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Riverfront Plan: Make the district more walkable

The Lewiston Riverfront Island Master Plan Committee and consultants Goody Clancy have released a draft of the master plan that outlines an ambitious agenda to make Lewiston-Auburn into Maine’s premier urban riverfront destination.

In the past two weeks Twin City TIMES published details of the first and second goals: to tap the power of the river; and to attract a vital mix of new uses. This week, TCT publishes excerpts about the third goal: make the district more walkable.

See the entire plan at

http://www.lewistonmaine.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?aid=193.

Make the district more walkable

Thriving downtowns benefit from strong walkable connections between destinations. When destinations aren’t clustered or well connected, downtowns generally lack the critical mass they need to remain lively places.

Riverfront Island is a compact place. Distances between destinations are short—you can walk almost any place within the district within 5 to 7 minutes. The biggest challenge is the quality of these connections for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The same can be said of connections to the district from surrounding areas: walking distances are short, but it’s hard to get from Lisbon Street to Riverfront Island and the River. Poor walking conditions along the canals and the need to travel around rather than through the 2.5-block-long Bates Mill Complex are particularly significant barriers.

To unlock Riverfront Island’s many assets for the Lewiston-Auburn community to fully enjoy—as well as to attract a next wave of residents, businesses and visitors—providing an easily walkable, inviting and well-connected environment is critical. Reclaiming the cross canal as an attractive, tree-lined place to walk—from Canal Street all the way to the River at Simard-Payne Park—will be particularly important.  Making key streets like Oxford, Main and Cedar more walkable will also be important.

Lewiston’s new Canal Walk

Lewiston’s network of canals harnessed the Androscoggin River to power the city’s great mill complexes. Today, the canals play almost no role in power generation, but continue to be owned by a power company (NextEra Energy, formerly Florida Power & Light). Early photographs and postcards show the canals as gracious tree-lined waterways that were a unique and attractive amenity for the city.

Today the tree canopy is much deteriorated and the canals are frequently treated primarily as safety hazards, surrounded by unattractive fences and other barriers. The City of Lewiston is working with NextEra to acquire ownership of the canal network, opening the door to reestablishing the canals as attractive and unique community amenities.

Through establishing walking and bike paths along the canals, Lewiston can create much stronger and more inviting connections among key destinations, highlighting a unique community asset in a new way.

Full development of a comprehensive Canal Walk network will take time and will likely require phased implementation as funding becomes available. At the point that the City acquires ownership of the canals, it will be possible to begin this effort.

The initial phase of work might focus on Oxford Street along the edges of the Lower Canal and Simard-Payne Park extending to the Continental Mill.

The second phase of work could focus on creating an attractive walkway along the Cross Canal beginning at Simard-Payne Park and extending to Canal Street and Lisbon Street at its intersection with Ash Street. This pathway would connect through a new Canal Park at the Bates Mill No. 5 site, connect with the Lincoln Street Garage (opposite Fishbones) and extend across Lincoln Street via Cross Street to the River near the proposed hotel.

In order to ensure that the Canal Walk network has a cohesive design identity, work on the initial design phase should establish a consistent vocabulary of elements—paving, lighting, fencing, trees and signage that can be used throughout the network in subsequent phases.

City ownership will also open the door to consideration of use of the canals themselves for water-based recreation—in small boats, for ice skating and other purposes—further enhancing the appeal of canal edges for pedestrians. Each form of water-based recreation will have its own needs and constraints, and the feasibility of these uses will need to continue to be considered as the City works with the power company to ensure that adequate water is provided within the canals to preserve their amenity and facilitate use.

Improve Oxford Street. Today, Oxford Street is an alley-like place in an important location. Oxford Street is the route to key destinations: to Simard-Payne Park and the River, to the Franco-American Heritage Center, to the future home of Museum L-A, and to the Continental Mill.

Yet, south of Chestnut Street and along the edge of Simard-Payne Park, Oxford Street offers no trees, few street lights, many overhead wires and no buffer between the asphalt sidewalk and the curb. With some improvements, as suggested in the rendering, Oxford Street could become a great street that draws new investment and helps link some of the downtown riverfront’s most important places.

Add trees, lighting, and improved sidewalks. Just as Lincoln Street once did, Oxford Street needs streetscape improvements: trees, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and lighting. Plantings at the elbow of Cross Street and Oxford Street, where the Lower Canal meets the Cross Canal, are a good first start.

Invest in the Canal Walk. Trees, lighting and improved sidewalks and fencing along the Lower Canal—at the edge of Simard-Payne Park—will link the park back to the neighborhood, and link the neighborhood to the River. Trees, lighting and improved sidewalks and fencing along the Cross Canal will link the park and the River to emerging destinations as far east as Lisbon Street—including the proposed hotel and “Red House” reuse project; restaurants and businesses in the Bates Mill Complex; and a potential new Canal Park at the Upper Canal.

Add a new Lower Canal pedestrian bridge. A new pedestrian bridge across the Lower Canal at the elbow of Oxford and Cross Streets will enhance use of the park and open a new connection to the River’s edge.

