Getting Our First Sidewalks: When Squeaky Wheels Worked!

Every couple of weeks at our Select Board meeting you get the chance to enjoy a History Minute. Initiated by Select Board Chair Brian Sites, North Yarmouth Historical has the opportunity to present some historical information about our town. Here’s some relatively recent history—about action that brought welcome change to our village center!

In 2000 the North Yarmouth Safe Walk and Bike Ways Committee formed. Headed by former resident Nancy Grant and composed of about a dozen residents, this energetic group was motivated by a problem of long standing. They, and many others in town, were worried about our two Village Center intersections—where Routes 9 and 115 came together. These old crossroads had long been neglected while traffic had changed considerably.
This was the northern Routes 9/115 intersection in1922. Note the new, high telephone poles standing beside shorter and older poles. As telephone use grew, multi-line poles replaced the single-line system in North Yarmouth and beyond.
No longer a rural farming town, North Yarmouth had grown in population and become a bedroom community with many homeowners who commuted in cars to work outside of town. (True today—even more so.) The increased traffic within North Yarmouth, combined with commuter traffic to Gray and Yarmouth, and the increased size and weight of vehicles, had all contributed to make our roads extremely unfriendly and unsafe for bicyclists and pedestrians. The Committee used these arguments to make presentations and write many, many letters to MDOT officials and legislators stating that North Yarmouth needed improvements on our roads and needed them soon.
A flyover photo showing the Edwin and Philip Leighton chicken and eggs farming operation. The rear three barns are gone. The barn closest to The Lane entrance is now part of North Yarmouth Blue Seal.
With so much persistent lobbying, MDOT developed a conceptual plan in 2001 which included paved bicycle shoulders and a sidewalk. MDOT also agreed to fund the design, at a cost of $80,000. Assuming design costs at 10% of project costs, they estimated the entire project in the range of $800,000.The $38,000 buy-in from the Town for sidewalks was approved at Town Meeting in 2002. The rest of the cost for road improvements would be borne by the State. Now for the challenge: to actually get the project to GO, GO, GO.
On December 3, 2002, twenty-two North Yarmouth residents boarded a school bus at the Village Green and headed to Saco for a meeting of the Regional Transportation Advisory Committee, where improvement projects would be prioritized.
MDOT officials at the meeting were blown away by the positive support and enthusiasm demonstrated by North Yarmouth for the Route 9 project. And hard work paid off. The committee finally secured funding in 2003: MDOT budgeted $1.6 million for the project’s construction!
The work was just beginning. In June 2003 the Committee walked the route with members of North Yarmouth Historical Society to get insight to town history and landmarks. In 2004 more planning was done collaboratively with NYHS, MDOT, and the Committee. Finally, in 2005 the project went out to bid … coming in at $2.6 million. Fortunately, the State and the town kicked in to make to project happen. (North Yarmouth contributed another $50,000.)
And in July, 2005 construction started! One year later North Yarmouth had paved bicycle shoulders on both sides of the road, a sidewalk on one side, three greatly improved and much safer intersections and huge improvements to road drainage systems. Just in time for a celebratory Fun Day in September, 2006, where the Safe Walk and Bike Ways Committee were deemed the 2006 Fun Day’s Grand Marshals. Leading the parade on bikes, committee members broke through a colorful ribbon to inaugurate the new sidewalks!
A photo from the North Yarmouth Fun Day program of 2006: Celebrating the new sidewalks were Abigail Nielsen on bicycle, Select Board member Jeanne Chadbourne, residents Melody Pickett, Linda McMann, Jessica McLaughlin and Linda’s dog Daisy.
These day, it’s hard to remember when sidewalks between North Yarmouth and Cumberland weren’t there!
The impact of this citizen initiative resonated statewide. Nancy Grant went on to become a force in the Bicycle Coalition of Maine as its Executive Director. She says that her experience working on the Safe Walk and Bike Ways Committee in North Yarmouth inspired her activism. The Bicycle Coalition of Maine is respected for its collaboration with the Maine DOT and its mission of keeping roads safe for cyclists and pedestrians.