Caribou seeking to improve downtown pedestrian safety with DOT partnership

2 weeks ago

CARIBOU, Maine – Caribou is the latest Maine community to partner with the Maine Department of Transportation to make downtown safer for pedestrians.

On Monday, Caribou city councilors voted to move forward with the Maine DOT’s Village Partnership Initiative. The statewide project aims to make downtowns easier for walkers and cyclists to navigate with long-term safety improvements. Maine communities like Presque Isle, Fort Kent, Madawaska, Van Buren, Bangor, Gray and Dover-Foxcroft have already signed on to the initiative.

Caribou underwent its most drastic downtown reconstruction in the 1970s and 80s when the federal Urban Renewal project led to the demolition of many blighted and aging buildings and a new Downtown Mall. But that mall and a new circular traffic pattern discouraged downtown growth for many years, making that region of town less likely to gain foot traffic from shoppers.

To help officials pinpoint future downtown upgrades, Caribou has hired consultants from T.Y.Lin International’s office in Falmouth, which includes Presque Isle native Christopher Helstrom, and from Rasor Landscape Architecture, a Maine-based landscape and urban design firm led by Mitchell Rasor.

Helstrom and T.Y.Lin consultants are also working with Presque Isle and Fort Kent on their Village Partnerships. In Caribou, their work will study current road and sidewalk conditions on Herschel, Sweden, Washburn and Lyndon streets and Caribou’s portion of Route 161 and Route 89, the latter two of which the DOT maintains.

The study will focus on how to better connect those areas of Caribou’s downtown with the rest of the city, Thompson said.

“We’ve talked about connecting our high school [on Sweden Street] with our community school and rec center, which is right across the street [from Caribou Community School on Bennett Drive],” Thompson said. “We also have our riverfront area, which connects to walking paths on Water Street and our downtown.”

Consultants will assist the city and DOT with public input sessions, assessing current road conditions, drafting and finalizing a report with recommendations for improving pedestrian safety.

T.Y.Lin and Rasor’s consulting work will cost $107,642 total, with Caribou and the Maine DOT each paying $53,821. 

Maine DOT officials will eventually submit grant proposals to the United States DOT once the city approves a final design for the downtown upgrades. Federal grants would come from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.