A $14.4 million project to install sidewalks, lighting and a dozen crosswalks on Route 1 now calls for only six new crosswalks.
Fewer than 30 people attended a meeting of the 14-member Pedestrian Safety Task Force Oct. 22 at Rehoboth Beach Convention Center. Created by a House resolution after several pedestrians and bicyclists were injured or killed by vehicles in the Cape Region, the group has been focused largely on a Delaware Department of Transportation project to improve pedestrian safety along Route 1, from Rehoboth Beach to Nassau.
DelDOT is planning to install sidewalks, additional lighting in areas where pedestrian traffic is high and relocation of bus stops to coincide with crosswalks.
The project initially included 12 new crosswalks, but the task force recommends cutting the number of crosswalks down to six.
According to project manager George Spadafino, new pedestrian signals would be installed crossing Route 1 at Dartmouth Drive, Rehoboth Mall Boulevard, Camelot Drive, Sea Air Avenue, Route 1A and Bay Vista Road.
The cost savings of removing six proposed crosswalks is trivial, said DelDOT’s Chief Traffic Engineer Mark Luszcz, because crosswalks will still be installed at every intersection parallel to Route 1 to coincide with a continuous sidewalk along the highway.
Luszcz said the initial project proposal included 62 new lighting fixtures; DelDOT is now proposing 127 new streetlights. The lights will be used to illuminate intersections, and lighting will be continuous between Midway and Old Landing Road, and between Sea Air Avenue and Bay Vista Road, Luszcz said.
DelDOT Secretary Shailen said the department would have liked to continuously illuminate all of Route 1, but that is too expensive.
To make the stretch of Route 1 safer for bicyclists, Luszcz said, DelDOT plans to fortify the bicycle and bus lane on the far right-hand side of the ride with a rumble strip and a solid white line. There is currently only a dotted white line to separate the lane.
Bhatt said changes to the project are a result of public input from the task force’s Aug. 7 meeting. “It’s sort of a wait-and-see approach,” he said. DelDOT will continue to monitor the Route 1 corridor, and if crashes continue, it will make further changes as needed, including the possible addition of more crosswalks.
DelDOT Spokesman Geoff Sundstrom said the Route 1 project is tentatively scheduled to begin next spring and finish in September 2015.
Beacons, barriers and an overpass
In lieu of traditional crosswalks at traffic intersections, the task force is considering high-intensity activated crosswalks, or HAWK beacons, which are designed to cause less stop time for cars.
For pedestrians, the HAWK beacon is identical to a traditional crosswalk: A signal indicates it safe to walk, a flashing red hand indicates it is not safe to begin crossing and a solid red hand indicates not to cross.
Motorists are stopped when a pedestrian activates a pushbutton. A solid red light appears for traffic when pedestrians are given a walk signal. When a flashing red hand appears for pedestrians, motorists are given a flashing red light and can proceed as if at a stop sign, rather than waiting for the traffic light to turn green.
No HAWK beacons have yet been added to the proposed project.
Shelia Savaliski, owner of the Seafood Shack in Rehoboth Beach, said the state should install barriers to keep people from crossing Route 1.
“I am all for putting up a barrier,” Bhatt said. “It’s a question of, is that what we want Route 1 to look like?”
Bhatt said the group explored a pedestrian overpass, but it would require more free space than could be found on either side of the road. Bhatt also said people would not likely use the overpass. “Our data shows people don’t use elevated crosswalks,” he said. “People just don’t want to go up and over.”
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said the group wants to install multi-use paths for bicyclists and pedestrians, but the paths could take years because the state would have to buy private property and possibly move utilities to make room for them. “I’m very strongly in support of multi-use paths. I will say that until I die,” he said.
Bhatt said, “Some of these problems we just can’t fix right now.”
Schwartzkopf: Forgotten Mile not forgotten
Bhatt said the upcoming DelDOT plan for Route 1 does not extend past Lewes-Rehoboth Canal to the stretch known as the Forgotten Mile, or to Dewey Beach. “Dewey is going to be a separate project in and of itself,” Bhatt said.
During an Oct. 2 safety audit of Route 1, task force members toured the stretch of road. Schwartzkopf said sidewalks in Dewey Beach were badly in need of repair, and pedestrians have to walk on the street in certain spots of because telephone poles block the sidewalk. He noted if new sidewalks were installed in Dewey Beach, the telephone poles would have to be moved.
“I have not forgotten the Forgotten Mile,” Schwartzkopf said. He said he wants DelDOT to place a sign with flashing lights in the Forgotten Mile, urging motorists to slow down and watch for pedestrians and bicyclists. “I’ll pay for the damn thing,” he said.
Bhatt said signs do not always work. Heavy police enforcement is the best way to slow cars, he said.
Luszcz said the state would like to install more lighting in the Forgotten Mile, but it would need new funding to do so. Luszcz also said the group could experiment with temporary barriers in Dewey Beach, where lighting and crosswalks are adequate.