Community Climate Conversation: The Future of Transportation in Belfast & Waldo County

Title

Community Climate Conversation: The Future of Transportation in Belfast & Waldo County

Description

ABCD and the Belfast Climate Crisis Committee (CCC) hosted the fourth in a series of Community Climate Conversations on February 9, 2023. These conversations are designed to inform residents and solicit ideas for the Climate Action Plan being drafted by the CCC. “The Future of Transportation in Belfast & Waldo County” event took place in the Abbott Room at the Belfast Free Library. 13 people attended on Zoom and 24 people came in person, despite what turned into an icy night for traversing the roads and sidewalks.

View the recording of the event

Overview

Transportation accounts for 49% of carbon emissions, both in Belfast and statewide. Reducing carbon pollution from transportation here in Belfast and Waldo County will certainly require a variety of approaches. 

This report contains reflections on our event from the ABCD team, followed by short summaries of the comments from:

Fred Bowers, chair of the Climate Crisis Committee, 

Jerry Brand, Climate Crisis Committee member, and 

Cara Harshman from the Belfast Pedestrian, Biking & Hiking Committee.

We also share highlights from our lively community discussion. 

Major takeaways from the evening

  1. Our team and audience members noticed this conversation had more energy and excitement. People seemed excited about the ideas, eager for these changes, and not only because of their lower carbon pollution. The convergence of the Pedestrian, Biking & Hiking Committee’s agenda and the service the Waldo Community Action Partners (Waldo CAP) provides, along with the CCC, added a lot of energy. 
  2. Once again, the need for leadership was obvious. A leader who might coordinate among the people and organizations who are in action could help us all feel momentum and maximize the impact of each action. We hope that someone or some people in our community take advantage of the Climate Ambassadors training being offered by A Climate to Thrive
  3. The conversation afterward was really thought provoking. The ABCD team loved that we talked about a "culture shift" in thinking about the future of transportation. It made us realize that by improving bike lanes and safe walking, as well as public transportation (including ride sharing) we can do a lot to reduce individuals' reliance on gas powered cars. We did find it interesting that no one brought up electric vehicles (EVs) or adding EV charging stations in Belfast/Waldo County! We do think this is an important part of the mix to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

What follows are highlights of the evening’s presentations and discussion.

Updates from the Climate Crisis Committee from Fred Bowers 

The chair of the Belfast Climate Crisis Committee (CCC), Fred Bowers, introduced the evening with some exciting updates. With the support of the CCC working with city grant-writer Thomas Kittredge, the City is currently in the process of applying for Maine’s Community Resilience Partnership program. Joining this program will make Belfast eligible for significant no-match grant monies for projects to help reduce carbon emissions, transition to clean energy, and become more resilient to climate change effects. 

As part of the process, the City needs to adopt a municipal resolution. It also will complete a self-evaluation to review what has already been accomplished in Belfast (municipal solar installations, building energy audits, electric vehicle chargers and more) and to help identify additional opportunities and priorities for community action.

Public input to help identify Belfast’s top priorities is a required part of the application process to the Maine Community Resilience Partnership. 

Please stay tuned for the date of the City’s public workshop session, and come make your voice heard!

Current status of transportation in City of Belfast and ideas for future changes from Jerry Brand

CCC member Jerry Brand presented an overview of the current state of transportation in Belfast and Waldo County, and some future transportation options, including electric cars and buses, low-fee/no-fee public bus transport, reconfiguring Belfast to promote walking and bicycling, and exploring intra-city railway. He reviewed a number of current policy initiatives including the Maine Clean School Bus Program, Efficiency Maine electric vehicle rebates, and other Maine and federal initiatives to improve public transportation, expand ride sharing, and support enhanced mobility for seniors and those with disabilities. 

Please see additional details in Jerry’s slides. (They are shown in the slider at the top of this page along with the event photos - note, you can use the arrows at upper right corner to expand the view).

“Belfast is ready!” - The future of Active Transit in Belfast with Cara Harshman of the Pedestrian, Biking & Hiking Committee

Cara Harshman shared that the Pedestrian, Biking & Hiking Committee presented their annual report to the City on February 7. The Committee makes a strong case for the value of having a comprehensive vision that can guide action and infrastructure change as opportunity and funding allow. Their key recommendation is that the City hire a professional planner to help draft an official comprehensive pedestrian/bike plan. See the full set of 2023 Pedestrian, Biking & Hiking Committee priorities, including creation of a “Complete Streets Policy”, and addressing specific problem areas such as the Rt. 52/Rt. 1 crossing. Watch the Committee’s presentation to the City Council (starting at 24:00 minute mark in the recording).

