Child Pedestrian Death Highlights Perils of Poor Road Design in Maine

The death of a 13-year-old boy, struck and killed in a crosswalk on his way to school in Lewiston, has devastated a community and raised important questions about the lack of pedestrian safety in Maine. 

Police say the eighth grader was crossing Main Street at Frye Street – in the crosswalk – when he was struck by a driver operating a Ford F-150 pickup truck. The driver of the vehicle, a 54-year-old woman, is reportedly cooperating with authorities. It is believed that after the initial impact, the truck dragged the young boy some distance up the street until the vehicle stopped and the driver discovered the child underneath. The incident occurred at around 7:10 a.m., as the boy was making his way to school.

According to the Maine Department of Public Safety’s Bureau of Highway Safety, Cumberland County – including Portland – had by far the most pedestrian accidents of any county in the state over the last several years. Between 2008 and 2012, there were 408 pedestrian accidents in Cumberland County. Comparatively, there were 205 in York, 167 in Androscoggin, 169 in Penobscot, and 111 in Kennebec. In the last decade, there have been between nine and 14 pedestrian fatalities a year in Maine.

Although many crash reports cite the weather or some type of driver negligence, such as distracted driving or driving impaired, one of the biggest problems is actually poor road design. Specifically, there are problems with poor road design allowing high speeds.

Recently, leaders of the group Build Maine, a non-profit focused on street design, real estate, and public service to explore wise investments in the future of our communities, penned an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald, explaining how better road design can help prevent tragedies like the one in Lewiston. It begins by explaining that in order to get an education, this middle-schooler was tasked every day with crossing a high-speed state road that ran through his neighborhood. Most state roads that run through residential neighborhoods post speeds that are in conflict with the visual and design cues of the road. That is, it can feel uncomfortable to drive slowly, but this high-speed traffic is a serious risk to vulnerable road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians.

Like so many local roads, these are designed to highway standards, which means vehicle lanes are 16 feet wide. The writers say that one way we can have a significant impact on improving pedestrian safety – while not affecting the flow of traffic – would be to reduce not just the width of the travel lane but also in some cases the number of lanes. The Federal Highway Administration refers to this as a “road diet.” The theory goes that when four- and five-lane roads bisect residential neighborhoods, drivers have to eyeball multiple lanes of same-direction traffic, constantly checking their blind spots and mirrors to switch lanes and navigate. Reducing to a three-lane system can reduce speed-related crashes by up to 52 percent, the FHA found. Four-way stops can also be effective with this type of road.

Road design priorities for the last several decades have favored speed over safety. We know how to improve that here in Maine. If our leaders are serious about reducing the number of pedestrian accidents and bicycle accidents in Maine, the time for action is now.

If you are the victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Commentary: Blame road design for pedestrian fatalities, Nov. 15, 2016, By Vanessa L. Farr and Kara Wilbur, Special to the Portland Press Herald

More Blog Entries:

Report: Maine Workers Most Commonly Suffer Back Injuries, Nov. 18, 2016, Portland Pedestrian Accident Lawyer Blog

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