The recommendation of a Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) workgroup to consider one-way streets for three major thoroughfares in Bethany Beach will be up for public comment on Friday, June 17, with a special public hearing set for 2 p.m. at the town hall.
Though emphasis has been placed on the end goal of the plan — to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists in the town — the concept recommended has received a mixed reaction, with feelings ranging from strong opposition to those favoring a “try-it-and-see” approach.
The recommendation for the one-way streets was among a handful of proposal components put forward by the town’s Transportation Plan Working Group on May 17, in the wake of a public workshop on the plan the week before.
In considering those recommendations at their May 20 meeting, council members strongly favored receiving public input before taking any vote on the matter, acknowledging that the idea would likely be controversial and the subject of much discussion from property owners, residents and visitors alike.
Council and working group member Tony McClenny noted that night that a lot of work had gone into the recommendations, with opportunities for townspeople to participate at several stages in the process. He said some of the ideas “may sound radical” but may still be worthwhile to consider.
McClenny emphasized that the projects would “affect everybody” and potentially be of particular benefit to those living in or near Bethany West, due to potential safety improvements.
Town Manager Cliff Graviet planned to have representatives of JMT Engineering (the consultants hired by DelDOT to help develop the recommendations) present at the June 17 workshop to answer any technical questions about elements of the plan.
Extra effort was also made to make sure property owners were informed about the workshop, including providing the DelDOT/JMT presentation on the original plan available online (at www.townofbethanybeach.com/documents/workshop_deldot_publicmeeting_04250...) and shown on large presentation photographs arrayed in town hall in recent weeks.
Selected from among the entire group of recommendations presented in early May, the May 17 recommendations from the town workgroup were divided into a two-tiered program, with a timeline of fall/winter 2005 for one set of recommendations and fall/winter 2006 for the others.
The recommendations for 2005 are designed to work in concert with planned DelDOT projects, including the construction of nine formal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant crossovers on Route 1 (similar to those constructed in Dewey Beach), new plantings on the Route 1 median and other traffic features to make crossing that highway safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
The 2005 recommendations for Bethany Beach-controlled projects include:
• Converting the 300 block of Wellington Parkway into a one-way street, with vehicular traffic moving westbound;
• Adding 10-foot-wide pedestrian pathways from Route 1 to Atlantic Avenue, on the south sides of Fifth, Third, Second, Oakwood and Ashwood streets, and Central Boulevard, (design to be determined) to facilitate movement from the new crossovers (some permit parking would likely be lost);
• Widening Collins Avenue between Kent Avenue and Halfmoon Drive; and
• Encouraging that consideration be given to constructing pedestrian walkways on Kent Avenue, from Collins to Wellington and from Collins to Route 26 (to be done in concert with DelDOT, the group’s recommendations note).
Recommendations for 2006 include:
• Implementation of a one-way-street conversion of Pennsylvania Avenue (southbound) and Atlantic Avenue (northbound); and
• Creation of pedestrian pathways in the grass medians of Wellington and Oceanview parkways.
The working group’s recommendations note that the town would bear responsibility for all costs associated with the above projects, except for DelDOT’s own projects on Route 1.
Council approval would be required for most or all of the projects, due to their scope. The group’s members encouraged council members to consider the issue and make a decision at the June council meeting, to move the process forward in time for coordination with the fall 2005 DelDOT projects.
But with that approval process and controversy regarding the one-way streets in mind, public input on the recommendations has been a focus for council members. The 2 p.m. hearing on June 17 will thus precede any formal council consideration of the recommendations. But the issue is on the agenda for the regular council meeting set for that same night at 7:30 p.m.
As with most major projects discussed for the town, the response of Bethany Beach citizens to the project recommendations is likely to be key in which, if any, of them move forward from loose concepts to reality.
Already, some opposition to the idea of one-way streets has been noted, with some objections based on the town’s three-months-a-year population boom and citing such significant changes as overkill.
Among those voices is Council Member Wayne Fuller, who wasn’t ready to get on the one-way bandwagon after viewing the plan at the May 10 workshop. He said he expected considerable opposition to the idea and didn’t himself consider it necessary, owing to the small population of the town and its seasonal nature. He said it was a drastic solution for a three-month problem.
Other opinions have strongly favored the changes, citing their ability to potentially enhance safety for residents and visitors alike when they are on foot or two wheels.
At the May 10 workshop, Mayor Jack Walsh acknowledged that the idea of one-way streets would likely be a controversial one that some in the town would be reluctant to accept or even consider.
He asked JMT engineer Mike Rothenheimer whether a temporary one-way project could be put in place as a trial, to allow residents to get a feel for how the concept would actually work. Rothenheimer spoke to the difficulties of doing so but said it was possible to effect a limited trial if the town desired.
After the presentation, Walsh opined that allowing residents to try out the function of the one-way street provision might allow them to discover that they actually liked it — at least enough not to oppose it.
Still, some of those considering the plan have remained skeptical about its practicality for the town.
Using the supplied map of the one-way street solution at the workshop, Planning Commission Chairman Phil Boesch attempted to trace a simple route from his home in the affected neighborhood to other areas of the town — and failed to find one that was not too circuitous for his liking.
How many of the town’s residents and property owners agree with that feeling will likely be on display at the June 17 workshop. The emphasis has been placed on public input and information, and opportunity may be provided for people on both sides of the issue to change their minds or find a compromise before the town decides on a final plan.