Improved pedestrian safety on way for Route 1

DelDOT: Button-activated crosswalks will delay traffic
Traffic is always heavy on Route 1, but intensifies during the summer season, especially on weekends and holidays. BY RON MACARTHUR
August 9, 2013

Twelve new signalized crosswalks, sidewalks and improved lighting are on the way along the busy Route 1 corridor from Nassau to Rehoboth Beach.

Starting in 2014, 12 new crossings will be added to the two already in place along a 6-mile stretch; all pedestrian activated.

“The pedestrians will have control of the lights and traffic. It's a trade-off for safety, and it will affect traffic in a negative way,” said Delaware Department of Transportation project manager Mark Harbeson. “Vehicles will have to make a lot more stops. We are going into this with our eyes wide open knowing there is no perfect solution to solve problems in the area.”

Plans were on public view during an Aug. 7 workshop at Cape Henlopen High School.

House Speaker Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said 14 crosswalks on Route 1 would be a nightmare getting ready to happen. “This project is not realistic,” he said. “It's going to hurt traffic and hurt tourism, which is the lifeblood of the community.”

He can foresee tremendous traffic backups even worse than those experienced before the additional lanes were added to Route 1 to ease congestion.

Harbeson said it's hard to define what kind of road Route 1 is. He said 30 percent of travelers still use Route 1 as a through road to other resorts such as Bethany Beach, Fenwick Island and Ocean City, Md. Others look at the roadway as Main Street, he said, which requires pedestrian traffic crossing the highway.

“People view it differently, and we are stuck in the middle with a tough problem to solve,” he said.

One issue that remains is a possible reduction of the 45 mph speed limit along Route 1. DelDOT officials said that was not part of the project and would require extensive studies before a change could be made.

Project includes new sidewalk and 62 street lights

In addition to new crosswalks and improving existing ones, the $6.5 million pedestrian safety project features 62 new street lights, better markings for the crossing areas and new sidewalks to fill in gaps on both sides of Route 1 from the Nassau bridge area to the bridge crossing the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal in Rehoboth Beach.

The 12 miles of 5-foot sidewalk must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act; Harbeson said that means some sidewalk sections will be torn out and redone. In addition, some parking lot entrances will be reconstructed to ensure the proper slope to the sidewalks.

New signals will be constructed for pedestrian crossings at Holland Glade Road and northbound on Route 1 at Rehoboth Mall. All other crossings will be at existing traffic signals, Harbeson said.

Harbeson said there will be no travel lane restrictions, but there could be intermittent shoulder closures, which he expects to continue throughout the year depending on weather conditions.

Construction is scheduled to begin in late spring 2014 and take about two years. Bids are expected to be out in January or February, Harbeson said. He said he was not sure where work would start.

Harbeson said doing all or part of the project at night during the tourist season is a possibility; DelDOT is seeking comments from residents and business owners along the corridor. “We'd like to do a lot of work at night. Most residents don't want it, and most businesses do want it,” he said, adding most of the area is commercial.

The project has been on the DelDOT drawing board for more than five years. Harbeson said the project has been delayed because of the complexity of obtaining rights of way from multiple property owners along Route 1. “And we lost funding for a year during the budget crunch so there were no right-of-way funds available,” he said.

Schwartzkopf: A future nightmare

Schwartzkopf said traffic congestion along Route 1 during the summer season is already an issue that is on the brink of becoming untenable. “With this project, tourists sitting for a long time in traffic may decide not to come back. We are already near that point now,” he said.

Schwartzkopf, who attended the workshop, voiced his displeasure with the project to DelDOT officials. “They sit in Dover; they don't live here and don't understand Route 1,” he said. “They are looking at a map and drawing lines on it.”

He said although he was aware of the project, the first time he saw plans was at the Aug. 7 workshop.

The retired state trooper said in DelDOT's own words the project will result in: “substantially longer queues and travel times throughout the corridor; an increase in stops and delays for through traffic; loss of signal coordination for several cycles in excess of five to 10 minutes; and delayed response for right-of-way transfer for fire and EMS personnel.”

Schwartzkopf said he was incensed when he read this on a display board. “They are just covering their ass when we start to complain,” he said.

“People need to understand there will be a drastic change in driving habits. The time to complain is not after they break ground,” he said.

Making alterations to the project may not be an option.

“I don't think we can change the project at this point in the process. We are required to build this in order to provide safe pedestrian facilities along the corridor and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said DelDOT project manager Mark Harbeson.

“This will screw up timing of all the lights on Route 1; people will never be able to get out from side streets,” Schwartzkopf said.

He said there are concerns how ADA-compliant crosswalks function. He said the crosswalk at Midway is activated constantly with no one using it. “DelDOT officials cannot guarantee that this will not happen with all of the crosswalks, which would add to the backups,” he said. “I could not get an answer about this from DelDOT.”

He said the irony of the project is that it doesn't address one of the major areas where pedestrian safety is a concern. “Many of the pedestrian problems are along the Forgotten Mile and this does not touch that,” he said.

“This is not the answer. It will create more problems for people who live here and also hurt our important tourism industry. What they are planning to do is not acceptable,” he said.

“Why the state would promote walking by crossing Route 1 is beyond me,” Schwartzkopf said, adding some sections of the highway have 10 lanes. “Why would the state encourage that?” he asked.