The safety of bicyclists at more than a dozen road crossings along the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail continues to be a hot issue in the Cape Region.
Sussex County Councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton vented frustrations about unsafe situations during the Five Points Working Group’s July 27 meeting.
“It’s just an accident waiting to happen, and it’s not going to be pretty,” he said.
Others at the meeting also spoke about close calls and etiquette among trail users.
There are specific concerns about the trail’s existing terminus at Route 9 and how the Delaware Department of Transportation plans to get bicyclists and pedestrians across the busy road when that section of the trail is completed in the future.
John Fiori, DelDOT’s bicycle coordinator, said the state’s current plan is to direct bicyclists and pedestrians west along Route 9 to the traffic light at Hudson Road and Fisher Road. After crossing there, they could rejoin the trail along the former railroad right of way toward Georgetown. DelDOT does not plan to fund a pedestrian bridge over Route 9.
However, a bridge is being explored by the Sussex County Land Trust, which purchased 31 acres of land directly across Route 9 from where the trail currently ends. The group plans to build a trailhead on the land, and, Burton said, it is working with Pennoni Associates of Milton to explore the feasibility of adding a pedestrian bridge over Route 9 to connect the two sides of the trail.
With more development planned in the area of the trail, Burton said DelDOT’s existing plan to cross Route 9 “just makes no sense.”
About 6.5 miles of the planned 17-mile trail have been completed from the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal in Lewes to Cool Spring. Other sections – Georgetown Little League to Park Avenue and Coolspring Road to Fisher Road/Hudson Road – are currently in the design phase.
Fiori said the state studied and added safety improvements at trail crossings after the initial wave of complaints last year.
“The complaints have become infrequent, but concerns still exist at road crossings,” he said.
Additional signage and pavement markings were added to increase awareness of bicyclists and pedestrians, he said.
An issue specific to the Cape Region, he said, is the turnover of tourists who may not be aware of Delaware’s bike laws.
Delaware Yield to expire October 2021
A confusing part of state law currently in effect is the Delaware Yield, whereby bicyclists are not required to stop at a stop sign when there is no traffic in the area. Despite all trail crossings having a stop sign, officials say the law has been misconstrued, and many bicyclists believe cars are supposed to yield to them as they approach a crossing.
Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said the Delaware Yield law is set to expire in October 2021, so the best course of action will be to just let it die.
“The law treats a bicycle as a car,” he said. “So we need to make bicyclists stop.”
Until the law expires, Schwartzkopf said, bicyclists need to be careful at road crossings.
“If a car is so damn close it could hit you, the car has the right of way,” he said.
Fiori agreed something needs to be done about the Delaware Yield, because it’s even confusing for police officers who are supposed to enforce the law.
“There were numerous law enforcement agencies from different municipalities at Ernie Lopez’s meeting last year at the library and, I hate to say it, they each had a different opinion,” Fiori said. “It has to come from Dover on how that law is to be interpreted.”
Fiori said the state cannot rely on trail users to make smart decisions, whether at a road crossing or when interacting with others on the trail.
“People don’t use common sense,” he said. “You have some of these spandex riders that think the trail is just for them and that they can go as fast as they want. When you start to see other bicyclists of different abilities, people running, or someone walking with their children or grandchildren, use common sense and slow down.”
A prime example, he said, occurred July 4, when one cyclist attempted to pass another and crashed head-on into a third cyclist traveling in the opposite direction. Both colliding riders were hospitalized.
New study underway
At the request of local cyclists, DelDOT has kicked off a low-stress bikeways study to determine if paths parallel to Route 1 could be added so people do not have to ride in the bus lane or on the sidewalks, and would not have to cross over the numerous entrances and exits to businesses, shopping centers and residential neighborhoods.