Should Route 1 be treated as a major throughway for 80,000 cars a day, or should officials slow down traffic, add crosswalks and encourage pedestrians to use the Cape Region's primary artery?
This is the question facing a task force designed to improve pedestrian safety on Route 1.
About 50 people attended the first meeting of the Pedestrian Safety Task Force at Rehoboth Beach Convention Center.
House Speaker Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, created the task force through a House resolution, passed July 1. “We have allowed the growth to get way out in front of us, and we’re just trying to catch up,” he said.
Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt joined state, county and municipal representatives to discuss possible improvements to Route 1, from the Nassau Bridge in Lewes to the southern limits of Dewey Beach.
Bhatt said the average daily traffic on Route 1 is about 80,000 cars. “Eighty thousand ADT is a lot of traffic,” he said.
Bhatt said officials could make efforts to slow traffic on Route 1, and treat it like a beach boulevard. He said Route 1 could also be turned into a two-lane roadway, and pedestrian and bicycle lanes could be constructed on either side. But, he said, that design could affect commerce by causing more back-ups. “Every action has a reaction,” he said.
Alternatively, Route 1 could be treated as a major highway, which might require access roads instead of direct turns into businesses, he said. “I think we need to take some of those entrances out,” he said.
Bhatt said if DelDOT could design Route 1 from the ground up, there would be no entrances coming off the highway.
Bhatt said in Michigan there are no left turns at intersections; instead drivers go through the intersection and make a u-turn from a left turn lane. He said “Michigan lefts” aid traffic flow. “But again, there’s an impact,” he said. The change could limit drivers’ access to businesses and inconvenience year-round residents.
“Anything is possible from an engineering perspective,” Bhatt said. “It comes down to dollars.”
Bhatt said he could likely find planning money in the DelDOT fund. The best scenario would be to separate pedestrians and bicyclists from motorists completely, he said.
DelDOT is scheduled to begin constructing sidewalks along Route 1 in the summer of 2014. The plan also includes 62 additional street lights and 12 new crosswalks.
Schwartzkopf said instead of sidewalks, he would like to see wider, multiuse paths for both pedestrians and bicyclists. He also said adding more crosswalks would be a poor solution for Route 1. “You think we have backed up traffic now?” he asked. “Tourism will suffer.”
Troop 7 Patrol Lt. Mike Nelson said although they were not ticketed, pedestrians have been at fault in most of the crashes that have occurred on Route 1. “We’ve got some pedestrian issues we really need to address,” he said. “They’re the ones not crossing at crosswalks.”
Nelson said many of the pedestrians involved in Route 1 crashes are from out of town. “We’re not educating pedestrians on where to cross, how to cross,” he said.
Schwartzkopf said education efforts for foreign workers and students who come to the Region for the summer have been successful. “We had a captive audience,” he said.
But most summer visitors rotate every six or seven days, Schwartzkopf said. “I’m just not sure how you get to the biggest mass here,” he said.
“They leave all their inhibitions at the bridge,” he said. “And they don’t follow the rules.”
Rehoboth Beach Mayor Sam Cooper said the area should develop a reputation of ticketing pedestrians and bicyclists who do not obey the law.
“The obvious thing to me is much better lighting,” Schwartzkopf said. “I think we need lighting all up and down this highway.”
He said pedestrians would continue to cross where it is most convenient. “At least give the motorists more time to react,” he said.
Roger Roy of Rehoboth Beach said the task force should look to Newark to see how they handle a high volume of pedestrians from University of Delaware.
Bhatt said in Dover students at Delaware State University are channeled to crosswalks on Route 13 using a brick wall, which the university constructed, and shrubberies.
He said walls or landscaping could be a possible solution to funnel pedestrians to crosswalks on Route 1.
Bhatt said he would organize a roadway safety audit, during which the task force could drive on Route 1 during times when pedestrians are most at risk. The audit could also include a bike ride to identify problem areas for bicyclists, he said. “We’ll just compile a list of things we can do,” he said.
Bhatt said the audit would likely occur sometime after Labor Day.