At a town meeting on the evening of Monday, November 20, Brunswick residents commented on Bowdoin’s proposed plan to discontinue Pine Street in order to build a new athletic facility. If accepted, this plan would mean discontinuing the portion of Pine Street that runs between Bowker Street and Bath Road, adding a perpendicular extension between Pine Street and Bath Road through what is currently a wooded area. Many residents expressed concerns about potential negative impacts, such as increased traffic on residential streets, that the new road configuration could have on the neighborhood.
Matt Orlando, Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer, explained that under state law, the Town Council has to approve a road discontinuance, and a public hearing must be held before the Council can make the decision.
Orlando also outlined the process through which, during the months prior to the public hearing, the College has engaged in dialogue with town residents. “We held three neighbor meetings and one site walk … We invited criticisms, observations from the neighborhood, and we heard their feedback and we’ve made a number of adjustments. They compromised on their end, as well.”
At the hearing, Jean Shaw, a Brunswick resident, expressed mixed feelings about the communication between the College and its neighbors.
“I just wanted to thank Bowdoin for … taking the time to do the walkthroughs that they did with us and the meetings they did with us,” she said initially.
She continued, “When I saw that this was on the agenda … I was very surprised to see that Bowdoin was considering closing Pine Street, because at those meetings that we had, the community, which was considerable—a lot of us came out … it was very clear, that the neighbors didn’t want to close Pine Street.”
Many of those opposed to the discontinuance of Pine Street identified potential increased traffic on what are currently quiet, residential streets as a primary concern. While both the College and the town of Brunswick commissioned traffic studies—both of which found that staying on the main road would result in a trip about the same length as cutting through the residential streets—some residents felt that human behavior was not properly factored into the studies.
Mark Battle, associate professor of physics and a Bowker Street resident, cited a traffic study, “Investigating Urban Route Choice as a Conflict Between Waiting at Traffic Lights and Additional Travel Time” that was published in “Transportation Research Procedia” to support concerns he raised at the hearing that the College’s current proposal could increase traffic on surrounding residential streets.
“Here’s what they found: when drivers could choose between two routes taking equal times, two-thirds of them picked a route without a traffic light … even if it’s more distance, but equal times. In fact, even when the route without the light took 40 more seconds, 20 percent of them still chose it,” Battle explained.
In the proposed plan drivers could use the road between Bath Road and Pine Street to avoid the traffic light at the intersection of Bath Road and Sills Drive.
Sean Boyle, another Brunswick resident, expressed concerns about people already driving too fast in his neighborhood. Accordingly, he feels that traffic calming measures, such as speed bumps or speed limits, should be a requirement of the plan, not something to be considered in the future.
“I’m all for just having the traffic calming already implemented, and I think we should look at the whole community and say, ‘Hey, maybe there should be a speed limit sign near the bike path. Maybe there should be a speed limit sign on Chamberlain [Avenue],’ because there’s nothing now,” said Boyle.
Another Brunswick resident, whose name couldn’t be identified, reiterated the effect that the proposed plan could have on town residents.
He pointed to the houses denoted on a map of the area and emphasized the investment each homeowner made in purchasing the houses.
“That’s their claim, and they have a right to feel safe and feel the value of what they invested is going to be protected by the town they choose to live in.”
He continued, “I think what needs to be considered is not what’s most convenient or cheapest for the College, or even what’s cheapest for the town—although I recognize that that has to be a consideration—but you have to consider what is in the best interest of the people who have decided to make this town their home and are going to be living along the streets that are going to be majorly affected by this.”