If highway planners were building Route 1 in the Cape Region today, it would be a limited-access through road with service roads to commercial areas. “We've missed that boat,” said Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt.
“This used to be very rural and now its a major highway carrying a lot of traffic at highway speeds,” he said, adding the real question is how to move 80,000 to 100,000 vehicles through the area on a daily basis.
During an Oct. 2 ride-along, bus tour, members of the Route 1 Corridor Task Force, accompanied by other state and elected officials, toured Route 1. As they walked from the tour bus in key areas along the corridor, they also discussed out-of-the-bus ideas to fix traffic congestion and pedestrian and bicycling safety issues.
At least one solution came out of the event. As he pointed to areas of overgrown sidewalk, Delaware State Police Lt. Mike Nelson said Department of Corrections inmates would be working in the corridor within the next two weeks to remove weeds and edge sidewalks.
“It's a small issue, but it can be taken care of immediately,” he said, adding the sidewalk was so overgrown in some area that it forces pedestrians to walk on the shoulder of the road.
Bhatt said it was important to fill in the gaps and make all sidewalks handicapped accessible. “We don't want sidewalks to nowhere,” he said.
Bhatt said completing sidewalks would also provide an alternative to cyclists who are not comfortable riding on Route 1.
Debate over proposed $14.4 million project
An upcoming $14.4 million pedestrian/bicycle safety will include filling gaps in sidewalks on both sides of Route 1 from Rehoboth Beach to north of Five Points. The project also includes street lighting and the addition of crosswalks.
Just how many crosswalks – if any – is a matter being debated by the task force; that subject surfaced during the tour. The project – scheduled to begin in fiscal year 2015 – includes the addition of 12 new crosswalks in the six-mile stretch of Route 1.
“This would really mess us up,” said House Speaker Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, who is task force chairman. “They will back traffic and hurt business. People will go home and not come back,” he said.
Bhatt did not respond directly to Schwatzkopf, but later on said that street lighting and some crosswalks – possibly one to five – would help ease pedestrian safety issues on Route 1.
Shared lane debated
Much of the conversation during the tour centered around the fourth Route 1 lane shared by buses, bicycles and vehicles making right-hand turns. Nelson said the bus lane creates a dangerous environment that leads to vehicle crashes. He said over the summer, there were five angle crashes in one day at the Home Depot entrance; most were caused by motorists not using the shared lane properly.
One of the most serious problems is motorists who use the shared lane as a travel lane. During a stop on the tour, officials watched as a car rode illegally out of sight in the fourth lane without making a right turn.
Nelson said the bus lane needs to be better identified.
Schwartzkopf said the construction of a multi-use path outside the traffic lanes would offer bicyclists and pedestrians a safer way to travel along the corridor.
Bhatt said other areas in the country provide designated, barricaded bike lanes in the middle of highways. “But then you run into issues with left turns,” he said.
DelDOT engineers said a short-term fix to the bus lane could be to restripe it as a solid line except at traffic signals. Currently, the bus lane is differentiated by a combination of dotted and solid stripes. In addition, the addition of bike friendly rumble strips would be looked at, said Mark Luszcz, DelDOT's chief traffic engineer. He said a solid line would discourage motorists from crossing over and driving in the lane until they were prepared to make a right turn.
Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, said changes made to the Route 1 corridor had to be idiot proof.
Bhatt said he has sat in parking lots near the Tanger Outlets and watched motorists drive in the shared lane as it were a travel lane; he's also seen pedestrians run across the road without using crosswalks. “It's almost impossible to put a limit on idiot behavior,” he said.
Under House Resolution 22, sponsored by Schwartzkopf, the 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. 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.