I’ve been in Bangor ten years now, since moving upriver from Belfast in the spring of 2006. By January 2007, I’d given up my car, happy to be someplace I could finally do it.
It’s gratifying to walk around downtown Bangor on a weekday, and see all the people getting around on foot, bus and bicycles. There are cars, to be sure, but Bangor has few of the chronic traffic problems that plague much smaller Maine communities like Ellsworth, Camden, Freeport and the coastal towns south of Portland.
(I hasten to add that I lived in and around San Diego for 16 years, and I can attest that Maine does not have traffic, in the Californian sense of the word, except on an occasional weekend at the bottom of the Maine Turnpike. We are fortunate.)
Seldom in my life do I find myself in sync with popular movements, but this is one of those times. Over the past decade, Bangor has begun to embrace alternatives to the private automobile. As a consequence, it’s a nicer place to live, work and play.
That didn’t happen without a groundswell of people who want to walk, bus, and bicycle. I am but one of them, tossing pebbles into the pond of public discourse. Others are doing real work to achieve real improvements. Here’s a thanks and a tip of the cap to a few of them.
If you’ve noticed the recent proliferation of bicycle route signs around town lately, thank Walk-n-Roll, an advocacy group promoting pedestrian and bicycling safety in the greater Bangor area. They also lead moonlight bike rides and help provide free bike parking at public events.
Thanks to some new signage, designed and installed by Justin Russell and Keirie Peachy of Walk-n-Roll, I now know that it’s 1.6 miles from the bus stop at Pickering Square to the Cross Center, a distance I can walk in about half an hour. That means my average walking speed is 3.2 miles an hour. I can do it in under ten minutes by bicycle, an average speed of around 10 mph. By bus, from the time I get on to the time I get off, it’s about fifteen minutes, or 6.4 mph. I’ve never timed it by car, but for a fair comparison, you would have to account for the time to walk to and from your parked vehicle at each end of the trip.
I’m betting that bicycling is fastest. Proximate bike racks make it more convenient, too, when you think about parking downtown, or at the Cross Center for a major event. We aren’t conditioned to think that way. We’re used to getting into our cars for even the most minor trip. But awareness is changing.
Friends of Lower Kenduskeag Stream (FOLKS) has been improving one of Bangor’s best walking corridors. I happen to live in a neighborhood served by a spur of the Kenduskeag Stream Trail, and often walk into town that way. For the past few years, FOLKS have been out with chainsaws, shovels, rakes, weed whackers and whatnot, building drainage ditches, cutting brush, and shoring up soft spots. New trash cans and benches have been placed and are mostly used.
FOLKS organizes periodic trail days, usually Saturdays, when volunteers gather to work on the trail. The improvements are already impressive.
Transportation For All recently marshaled more than 30 people to a city council workshop on the Community Connector bus system. TFA is an offshoot of Food AND Medicine, a social justice group founded in 2001 to assist laid-off workers.
I’ve been riding the bus since 2007, when it was still called the BAT. On my first day of employment at the University of Maine, I received a Maine Card, which functioned as, among other things, a bus pass. But I can’t stay on campus for evening events, because the last bus leaves at 6:30.
In ten years I’ve talked with a lot of bus passengers. Though we all use the bus for different reasons, there is near-universal agreement on one thing: the need for later hours. And thanks to the ongoing support of TFA and others, it looks like it’s finally going to happen. Though the council is moving cautiously, there seems to be a consensus for expanding the bus service, on an incremental but ongoing basis, over the next few years.
Transportation For All meets on first and third Thursdays from 9-11 am at the Hammond Street Congregational Church.
Bangor is becoming a friendly place to walk, bus, and bicycle. It’s getting better all the time, and a lot of local people deserve credit.