One-way traffic proposed in Bethany

Judging by the lukewarm participation in Monday’s workshop on proposed bicycle and pedestrian safety measures in Bethany Beach, few of the town’s citizens realized that one-way roads would be among the proposals presented by the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT).

But two of the options offered by state pedestrian and bicycle traffic experts and the engineers of JMT Engineering were, indeed, for the transformation of traffic patterns in sections of

Oakwood, Ashwood, Second and Third streets east of Route 1, as well as Wellington Parkway west of the highway, and Pennsylvania and Atlantic avenues.

One plan, labeled as “Alternative 2” for improving the east/west flow of pedestrian and bicycle traffic, would change vehicular traffic on Third Street and Oakwood Street eastbound flow only on the beach side of the highway. The neighboring Second Street and Ashwood Street would allow cars to move westbound only, setting up a clockwise circulation between the pairs of streets.

Meanwhile, traffic on Wellington Parkway west of Route 1 could become westbound only.

Each of the changes to one-way streets was designed to create pavement space for an on-road bicycle path and pedestrian area. The Wellington Parkway change was also targeted at reducing so-called “cut-through” traffic from those seeking to shorten their route through town, as well as toward improving access to the South Coastal Library.

Alternative 2 also calls for a rearrangement and reduction in the number of crosswalks crossing Route 1, from 11 to nine, based on the engineers’ preference that crosswalks only be placed at signaled intersections. Paths would also be created on Ocean View Parkway (from Pennsylvania to Atlantic avenues) and on Wellington Parkway (east of Route 1), using the existing medians with reorganized landscaping.

“Alternative 1” seems simple in comparison, as well as less potentially controversial. It calls primarily for crosswalk improvements, with the walks relocated for maximum safety and restriped to enhance their visibility. Their usability would be enhanced by continuing the walks in an all-weather surface running through the median and crossing uneven grassy and drainage areas with paving-covered pipes or bridges.

The final design for the restriped crosswalks is still being studied, with the option of including textured walks (as in Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach) and a variety of signs and striping patterns — including a “piano-key” style recommended by DelDOT engineers.

Alternative 2 was focused on one of the chief goals of the joint town/state pedestrian and bicycle safety study that took place in 2004. That goal was to complete pedestrian and bicycle “networks” in the town, to give the whole a complete circulation pattern that was not interrupted by pathways that suddenly disappeared or didn’t line up with adjacent sections.

Some residents allowed that they sometimes opted not to get on the sidewalk, knowing it ended nearby anyway.

The other goals were to improve traffic circulation, address the town’s notorious parking issues, calm traffic speeds and divert neighborhood cut-through traffic. The top issues for the town were deemed to be the incomplete nature of the bicycle and pedestrian networks, need for traffic calming measures, and a need for improved traffic circulation and diversion measures.

Addressing those goals was divided into particular sections, focusing on east-west circulation (Route 1 crossings), north-south circulation on Atlantic and Pennsylvania avenues, areas west of Route 1 (including Kent Avenue, Collins Avenue and their associated neighborhoods).

Two alternatives were also presented for improving north-south pedestrian and bicycle traffic, both focusing on a reworking of the layout of Pennsylvania and Atlantic avenues, with their approximate 56-foot widths — and again with a one-way traffic pattern among the ideas suggested.

Again taking the simple approach, Alternative 1 for north-south traffic restricts sidewalk width to a maximum of 5 feet, except in the Garfield Parkway area. The existing median will have some trees and landscaping removed, while the town would notably lose 12 parking spaces on Pennsylvania Avenue and nine spaces on Atlantic Avenue.

That loss of parking space would be felt during peak beach hours, with between 92 and 99 percent of available parking space in use between Fifth Street and Cedarwood Street, between noon and 3 p.m. according to a traffic survey from mid-August 2004. The study showed parking use in the immediate area of the boardwalk at 90 percent between 10 a.m. and noon, and at 73 percent between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Areas a several blocks removed from that zone were at between 25 and 65 percent usage at various times throughout the day, suggesting parking is a real issue, but less of a problem for those not seeking peak beach times or close proximity to the central boardwalk area.

Alternative 2 for the north-south network is again more dramatic of a change but might preserve some parking. It again calls for one-way traffic, routing Pennsylvania Avenue southbound only, while Atlantic Avenue would run northbound only.

The extra pavement width would allow for 8 feet of parking on each side of the traffic lane, with a 5-foot bicycle lane (also one-way) and a 10-foot shoulder on either side of the road for passage of fire apparatus or to allow drivers with car trouble to pull clear of traffic, a la Ocean City’s downtown area. A 10-foot sidewalk would be placed on both sides.

Planning Commission Member Steve Wode floated the idea of augmenting Alternative 2 with angled parking that could potentially provide additional parking and perhaps save some existing trees. Additional study of that idea would be required if the town decided to move forward on it.

Notably, each of the recommended options was designed to be implemented independently or as part of a collective whole.

