giles also said that City Manager Jim Gailey told her the crosswalk to the athletic fields was illegal, because crosswalks are not allowed in speed limit zones of 40 mph and higher.

Councilor Tom Blake said Giles showed “a good example of how one person can initiate action,” but he had concerns that the speed limit reduction would not actually cut down on speeders in the area without also increasing police enforcement. If a majority of vehicles are exceeding the 40 mph speed limit, Blake said, they will likely continue to speed if the speed limit is dropped, unless the city takes additional action.

Tex Haeuser, South Portland’s director of planning and development, said in a memo to Gailey that a three-day count using city traffic counters showed nearly 10 percent of drivers passed the corner of Highland Avenue and Old Farm Road in the northbound lane traveling at speeds that exceed 55 mph. That corner is less than a quarter mile away from the illegal crosswalk.

Haeuser said the 40 mph limit was a “relic” of when the area was much more rural and undeveloped, as it currently still is on the Scarborough side of the town line, where the speed limit is 45 mph. In South Portland, however, Haeuser said there has been a dramatic increase in the number of families and homes in the last few years.

He added there are various measures the city can take to combat high speeds in the area, such as increasing signs and police enforcement, but “probably the first thing we ought to do is at least get the speed limit down to let people know that they do have to slow down,” Haeuser said.

Councilor Thomas Coward asked if MDOT could ultimately decide to increase the speed in the area after its evaluation, which Haeuser admitted was a possibility but very unlikely in this scenario. Haeuser said the state will generally make the decision to raise a speed limit to avoid a speed trap, or a sudden drop in speed limit, but in this case the drop would be gradual from the Scarborough town line to the 30 mph zone at the Highland Memorial Cemetery.

Staff Writer Jack Flagler can be reached at 282-4337 ext. 219.

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