A harbinger of spring more reliable than Easter or the Vernal Equinox, the Kenduskeag Steam Canoe Race surges through Bangor this Saturday. It’s among my favorite events of the year. It happens only once, and it marks the divide in the mind’s calendar that puts winter indisputably behind us. After the canoe race, it’s spring for good.
Though I’m a sailor, not a paddler, I love everything about this race: the history, the costumes, the war canoes, the kayaks, the action at Six Mile Falls, the people out along the Kenduskeag Trail watching the racers approach the finish line. I don’t particularly care who wins or loses. No, the most important thing is that it’s spring, and people are outside en masse, maybe for the first time all year.
This year’s forecast calls for sunny skies and mild temperatures – good weather for both paddling and bicycling, which is the best way to see the race. The best thing about bicycling is that you can slide past the parked cars on all sides of Six Mile Falls. If you drive, unless you get there early, you could find yourself spending as much time walking as watching the race.
Still, most people do drive. In my years of river-vulturing, I’ve never seen more than a handful of bicyclists out at Six Mile Falls, or anywhere along the route. Which is too bad, because on a bike you are much more mobile, and can see more of the race. A bicycle travels only marginally faster than a canoe, can stop anywhere, and doesn’t require a parking space.
Nonetheless, canoe racing is, by its nature, a car-intensive sport. You need a vehicle to take the canoe to the start and pick it up at the finish. Presumably many of the cars at Six Mile Falls are such support vehicles. Families with small children have little choice but to come by car. More than a few dogs accompany their owners along the riverbanks; they likely did not get there by running alongside a bicycle.
In 2010, I decided to find out just how many cars there were in the area around Six Mile Falls. At eleven-thirty, approximately mid-race, I took an informal count. From my bicycle I counted 207 cars on both sides of Route 15 north of the bridge, 146 on the side of Route 231 where parking was allowed, and 196 on Route 15 south of the bridge. The Advent Christian Church lot held approximately another hundred; a small side street north of the bridge accommodated another 60 or so. That adds up to more than 700 cars, and some people had already left to follow the race downstream.
How many of those vehicles would a shuttle bus service, run by the city or a private entity or a combination of both, remove from the mix? It seems like a simple thing to set up. Buses could leave from the Airport Mall or the Broadway Shopping Center for Six Mile Falls every half hour during the race. The Capehart route goes as far as Finson Road; maybe race spectators could make a connection to the Falls there.
Perhaps there would be no appreciable difference in traffic, at first. People are used to driving. But it’s an idea at least worth putting on the table, isn’t it? What role can public transportation play in alleviating Bangor’s traffic congestion?
(I confess my tongue is partway in my cheek here. I lived in San Diego from 1983 to 1999. Bangor does not have traffic congestion, at least not in the Californian sense.)
Nonetheless, I’d like to see public buses available for this and other events: concerts at the Waterfront, University of Maine hockey games, elections and caucuses. Traffic gets worse when driving is the only option.
But I’m not trying to throw cold water on one of the most fun events of the year. I’ll be out there on my bicycle enjoying the spills and the sunshine. I doubt I’ll be having as much fun as the participants, though. It makes me want to get a canoe and try the race myself.
One of these years, I’m going to do it – even if I have to prevail upon someone with a car to help me get there.