A fatal auto accident that killed two pedestrians in Oxford last month suggests the need for revamped bureaucratic consideration for establishing crosswalks and other pedestrian safety measures on Maine roads and highways.
Two Rhode Island men were struck and killed by a pick-up truck July 25th, while crossing Route 26 from the Oxford Casino to the Hampton Inn. While the intersection is served by a blinking yellow warning light, the poorly lit section of highway includes no pedestrian crosswalk or other traffic safety features designed to protect pedestrians crossing the highway, which has a posted speed limit in the area of 50 miles-per-hour.
The men were struck by a 70-year-old New Hampshire woman who did not see the men crossing the road in time to react and avoid them. The woman was unhurt, but both men died at the scene. Oxford Police determined that neither alcohol nor speed were factors in the accident, and declined to press any charges. Oxford Chief of Police Jonathan Tibbetts said that in his 20 years with the department this is the first fatal pedestrian accident he has experienced in the area.
The casino and inn offer a shuttle service to account for the lack of a crosswalk. While the shuttle service operates regularly until 9 p.m. every weekday, the service is available 24 hours per day upon request. Neither man requested the service prior to their ill-fated crossing on foot at about 10:30 pm the night of the accident.
Crosswalks Not Allowed on High-Speed Roads
State rules regulating crosswalks and other highway pedestrian safety measures prohibit painted crosswalks on high-speed roads, such as this one with its 50 mph limit. The Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) driveway/entrance permit that was granted in 2013 for the construction of the new Hampton Inn required the construction of left-turn turning lanes and the blinking yellow warning lights on Highway 26.
The permit, based on a traffic impact study conducted by Easton Traffic Engineering that examined 8 interrelated lots developed or under development in that section of the highway, determined that 773 trips would be made during peak evening hours through both the Hampton Inn and Oxford Casino properties. This reportedly did not qualify as high enough volume to require a “fully functional” traffic light that alternates between green, yellow and red.
Under current parameters and the terms of Hampton Inn’s driveway/entrance permit, increased traffic volume will be needed to trigger the need for a fully functional traffic light. Alternatively, any town can request that the DOT conduct a safety audit of roadway sections that may be dangerous. They can also request speed limit changes. In both cases, DOT generally sends traffic safety personnel to the location to assess safety concerns and determine appropriate remedies. Chief Tibbetts said he planned to work with the state to address the intersection’s safety issues.
2017 on Track to be Another Deadly Year for Maine Pedestrians
The Oxford pedestrian fatalities put 2017 on track with 2015 and 2016, both of which recorded pedestrian fatalities far above the previous 10 years. The number of pedestrian fatalities jumped almost 100 percent year-over-year in 2015, which recorded 19 pedestrian deaths compared to the 10 recorded in 2014. In 2016, 17 pedestrians were killed on Maine roads.
Pedestrian Deaths Up Significantly Nationwide
The increase in Maine pedestrian traffic deaths mirrors an uptick nationwide. According to a recent report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, the increase in pedestrian fatalities is growing faster than the increase in motor vehicle crashes, both of which had been in decline until recent years. While the report did not outright attribute any specific factor to the increase, alcohol use by pedestrians and drivers, along with “distracted” driving and walking, were highlighted as potential causes for much of the increase.
State, Town of Lewiston Taking Notice
The issue of pedestrian traffic accident fatalities has become such a hot-button issue that the Maine DOT, state representatives, and City of Lewiston have initiated actions to address the problem. The Maine DOT last year created the Bike-Ped Safety Working Group to examine crash factors and develop strategies to reduce pedestrian and bicycle traffic accidents and fatalities. Building on the work of this group, the DOT has initiated the Heads Up Pedestrian Safety Project designed to further develop short and long-term pedestrian and bicycle safety mitigation plans.
A Bill to Revamp Pedestrian Safety Measures
Meanwhile, Maine State Rep. Stephen Stanley (Medway) introduced a bill—LD 1011—that would require pedestrians walking on roads with no sidewalks to wear reflective vests between sunset and sunrise. Introduced in March, the bill has been referred to the Committee on Transportation.
For its part, the City of Lewiston released a Pedestrian Safety Report in March that highlights “areas and intersections in Lewiston that should be identified as priority areas of concern” in relation to pedestrian safety. The report also listed short- and long-term recommendations to bolster traffic safety for the city’s pedestrians. Among the measures suggested:
- Adequate lighting around crosswalks
- Flashing crosswalk lighting
- Median signs
- Crossing guards near schools
- Signals at busy intersections
- High-visibility crosswalks
- Raised crosswalks
- Curb extensions
- Bike lanes
- Pedestrian refuge islands
For more information about pedestrian safety in Lewiston and the State of Maine, refer to our blog—Keep Our Pedestrians Safe.
If you were injured in a pedestrian accident, or if someone you love was killed in a pedestrian accident, contact one of our personal injury lawyers at Fales & Fales, P.A. We offer free consultation on personal injury cases.