Rehabilitate or replace the Lower Canal bridges serving the southern end of Simard-Payne Park and the future home of Museum L-A. The pedestrian and vehicular bridges that link this portion of Oxford Street to the riverfront are in poor condition and should be repaired or replaced. Along with continued pedestrian and bike access, access for school and tour buses as well as for emergency and service vehicles should be supported.

Continue development of an L-A Heritage Trail. For many, the L-A community’s past and recent triumphs remain well-kept secrets. Build on efforts by Museum L-A, Bates students, the Androscoggin Land Trust, the Chamber of Commerce and others to formalize and promote an L-A Heritage Trail that highlights key destinations within the Riverfront Island area.

Incorporate themes such as River Ecology, Pre-History, Mills and Canals, and Immigrants’ Journey. Create a map and locate interpretive signage near key sites. Use the trail to showcase L-A’s past, present, and future.

Make Main Street a Better Gateway

Main Street should be an inviting gateway to the City and the Riverfront. It is important that this key corridor provide safe and convenient travel. Today, Main Street is a source of frustration across many modes: difficult to cross on foot, subject to congestion during rush hour and without accommodations for bikes.

Walking Audits led by the Androscoggin Land Trust highlighted a series of concerns related to the Longley Bridge, which connects Main Street in Lewiston and Court Street in Auburn, including: an absence of safe bicycle accommodations; high vehicle speeds; narrow sidewalks; and an uncomfortable pedestrian environment. Over time, Main Street can become a place that better reflects the L-A community’s goals for the downtown and the riverfront.

Improve Main Street for pedestrians and cyclists. At the Lincoln Street intersection, Main Street features trees, plantings, and decorative street lights. Continue this treatment on both sides of the street as far as Lisbon Street, as proposed several years ago, to announce arrival in the downtown riverfront district and provide a more welcoming walking environment.

Provide crosswalks and pedestrian crossing lights at all four corners of the Main-Lincoln Streets intersection. Provide paths linking the Riverwalk to this intersection, as well as a Riverwalk connection below the Longley (Main Street) Bridge. Provide connections to the new bike path linking Main Street to Sunnyside Park.

Improve Main Street for cars. Investigate adjustments to signal timing on Main Street that could reduce peak hour queuing near Lincoln Street. Add capacity for more left-turn movements at the Lincoln Street-Main Street intersection when/ if needed to support additional redevelopment along Lincoln Street and on Island Point.

Evaluate feasibility and impacts for multiple options, including widening the street at intersections and adding roundabouts (also likely to require street widening at intersections). Incorporate bike and pedestrian improvements into the project.

Continue to improve Lincoln Street. Lincoln Street has improved in recent years as a result of many actions, including streetscape improvements, particularly along the Bates Mill frontage. As additional development occurs, careful attention will be needed to continue to improve the pedestrian environment.

Control of curb cuts associated with any new development will be very important, as will extending existing streetscape amenities.

Make Cedar Street and the Peace Bridge More Walkable, Bikeable Places. Today, the four-lane Cedar Street has more lane capacity than is needed to accommodate current and projected traffic volumes, and weight loads on the Peace Bridge have become a concern due to the age and condition of the structure. No bike accommodations are currently provided.

Add bike lanes on Cedar Street and the Peace Bridge. Reallocate the street’s 42-foot curb-to-curb dimensions by restriping it to accommodate two 11-foot travel lanes, a center turn lane and striped bike lanes. The center turn lane could include a median/pedestrian refuge island at pedestrian crossings (e.g. at Cedar and Oxford Streets).

Consider enabling left turns from east-bound Cedar Street onto Lisbon Street. To strengthen street connections between Riverfront Island and Lisbon Street, investigate the potential of two-way travel on Cedar Street between Canal and Lisbon Streets—a segment that is now one way in the direction of River.

Link to local and regional trails. Strong, well-signed connections to bike corridors and trails will help link Riverfront Island to the rich network of open spaces that serves the region. Of particular importance are trail links identified within the Androscoggin River Greenway Study, an Androscoggin Land Trust led initiative conducted at the same time as the Riverfront Island master plan process. These trail links connect the Riverfront Island master plan area to the region, and include:

Riverwalk / bike path connections from Potvin Park to Gaslight Park, and on to Mount Hope Cemetery and the Exit 80 interchange; Riverwalk / bike path connections from Island Point to Sunnyside Park, and on to the Gulf Island Dam; and water trail connections from Dresser Rips past Gulf Island Point.

Riverwalk and Canal Walk signage should provide clear links to the trails noted above as well as to the East Coast Greenway, which is routed to pass through Riverfront Island along Lincoln Street. A long term plan for a Rail-Trail to Brunswick creates the opportunity for the Riverfront Island to become a trailhead of access and activity around what would be a significant regional bike corridor.

The Rail-Trail could connect along Mill Street across the district, all the way to Island Point—or could be routed beside the River along the Riverwalk.

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