It’s healthy, it reduces vehicle traffic and it eliminates fuel emissions.
But bicycling has somewhat inexplicably become a thorn in the Town of South Bethany’s side. The problem is bicycle parking.
“People have gotten extremely creative with bike carts, and they’re getting bigger,” so they take up more space, sometimes jutting into the roadway, said Mayor Tim Saxton. “This town wasn’t built for all these bikes, and it wasn’t built for all these cars.”
Both car and bike parking is limited in town. Some cyclists have been parking on personal property, for want of a proper bike rack.
Many of the Town’s bike racks are actually located on personal property, Saxton said, so the municipality moves the racks when asked.
“In Sandpiper Village [on] Memorial Day weekend, it was horrendous. People were parking their bikes on the street. … We’ve got to get emergency vehicles through town,” Saxton said.
“I know this is an emotional topic. … I don’t have a solution. I’m looking for one,” he added. “None of us want bikes dumped on our front lawn.”
There are several empty lots in town, but so far, no property owner has agreed to lease the land for a few months of summertime bicycle parking, even if the Town paid for rent and maintenance.
The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) doesn’t seem to want bike racks beside the highway on either side of Route 1.
Unlike some of the area’s beachfront communities, South Bethany is not a private association but an incorporated municipality. They receive public funding for road and beach maintenance, so they cannot prevent the public from using those resources. It’s tricky, because the tiny beach town is seeing plenty of traffic as western farmlands turn into housing developments. Those people want to go to the beach, too.
“We cannot prevent the rest of the county coming to the beach. … It’s America’s beach. It’s not South Bethany’s beach.”
“I think we have done a really good job of encouraging people to bike to the beach because they know there’s limited parking, and in doing so, we’ve created another obstacle,” said Councilwoman Sue Callaway.
At a June meeting council members suggested a few possible fixes.
Carol Stevenson suggested converting a few car parking spaces into bike parking. Saxton proposed converting lifeguard parking into bike parking. Derek Abbott had suggested doubling the height of bike racks, so more people could hang bicycles, like he does in his garage. Frank Weisgerber had suggested implementing a parking permit system for bicycles. Don Boteler pointed out that Fenwick Island reserves the most prime parking spots for property owners only.
Saxton said he and the Sandpiper Homeowner Association president have agreed to increase the bike racks there from three to five, but to move them to a better location.
Meanwhile, a property owner emailed complaints to Saxton about people parking on his empty lot while he was away.
“We saw volleyball nets inside this guy’s property!” said Town Manager Maureen Hartman.
“I don’t see that as different from any other trespassing. … It’s their private property. If they want to call and complain about a trespassing,” that can trigger an official response, said Abbott.
“This lot owner’s not there to report it, and it has to come from the property owner,” not a neighbor, said Saxton. “There’s not much we can do. It’s the land owner’s responsibility to post” no-trespassing signage, he said.
It’s also a person’s responsibility to maintain his or her property. Also, how far does the Town want to go with enforcement? Saxton said he is not looking to start impounding bikes.
“We don’t want to discourage bike-riding. It’s healthy … and we promote being a healthy town,” Saxton said. “It’s counterintuitive, saying, ‘Don’t bike to the beach,’ but there’s limited places to park your bike.”
“They’re using their bikes because we told them to bike to the beach, because there’s no car parking!” Callaway said. “We have an obligation to provide bike parking for our citizens and — hopefully, they’ll get there first.”
As for regular cars, vehicles currently require a permit to park on the ocean side, east of Route 1, during summertime. Starting next year, parking permits will be required west of Route 1, too.
The town council will discuss the bicycles at their July 12 meeting and may kick the problem to the Planning Commission.
By Laura Walter