The Maine Department of Transportation is working on a Statewide Active Transportation Plan, and State planner Dakota Hewlett recently told the Ped/Bike Committee that “Belfast is ready!” - we are well-positioned to create our own plan to seek project funding. A Belfast active transit plan would include visual mapping of problematic areas; a high level map of connectivity through the entire city; and ways to create safe, accessible ways to get from places like the YMCA to the high school. It would also include low-cost ideas such as:

  • curb bump-outs (a traffic calming measure which widens the sidewalk for a short distance, reducing the crossing distance and allowing pedestrians and drivers to see each other when parked vehicles would otherwise block visibility),
  • painted intersections, and 
  • flex posts (flexible bollards, a low-cost traffic lane delineation tool).

The Ped/Bike Committee, with the City Council’s enthusiastic support, is pursuing exciting grants that would provide a 50/50 match from the State and the City for $50,000 to hire the professional planner to create the master plan

A new group called “Walk & Roll Belfast” is also being created to help citizens band together to create more active transit in our community. SIGN UP to learn more: send your email address to walkandrollbelfast@gmail.com to be added to the list!

Cara, echoed by several other attendees in the room, noted that we need folks to advocate for more active transit, and the City Council wants to hear from everyone! You can share public comments at the beginning of every meeting (1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month at 7PM), or email, mail, or drop off your comments to the Council

See Cara’s slides for more.
(They are shown in the slider at the top of this page along with the event photos - note, you can use the arrows at upper right corner to expand the view).

Watch her presentation, which begins at the 26:00 minute mark in the YouTube recording.

Community discussion highlights

After Cara’s presentation, attendees largely focused on the concept she outlined, “active transit” (defined as “any mode of human powered transportation” - walking, biking, wheelchair or other ability device, skateboarding, etc.). We talked about rethinking our expectations and habits about how we get around, and how we might work toward a “diversity of mobility options” to serve different populations

Here are some highlights from the engaged attendee discussion (which begins at approximately 46:00 in the recording). Photos of our community discussion flip chart notes are also included on this page. 

  • Looking back on the community layouts of 100 years ago, with clustered patchwork of “service nodes” within a certain distance, meeting people’s needs for stores, milling, etc. (Think of all the place names like “__ Mill”, or “__ Corner”). Could some version of this have a place in current day zoning - perhaps “mini cities” within 15 minutes walking distance of each other? 
  • Municipalities can support year-round active transportation (not just car-centric): Adjust road care regimen to include ped/bike transportation (e.g. not plowing snow into ped/bike lanes)
  • Think about transportation for us… and transportation for tourists. Take note of the “Slow tourism / slow travel” trend.
  • Idea to close some city streets to car traffic in summer? Maybe closing one of the parallel streets? Experiment with temporary setups / demonstrations to see what works. Help tourists get around with public transit.
  • Ridesharing community
  • Coastal ferries? E.g. Belfast to Castine
  • Electric bikes & golf carts
  • Idling - need a city ordinance, and signage and enforcement. Educate people that newer vehicle engines do not need to be warmed up in winter.
  • Build relationships with the State DOT.
  • Waldo Community Action Partners director of transportation, Michael Hallundbaek, was a passionate advocate for accessible public transportation. He is also extremely knowledgeable about new technology like "coordinated transit" tools that help to optimize the number of passengers served per trip. He offered to serve as a community resource and share his extensive knowledge about funding, management, and system of transit in this country. He also shared that Waldo CAP is working on electrifying its own bus fleet.
  • GO MAINE is a FREE program of the MaineDOT and the Maine Turnpike Authority, and it offers rewards for taking greener trips! From the website: “WE’RE ABOUT HELPING MAINERS UNDERSTAND THEIR TRANSPORTATION OPTIONS AND SAVING COMMUTERS MONEY – The GO MAINE trip planner helps Mainers search for their transportation options for all trip types. GO MAINE provides ride matching for carpoolers, rewards people for taking green commutes and offers the Emergency Ride Home Benefit for our members.” 

And finally, a closing invitation from Fred Bowers, Climate Crisis Committee chair: 

Please plan to attend the meeting for public input on the City’s Maine Community Resilience Partnership application (date TBD); and the Comprehensive Plan meetings. The Council would like to hear everyone’s input.

Conclusions

At the end of the evening, we went back through our flip chart notes (see photos in the image slider at the top of the page) and identified all the things that people can do now. The majority of ideas had at least some element that people can do now, whether it’s going to city councilors to advocate for the idea or taking it upon themselves to reduce trips or share trips. Looking back on the night’s conversations, this is a huge topic with lots of room for more discussion! It was an exciting community conversation that was both visionary and action-focused. 

View the recording of the event

Creator

ABCD Team, Belfast Pedestrian. Biking & Hiking Committee, Belfast Climate Crisis Committee

Date

February 9, 2023

Citation

ABCD Team, Belfast Pedestrian. Biking & Hiking Committee, Belfast Climate Crisis Committee, “Community Climate Conversation: The Future of Transportation in Belfast & Waldo County,” All of Belfast: Climate Dialogues, accessed May 27, 2024, https://abcdbelfast.omeka.net/items/show/134.

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