Six new crosswalks from Lewes to Dewey Beach will boost pedestrian and bicyclist safety on Route 1, a task force says.
The 14-member Pedestrian Safety Task Force made final recommendations to the Department of Transportation Dec. 16 for the agency's $14.4 million safety project. The group suggested crosswalk locations and also recommended adding sidewalks and lighting throughout the corridor.
While not part of the plan, the group also urged the Department of Transportation consider reducing the speed limit.
“There's always going to be a mess of people who don't know what's going on in this area,” said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, co-chairs of the task force with Department of Transportation Secretary Shailen Bhatt. “There's a certain amount of responsibility whether you're a bicyclist or a motorist or a pedestrian. If they were exercising that responsibility we wouldn't be having this meeting.”
State police records show 14 pedestrian or bicyclist injuries and five deaths have occurred in the past three years along Route 1 between the Nassau Bridge and the southern limits of Dewey Beach.
DelDOT's original plan called for 12 new crosswalks, but Schwartzkopf said that would create a traffic nightmare. He has since worked with DelDOT officials to pinpoint the most essential locations.
“I'm not naive enough to think we were not going to have any, but I'm not really in favor of 12 additional,” he said. “Somewhere in the middle is a rational compromise. We went up and down the highway and looked at spots that would be the best places where people would actually use them.”
Working with DelDOT officials, the task force recommended adding crosswalks at the Route 1 intersections with Dartmouth Drive (Wawa), Old Landing Road (Atlantic Liquors), King Street (M&T Bank), Holland Glade Road (Tomato Sunshine), Rehoboth Avenue and Bay Vista Road. The only two existing Route 1 crosswalks between Five Points and the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal are at Tanger Outlets Midway and Postal Lane at Movies at Midway. There are 19 in the Forgotten Mile and Dewey Beach.
Work is tentatively scheduled to begin in fall 2014.
DelDOT to look into speed
Bhatt said his staff will study the speed limits, particularly in the area of the Nassau Bridge, where the limit drops from 55 mph to 50 to 45 in short order as motorists enter the resort area.
He said he doesn't believe lowering the speed limit will create a safer environment.
“I think there is a perception that if you just lower the speed limit that everybody will go slower,” Bhatt said. “What you get then is a bigger discrepancy between cars going the speed limit versus the speed people feel comfortable with.”
DelDOT Project Coordinator Mark Luszcz said national studies have found when a speed limit is lower than it should be, crash rates increase. Transportation agencies use a basic formula to determine a speed limit; the speed at which 85 percent of motorists travel or slower. Three such studies last summer found that speed to be 52 mph in the north end, 50 mph in the middle and 49 mph in the lower section.
Delaware State Police Lt. Mike Nelson said motorists have contacted him about lowering the speed limit. Councilwoman Joan Deaver said she's received the same calls from constituents.
“We can look at it,” Bhatt said. “One thing we don't want to create is an unsafe condition. Maybe the nature of the road has changed.”
Schwartzkopf also doubts lowering the speed limit will be effective.
“The majority of people traveling that roadway don't even know what the speed limit is,” he said. “They're traveling what everybody else is traveling unless they feel it's too unsafe, and they slow down. I don't know if dropping the speed limit is going to do anything.”
Rehoboth Beach Mayor Sam Cooper said stepped up enforcement could be the answer.
“If you take the town police out of Dewey Beach, I bet you the speed would go up. It's an enforcement issue,” he said.
But he agreed that if the speed limit is too low, people tend to disregard it.
Dewey Beach resident Karen Zakarian lost her brother to a pedestrian accident on the Forgotten Mile last June. She urged the task force to follow the lead of the Town of Dewey Beach, which has five factors that makes it safe for pedestrians – good lighting, good crosswalks, police enforcement, a lower speed and signage.
“[Dewey] has everything everyone here says you need,” she said. “That's why nothing happens in that area. [Dewey] should be used as an example.”
Other proposed changes
• DelDOT also plans to eliminate the dotted line between the bus lane and the regular travel lanes. The plan calls for a solid line with bicycle-friendly rumble strips that will serve as indicators for motorists not to use the lane as a travel lane. Dotted lines will indicate when motorists may use the lane to turn at traffic lights or other roadways. Luszcz said it's possible those lines could be done before next summer.
• DelDOT is planning to install sidewalks, and additional lighting in areas where pedestrian traffic is high and relocate some bus stops to coincide with crosswalks.
• DelDOT will take a look at the center median turn lanes throughout the resort area, sites where many accidents and near misses have occurred. “We would love to take those out,” Bhatt said. “It is not a safe turning condition.”
• The Forgotten Mile through the south end of Dewey Beach is not included in the DelDOT plan, but Schwartzkopf wants to ensure the stretch is not ignored. The task force recommended DelDOT study the Forgotten Mile, particularly the lighting, when funding becomes available.
• Bhatt said DelDOT will be doing a sign inventory in an attempt to cut down on sign clutter.
• Schwartzkopf shut down the task force following the meeting. He asked the members for trust and if any concerns should be taken to him, Sen. Ernie Lopez or Rep. Steve Smyk.