Neighbors Request Lowering Roads’ Speed Limits

Request is for Hadley Point Road and Bayview Drive

Some local citizens’ quest for what they hope will be safer streets in their neighborhood headed to the Bar Harbor Town Council Tuesday night in what may prove to be the first step in a long process. The speed limits on roads are determined by the Maine Department of Transportation and though they can be changed, it isn’t usually a quick process.

Police Chief James Willis said that as an example one of the processes he’d been involved with to change a speed limit on a local road took four years.

“Speed limits are set by the state,” Willis said, and traffic engineers have a set formula that they follow when setting speed limits.

Writing “on behalf of many” of her neighbors, Kendra Rand, formerly requested via a July 18 letter to Willis, as well as Town Manager Kevin Sutherland for the speed limits on Hadley Point Road (currently 30 mph) and Bayview Drive (currently 35 mph) be lowered to 25 mph in the residential neighborhood.

“Dozens of year-round and summer-resident families with young children regularly use these roads for walking, running, and biking. Hadley Point Campground has many guests who take advantage of the easy walk to catch the sunset at Hadley Point Beach. The residential nature of these roads and their heavy use by pedestrians and children necessitates a lowering of the current speed limits,” Rand wrote.

Sutherland brought the matter to the council, explaining that to lower the speed limit, the town has to formally request it of the Maine Department of Transportation. Rand attached an informal petition signed by over 40 of her neighbors.

Petitioners listed reasons such as “dozens of children live and play on these roads,” “high traffic area (kids, campers, etc.),” “children playing,” “pedestrians are in danger,” “the design of the road, its width, the traffic not appropriate for current speed,” and “kids!”

Cate Schneider, a resident in the neighborhood, wrote, “As visitation has increased on the island, Hadley Point Beach has been discovered and is also seeing increased visitation beyond the local population. With blind spots on both roads coupled with excessive speed becoming a factor, I fear for the safety of our most vulnerable pedestrians.”

Another resident wrote that they feel the speeding is worse this spring than last year and that her daughter was riding on her scooter and was almost hit.

According to the Maine Department of Public Safety, “Speed is cited as a factor in an average of 4,600 crashes per year in Maine and is cited as a contributing factor in 19% of all crashes and 42% of all fatal crashes.”

Rand also included a memo from the Bicycle Coalition of Maine in her materials to Sutherland and Willis. That memo states, “Nationally, speeding was a factor in 26% if all traffic fatalities in 2018, killing 9,278 people or an average of more than 25 deaths a day.” Another graphic on the coalition’s sheets shows that vulnerable users (pedestrians, cyclists, those in wheelchairs) have a 93% chance of surviving a collision with a car when the car is going 20 mph, but that number decreases to 55% when the car’s speed increases to 40 mph.

In a July 26 email to Sutherland, Willis sent a summary of the reports of speeding complaints on Hadley Point Road and Bayview Drive. Sgt. Doug Brundrett patrolled the two roads from May 26 to July 20, 2021.  

“In review of directed patrol efforts, officers were in the area ten times conducting enforcement and observing the traffic flow. In general, officers reported seeing a fair amount of pedestrian traffic and vehicles. Vehicles were mostly in compliance with the posted speed limit of 35 MPH,” Brundett wrote in his July 22, 2021 report.

In the report that Brundett created, the average speed was 17 mph on Bayview Drive and 21 on Hadley Point Road, but there were four speed violations on Hadley Point Road during officer patrol and four on Bayview Road.

Willis included data from the department’s speed display that was given to them from the Maine Department of Transportation. That data showed 100% speed violations on both roads.

“Keep in mind the location labels on the reports are not entirely accurate due to a learning curve with the sign.  Our summary is accurate. This sign is a different model than what we typically use, so the report looks different and is somewhat limited (free sign from DOT),” Willis wrote.

Brundett’s report said that the complaint was unsubstantiated.

Willis told councilors that he believes drivers are mostly obeying the speed limit, but understands that children and pedestrian traffic may be worrisome.

Councilor Gary Friedman said, “Because of the number of families out there and the children and neighborhood. . . .Those few people who are going over you really want to put notice to.” He added that he supported Rand’s efforts and felt the speed limit was a bit high.

Councilor Erin Cough asked Chief Willis, “What would the downside be to lowering the speed limit” since there a majority of people seem to be going between 20 and 30 mph according to the police department’s data.

Willis said there could be adjustments across the board if Maine Department of Transportation does a survey of the roads. Sometimes when that occurs the department doesn’t just review the just roads requested but multiple roads in the area.

“We have a number of areas around town where local people will do anything to have a shortcut,” Goldtwait said, “and some of those people are in a hurry.” Next, people contact the council and the police department does a survey and often it’s only 1 percent of the drivers that are speeding, she said. She asked how to reconcile how neighborhoods feel about speed and the objective data collected by the police or DOT.

“Speed limits are one step in traffic calming,” Willis said, and there are other options that can work in tandem or alone.

Councilor Matthew Hochman said that with all the hoops that would have to occur to get the speed limits lowered, there is no reason not to move this forward. The council unanimously voted to move forward with Rand’s request and there will be a public hearing on the topic at the council’s September 6 meeting. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in council chambers at the Bar Harbor Municipal Building on Cottage Street.

Rand thanked the police department and council and suggested the councilors take a trip down the roads to see what speed they think is safe. After Rand spoke, another resident asked that his complaint from last year get the same treatment, saying he too had collected multiple signatures from his neighbor. Sutherland said that he’d bring that back to the council as well.

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The rules for changing Maine speed limits.

Sample letter of intent by the municipality to DOT to ask for change of the speed limits on a local road. 

Maine statistics on speeding.

Maine’s Department of Public Safety information on strategies to reduce pedestrian and bicyclist crashes and fatalities.

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