That may be an important point when citizens consider the idea of the one-way streets. While discussion of the matter was mild and temperate during the 4:30 discussion session that hosted most of the town’s officials, there was some concern expressed about the idea.

Town Council Member Harry Steele said he envisioned scofflaws residing on the street ends of the affected streets opting to dodge the wrong way down a short stretch of road to reach north-south roads more quickly or easily. Resident Lois Lipsett said access and speed on adjacent alleyways would also have to be strictly monitored to prevent cut-through there.

Mayor Jack Walsh acknowledged that the idea 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.

Council Member Wayne Fuller wasn’t ready to get on the one-way bandwagon after viewing the plan prior to the second scheduled presentation. 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.

Using the supplied map of Alternative 2, 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.

Other suggested concepts to improve safety on the east-west routes involved improved signage at all crosswalks along Route 1. The signs could include flashing signs at the north and south borders of the high-pedestrian-traffic areas, to warn drivers that the pedestrian traffic exists. That project could be completed by DelDOT.

Circulation countdown clocks could also be placed at an existing signaled intersection (on the south side of Route 26, crossing Route 1, and on the east side of Route 1, crossing Route 26), to warn pedestrians when vehicular traffic is about to be given the literal green light. Rothenheimer did note that DelDOT was having technical issues with some existing countdown clocks and the idea would require further research.

Finally, addressing bicycle improvements for Route 26, engineers recommended widening the existing sidewalk on the south side of the highway, from Kent Avenue to Route 1. The widened sidewalk would leave room for both pedestrian and “low-skilled” bicyclists — such as families with small children. The bicycle users would be encouraged to walk their bikes through the area, with signs at each end.

The bicycle lane on the east side of the Route 26/Route 1 intersection would also be adjusted, becoming adjacent to the existing through lane — and up to a state standard that it does not currently meet. The restriping of the lane would also be part of routine Route 26 repaving and replacement of parking.

Suggestions for improving pedestrian and bike traffic on Kent Avenue focused again on the continuity needed for smooth flow between sidewalk and roadway.

With those areas described as “tight,” the ideas focused on transitions across drainage ditches. The first option — piping in and paving over the ditches — was deemed costly to install but lower in maintenance costs. The second option is for boardwalks to be built over the ditches, at a lower installation cost but with long-term maintenance being costlier for the town.

The pipeline concept could be paid for as part of the DelDOT pipeline process, but funding from that source is uncertain, as the project would be weighed against other state projects. (Increased pedestrian and car traffic could help bring the matter to the state’s attention and help bring funding.)

Collins Avenue improvements focused on widening the existing south-side pavement to allow a pedestrian/bicycle area. A crosswalk would be placed at the Collins/Kent intersection, while a pedestrian facility would run on the east side of Kent Avenue (from Route 26 to Wellington). The project would be funded jointly, with the town covering expenses for Collins and DelDOT footing the bill for Kent.

Council Member Lew Killmer said that he felt the Collins and Kent areas were very dangerous without sidewalks.

Rothenheimer noted that cut-through traffic in the neighborhoods was not actually as high as the perception. The traffic study had shown the bulk of users of the streets were actually homeowners or visitors who truly needed to be there.

Other facets of the presentation included landscape improvements to medians along the north-south corridor. The joint town/DelDOT landscaping plan is already under way, with plans to continue low-height plantings that would not interfere with visibility.

While the result may be attractive, engineers noted that the real purpose of the plantings was to enhance safety by emphasizing to drivers that the area they were driving through was no longer one of highway or uninhabited state park and was likely to have pedestrian traffic.

Another facet of the plan to improve safety is enhanced lighting along Route 1. Rothenheimer emphasized a need to light for both pedestrian and driver purpose (with no areas of distinct darkness and light that would hamper drivers’ vision). The plan would install standard highway lights with efforts made to reduce potential light pollution.

The lighting would run along Route 1 from Central Boulevard to Wellington Parkway, with Conectiv likely to foot the installation costs and the town to pay for maintenance and ongoing power needs.

While a variety of crosswalk designs was on display and under consideration, the one design that is no longer part of the plan is the previously discussed lighted crosswalk. Rothenheimer said Bethany Beach had not qualified as a possible test location for the state’s pilot program, due in part to low nighttime pedestrian traffic.

He also noted that the one existing test location had not met with success, being plagued with technical problems and early indications that it simply didn’t work to improve safety. The state, he said, was not proceeding with the pilot program and had moved on to other options.

The goal of the workshop was to collect input and comments on the ideas, and those in attendance were offered comment cards to leave with the engineers or send in later. Rothenheimer said the comments would also be used to aid in prioritization of the projects that received support.

With the sparse attendance at the presentation, it was expected that citizens would continue to react — particularly to the one-way road concept — as the information made its way around the community. Whether the one-way road idea or any of its fellows will reach fruition will depend on that reaction and the support or opposition shown by the town’s citizens and officials.