A spike in pedestrian fatalities has prompted a new sense of urgency among state officials working to halt the trend. Statewide, 13 pedestrians have been killed on the state's roads, including five in Sussex County over the past three months.
In addition to a statewide pedestrian safety campaign, two new groups will study pedestrian safety issues. A pedestrian working group is addressing problems statewide while a downstate task force is focusing specifically on Route 1 in the Cape Region.
Alison Kirk, state Office of Highway Safety spokeswoman, said the statewide group's goal is to better understand pedestrian issues and and promote coordination among state agencies, sharing limited resources.
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said the task force will recommend infrastructure improvements on Route 1 to make the busy highway safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.
As the Route 1 pedestrian safety task force is set to meet next week, co-chairman Schwartzkopf is already speaking out about what needs to be done.
“I'm not in favor of crosswalks unless there is a traffic light in place, especially on a dual highway,” he said.
He said Dewey Beach has Route 1 crosswalks without signals that not only put pedestrians at risk but also confuse motorists. “I know what to look for, but not everyone does,” he said, adding he has seen too many near misses on Route 1.
At crosswalks without signals, pedestrians are required to wait until it is safe to cross, but once a pedestrian is safely in a crosswalk, vehicles must yield the right-of-way.
He said there is no question about who has the right-of-way at a signalized crossing.
Schwartzkopf said compounding the problem of getting pedestrians safely across Route 1 is that some sections have six lanes on one side of the road.
To Schwartzkopf, a quick solution would be better lighting. “Even though pedestrians made mistakes in the recent fatal crashes, better lighting would have allowed the drivers to see them earlier and given the motorists more time to take action,” he said.
He said task force members will receive crash data from Delaware State Police, but the group will not re-investigate the crashes. He said the data show that crashes on Route 1 – fatal and nonfatal – occur up and down the busy highway.
“There is a misconception that if we provide an overpass or crosswalk in one location it will solve the problem. These crashes are not in one location at all,” he said.
He said others have advocated for a law that motorists must stop at all crosswalks. “Because of the backups that would cause, I can't see that happening,” Schwartzkopf said.
The task force will meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center.
DelDOT has scheduled a workshop the same day as the task force meeting to present long-awaited plans for pedestrian safety upgrades along Route 1 from the Rehoboth Beach entrance to north of Five Points. The project, scheduled to begin next spring, includes sidewalks, lighting, signal upgrades and crosswalks. That workshop takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. at Cape Henlopen High School in Lewes.
Schwartzkopf said he knows the project has been slowed because of a lack of funding and allocation of funds to other projects. “I have to think that the formation of this task force has helped to speed things up a little,” he said.
Campaigns designed to raise awareness
The Office of Highway's pedestrian safety campaign, “Don't Join the Living Dead,” a spinoff from the hit TV show, has become a hot-button topic if comments on two stories in the Cape Gazette are any indication.
Comments run the gamut from calling the campaign a “disgrace” and “shameful” to calling it necessary to grab people's attention.
Kirk said awareness prior to enforcement is behind all of the Office of Highway Safety's campaigns. Kirk said campaigns start with data assessment months before the kickoff date. “We target the areas where the problems exist,” she said.
Media consultant Aloyisus Butler & Clark is providing assistance for the pedestrian campaign on behalf of the Office of Highway Safety. Costs for the $100,000 “Living Dead” campaign are shared by the OHS and Delaware Department of Transportation. The campaign started in May and ends in October.
Kirk said the agency is under a six-year contract to head up campaigns for DUI enforcement, cell phone and driving awareness, aggressive driving, child passenger safety and the Click it or Ticket seatbelt campaign.
During a July 26 pedestrian safety checkpoint, Kirk witnessed examples of what not to do when walking along a busy road like Route 1.
Police also observed pedestrians breaking the law by crossing Route 1 without using a crosswalk, dodging traffic and not waiting for the crossing signal. During the checkpoint, police stopped each person who violated a law to explain what they had done. “People didn't know it was such a big deal to wait for a light,” Kirk said.
Kirk said there is no doubt enforcement will be needed to drive home the importance of pedestrian laws. “It seems some people think one way when they are driving and another way when they are walking,” she said.
Another checkpoint is scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 3, on Second Street in downtown Lewes.
DelDOT will unveil Route 1 plans at workshop
The Delaware Department of Transportation will have a public workshop to garner input on pedestrian improvements on Route 1 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 7, at Cape Henlopen High School on Kings Highway in Lewes.
The area where work is proposed includes Route 1 from the Rehoboth Beach canal bridge to north of the Five Points intersection in Lewes, as well as improvements on Route 1A from Columbia Avenue to Grove and 5th streets in Rehoboth Beach.
Improvements include sidewalks, crosswalks, striping, lighting and signal upgrades. Those attending will have an opportunity to review display materials and provide comments to DelDOT representatives.
Route 1 task force sets first meeting
A legislative task force to study and recommend pedestrian safety improvements along Route 1 will have its first meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 7, at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center.
Under House Resolution 22, sponsored by House Speaker Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, the Route 1 Corridor Task Force consists of 14 members, including local elected officials, Delaware State Police, Rehoboth Beach Fire Co. and members of the public.
The panel is tasked with examining the Route 1 corridor from the Nassau Bridge in Lewes to the southern town limits of Dewey Beach, which is heavily used by pedestrians throughout the year. Traffic along that corridor has steadily increased during the past decade, while pedestrians continue to use the roadway as well, Schwartzkopf said.
Under the resolution, the group will study and make recommendations for pedestrian safety, engineering, infrastructure, education or lighting improvements along the corridor. A report is due to the House by Jan. 31, 2014.