Lebanon Wrestles With Busy Road Around Park

Lebanon — The streets surrounding downtown’s Colburn Park are known to be among the busiest and most dangerous roadways in the city — what’s less clear is how to fix them.

The Pedestrian and Bicyclist Advisory Committee last night hosted a public forum to gather feedback on that very issue, and heard a plethora of suggestions from those in attendance. Despite a variety of ideas and options, two of the biggest challenges facing the committee tasked with improving the safety of the crowded square are beyond its control: vehicle speed and a tight budget.

There have been at least 15 reported incidents of accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists in the last several years for the area around Colburn Park, including two that led to pedestrian deaths.

Members of the public heard a presentation about the increased likelihood of fatalities if a person were to be struck by a vehicle traveling at or above 25 mph, and how that speed, while within the speed limit, was still unsafe for travel there.

So why not lower the speed limit?

“It’s done all over the state, but technically there is still a state (law) that says you can’t mark a speed below 25 mph on a public street,” said Lebanon Planning and Zoning Director Andrew Gast-Bray.

In the streets circling the heart of downtown, city planners and representatives alike must manage four streets and several walking paths that connect to Route 4, Route 120, businesses, and several neighborhoods. Despite that challenge, members of the committee last night explained that while some ideas — such as flashing yellow lights to signal pedestrians and speed bumps — would be a big help, they were simply too costly to implement.

“We’re on a shoestring or a peashooter budget,” explained John Kelleher, the vice chairman of the committee. “You can kind of see from the changes that we’ve made over the last year, it’s ... been mainly striping because we haven’t really had any capital dollars for significant improvements, so we’re sort of doing the best we can with the resources we have.”

The restriping of the area around the park, which was implemented over the summer last year, did not reduce the speed of vehicles traveling there, according to Gast-Bray. He added that the restriping reinforced to a large degree the existing flow of traffic.

City Councilor Erling Heistad, who serves on the committee, said in a presentation last night that installing another stop sign and added parking spaces were being weighed for the next round of changes.

The additional parking spaces would be “head-out” angle spaces that require the driver to back into the spot, and would be a “pilot project” to gauge there effect.

More parking spaces would also narrow the travel space for vehicles, which could constrain speeds and reduce the length of cross walks, some of which are as long as 90 feet in the area surrounding the park.

Heistad mentioned raised crosswalks, which would improve the visibility of pedestrians, and different painting techniques, which would give the road markings more staying power, as beyond the committee’s budget.

“There’s some different things that are going to cost money that we are going to have to wait on, but we try to take each step building toward the next ones,” he said.

Also on the horizon, according to committee members and city planners, is the possibility of relocating the Advance Transit bus stop in front of City Hall.

The committee also is looking at making a pedestrian “island” on the crosswalk in front of the fire station, which would give walkers a place to regroup when traffic flow is heavy.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213