Clear Space traffic: Tragedy waiting to happen
At the Jan. 29 planning commission hearing regarding the Clear Space Theatre site plans, a supporter of the project testified that it would be a “tragedy” if CST were to move its project out of town. To the contrary, it will be a “tragedy” if the CST project is built as planned on Rehoboth Avenue at the traffic circle.
It is beyond dispute that this complex will generate hundreds of vehicle trips on Rehoboth Avenue, around the traffic circle, and through nearby residential neighborhoods, as several hundred patrons leave the CST main-stage theater after a weekend matinee and converge with beachgoers leaving the city in late afternoon. It is also beyond dispute that several hundred patrons of the CST theaters will arrive for evening performances, especially on weekends, and converge with the influx of traffic arriving in the city for dinner and other activities.
However, the CST project will also cause major weekday traffic and safety issues that have not been sufficiently addressed, certainly not by CST’s traffic consultant. This is the congestion and backups that will be created during weekdays on Rehoboth Avenue and nearby streets by CST’s education-related services, which include adult and children’s acting, dance and music classes, and summer camp programs.
The CST website indicates that, in 2019, CST held more than 100 class meetings in which more than 500 students participated in its Arts Institute. Although some of these students may have walked to these classes and others may have come in carpools, there can be no dispute that CST’s education-related services generated hundreds of new vehicle trips in the city in 2019. These classes and summer camps, however, were conducted at CST’s Baltimore Avenue venue, which is on a wide dead-end street with parking and sufficient width for U-turns.
CST’s website also shows that its musical theater summer program for children is held on weekdays in July and August, the height of the summer season, from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. According to the 2010 CDP and significant anecdotal evidence, these are peak times for out-of-town beach goers to arrive and depart the city during the week.
Now imagine the backups at CST’s new location on Rehoboth Avenue at the traffic circle that will be caused by cars queueing to drop off or pick up students in the morning and late afternoon. Imagine young children and teenagers trying to cross Rehoboth Avenue to meet a parent or carpool driver on the opposite side of the street because that is the only place to wait. If one wanted both to snarl traffic in Rehoboth Beach at some of its busiest times and to endanger the lives of the CST students, there is no better way to do it.
Also imagine the health and safety problems this traffic congestion will cause when emergency vehicles (police, fire and ambulance) are called, and are slowed or even stopped by gridlock on Rehoboth Avenue and around the traffic circle.
These are the potential “tragedies” that I worry about if the CST project is approved. Although they are entirely avoidable now, these problems will be insurmountable if this theater complex is allowed to go forward. CST would thus do the city, its residents, and its property owners a huge favor by moving out of the city to a site with direct access to Route 1 and adequate parking. Such a move would also do CST’s patrons a huge favor inasmuch as CST’s own surveys show that the vast majority of its patrons come from outside the city.
A 2019 survey of the city’s residential, visitor and business communities conducted by a planning commission consultant showed that traffic and parking in the city were the issues about which the survey respondents were most concerned.
CST’s theater complex will simply exacerbate those problems, which may be why the respondents to those surveys showed little interest in, or support for, the project.
It is not too late for the planning commission to reject the current site plans for CST’s mainstage and Spotlight theaters, and send CST’s project back to the proverbial drawing board. That is the only outcome of this site-plan review process that will avoid the traffic and safety tragedies just waiting to happen if the CST theater project is approved.