Cycling in the fifth state

People ride their bikes to the beach using a connector road on the Junction and Breakwater Trail. BY RON MACARTHUR
July 22, 2013

It's great news that Delaware has been selected as one of the top bicycle friendly states in the nation by the League of American Bicyclists. In fact, Delaware is ranked fifth and is the No. 1 bike friendly state east of the Mississippi River. I recently found the application on line; it's an interesting read.

Delaware has gone from the middle of the pack to the elite top five in just a few years.

Some have questioned that designation. In a Bike Delaware column, executive director James Wilson provided the following reason from the LAB: “Governor Markell’s vision to make Delaware one of the most walkable and bikable states in America has transformed the way transportation policy is developed and implemented in the First State. Delaware’s impressive financial commitment to cycling, the proposed Trails and Pathways Plan, the recent 3-foot passing and vulnerable road user laws, and the strong support by advocacy groups and citizens has catapulted Delaware past great states for cycling like Massachusetts and Wisconsin. We see a lot of potential in Delaware to move up even further in the coming years.”

That's great, but what about the actual conditions out on the roads? Depending on where you live, the conditions can run the gamut from great to miserable and downright dangerous. Although I bike on roads daily in the Cape Region, many are downright scary. Crossing Route 1 is my biggest concern, and there is no way I'm going to ride on Route 1 in the summer.

In the Lewes area, Gills Neck Road is one of the most popular cycling roads in the area; it's also one of the most dangerous. In most areas, it's narrow with no shoulders, and to make matters worse, it has a blind S-curve. Because of the number of cyclists and runners who use the road, many people who live in the area tell me they don't drive on the road unless they absolutely have to.

In Rehoboth Beach, riding on Rehoboth Avenue is not a great idea when it's busy. Motorists backing out of parking spaces are struggling to see if vehicles are coming and are not paying much attention to cyclists. You also have to be aware of doors opening on you.

Many cyclists use Route 1 to ride between Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach and beyond. Wide shoulders and rumble strips help to make the road safer for cyclists. Wide shoulders over the Indian River Inlet bridge are also great.

The best places to ride are away from the coastal area on the back roads around Milton and Georgetown and into western Sussex County. When I lived in Seaford, I could take a two- to three- hour-ride and see less than 10 cars the entire time. Riding in the Portsville-Bethel area is a real treat compared to the congested roads of the resort area.

Let's take a look at cycling in the First State.

My credentials: I've been a cyclist for most of my life and a really serious one for the past 15 or so years. I've ridden extensively in all three counties with tens of thousands of miles logged on roads all over Sussex County. There are only a handful of roads I haven't pedaled on in Sussex.

I've helped coordinate dozens of charity bike tours and participated in dozens of organized rides all over the East Coast.

I've been on some back roads in Virginia and West Virginia that were so far “back” that you could hear the faint sound of banjo music in the distance.



Great strides have been made, especially in the area of trails in the Cape Region. The Junction and Breakwater Trail is a gem to be treasured. Future plans to expand the trail and add a trail between Georgetown and Lewes are also great steps in the right direction.

In addition, Gov. Jack Markell is a cycling advocate who has championed alternative modes of transportation. Under his leadership, the First State Trails and Pathways Plan was initiated, $7 million was allocated in the budget for bicycling projects and the budget for trails increased dramatically to $13 million. The state also has a Complete Streets policy; all DelDOT road projects must address alternative transportation modes.

In addition, DelDOT Secretary Shailan Bhatt is also an advocate who actually rides a bike from time to time.



Cycling clubs such as Sussex Cyclists and White Clay Bicycle Club not only provide organized rides, they also advocate for all of us.



• Route 1 in the Cape Region. The idea to have bicyclists share the same lane as buses and turning vehicles is a bad one. It's almost beyond comprehension that state officials would designate a shared lane for bicycles on the busy Route 1 corridor. It may work in some areas, but it's dangerous in this area.

• State Bike Route 1. It's wonderful that Delaware has it's own designated bike route through all three counties. The problem is that the route has good sections with nice shoulders and other sections without shoulders forcing cyclists to compete for space with vehicles. It's not that cyclists are not used to that because we do it all the time; it's just sad that the state's designated route is not “bike friendly” its entire length.

• Although it's not nearly as bad as in the past, DelDOT still uses tar and chip on some roads. Log Cabin and Carpenter roads, two of the key back roads between Lewes and Georgetown, were recently tar-and-chipped. It's not the best riding surface and it can be treacherous for cyclists, especially when stones gather along the shoulder.

• Motorists tend to tolerate cyclists with an emphasis on the word tolerate. I've been buzzed, spit on and even had bottles thrown at me. But, I've noticed that over the years these episodes have lessened somewhat. Still motorists need a little patience. On two-lane roads without shoulders or bike lanes, almost all motorists will pass a cyclist with an ongoing vehicle approaching. The few seconds that a motorist loses to slow down and let the other vehicle pass are not going to matter. This happens on narrow Gills Neck all the time. What is the hurry?

• We need more shoulders. I was surprised to learn that 64 percent of all roads in Delaware have paved shoulders. I find it hard to believe, but I'll take DelDOT's word for it. All major bike routes should have shoulders; I know this is a dream, but a nice one to have.

• And lastly, please, please stop putting in bike and pedestrian paths to nowhere. DelDOT now requires most developers to put in bike and pedestrian paths along the road frontage of subdivisions and other projects. The theory is that the paths will eventually hook up with other paths to make a nice network. But many of these paths hook to nothing and never will. It's added cost that creates a false sense of security unless the path network is complete.

It's great that we live in the fifth most bicycle friendly state in the nation. Let's hope the friendship and the quest to be No. 1 does not cloud some of the real issues facing cyclists in the First State; I mean Fifth State.



Here is the column about the application:

  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

    Contact Ron at