“This has set off alarm bells for me.”
City and state elected officials say a shared use pedestrian/bicycle path crossing an unsignaled intersection presents a danger to cyclists, walkers and runners.
A representative from DelDOT, however, said it is too early to conclude a signal is needed along the new POW/MIA Memorial Parkway.
Construction on the 3.2-mile roadway, formerly the West Dover Connector, began in February 2015. It opened to traffic Sept. 15.
Dover resident Christopher Asay, a longtime advocate of bicycle safety, believes that while many consider the roadway complete, the project remains unfinished without some sort of traffic signal.
Asay is a member of the Dover city council Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee and the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Regional Bike Plan Committee, but said he is speaking out as a private citizen.
“This has set off alarm bells for me,” he said. “The whole idea of a shared use path is creating a way that’s safe and where you don’t have to directly interact with traffic.”
That’s not the case here, Asay said.
DelDOT spokesman Greg Layton disagrees.
“We do not take the safety of this crossing lightly and will continue to monitor for any concerns that arise as use increases,” he said.
‘A little awkward’
When first drawn up, plans for the $67.9 million road that connects Saulsbury Road to Route 13 near the Rodney Village shopping center included a marked bicycle-only path on its shoulders, and the shared-use bicycle and pedestrian trail immediately adjacent.
The asphalt corridor runs along the eastern side of the parkway beginning at Saulsbury Road, but abruptly switches to the western side about one-third of a mile later.
The switchover occurs at the as-yet-unbuilt intersection with Ridgely Boulevard in the Eden Hills estates development and is marked by a set of painted crosswalks. There also are pedestrian crossing signs posted before the crosswalk.
“The shared-use path was originally proposed to provide a safe walking and bicycling resource for children and families,” Asay said. “Had it been constructed entirely along one side of the new roadway, it would serve that intended purpose, as there are signal-controlled intersections at either end to assist pedestrians in crossing.”
Last Wednesday afternoon, Dover’s Wini Walton and friend Paul Daniel were out on a bike ride when they encountered the crosswalk. They went over the roadway with caution.
“It was a little awkward,” Walton said. “It’s not heavily traveled yet, so it’s not a big deal right now, but I can see how it would be.”
Dover’s bicycle subcommittee asked city council President Tim Slavin to express their concerns to DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan.
Slavin wrote in April that, given the circumstances, “We do not believe that an uncontrolled crossing for pedestrians on a roadway with a posted speed of 40 mph is safe.”
The council president echoed the subcommittee’s request a signal be installed or a study done to determine if one is needed.
In May, Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, and Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, sent a letter to Cohan, offering up to $2,500 of community transportation fund money, “if, upon further review, DelDOT determines that this particular stretch of road does, in fact, warrant a traffic signal.”
Cohan replied to Slavin several weeks later, agreeing a signal may eventually be needed, adding with that in mind, all of the underground piping and electrical connections already had been installed.
The secretary added, however, a decision about a signal wouldn’t be made until at least six months after the roadway was opened. It would take that long to monitor traffic in the area to determine if a traffic signal or a flashing beacon would be needed, she said.
Rules that must be followed
Asay, who considered Cohan’s letter “very courteous,” said it still skirts the issue.
“They said they’ll open the road and count cars for six months and when there’s enough traffic, they’ll put in a signal,” he said. However, it should not take DelDOT anywhere near that long to make a decision, he said.
Considering the city’s concerns and the offer from Bushweller and Lynn, along with the fact the infrastructure for a light already is in place, Asay thought DelDOT would have given an immediate go-ahead for the project.
But that hasn’t happened, he said. In the meantime, he continues to worry someone could be hurt or killed at the crosswalk.
DelDOT, however, has rules for deciding where and when a traffic signal is warranted, Layton said.
“The warrant analysis process is in place to ensure the safety of all forms of the traveling public such that signals are not installed until needed,” he said. “To warrant a signal, the intersection must see certain levels of traffic at every leg of the intersection.”
That includes the unfinished intersection for Ridgely Boulevard, he said.
“As of today, and for the foreseeable future, there is zero traffic on that third leg,” Layton said. “It is simply a stub into the development that is not connected to a roadway.”
No changes are expected until the residential community at Eden Hill grows to a point where a signal is warranted, he said.
Anyone crossing the parkway only has to traverse one lane of traffic at a time and can wait for traffic to clear in the road’s median, Layton said.
Asay feels DelDOT may not see much of a rise in those numbers simply because people will avoid the parkway as being too dangerous.
“Many potential users will choose to stay away from this hazardous situation, so, of course, the counts of users will be low and unlikely to warrant a traffic signal light,” he said. “The community will thus have been presented with an enormously expensive boondoggle.”