S. Bethany to reconsider new barricade hours

Date Published: 
July 8, 2016

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: This peppy homemade sign belies the rage that resident Sandi Roberts said she feels at the seeming lack of pedestrian safety in South Bethany’s Cat Hill neighborhood.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: This peppy homemade sign belies the rage that resident Sandi Roberts said she feels at the seeming lack of pedestrian safety in South Bethany’s Cat Hill neighborhood.South Bethany is prepared to block the road for longer than before, as Town Hall is likely to approve new and longer hours for the eastbound barricade at Black Gum Road.

The Ad-hoc Traffic Committee will recommend that the town council change the official barricade hours from the early morning to a more-useful time period of 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The council could approve that change at a July 8 meeting. It would be effective immediately but subject to ongoing traffic study. The barricade would match other traffic restrictions in town with an annual timeframe of May 15 to Sept. 15.

“It’s a good start,” said Council Member Carol Stevenson. “It’s a start.”

The current barricade prevents cars from exiting Kent Avenue eastbound onto Black Gum Drive from 7 to 8:30 a.m., Memorial Day to Labor Day. That has been in place since the early 2000s.

On July 6, reviewing traffic numbers — which almost tripled in the past month — some traffic committee members gaped at a resident’s video of July 2 traffic (likely the apex of this year) in which cars crawled steadily, but practically bumper-to-bumper, through the tight neighborhood. Almost 3,000 cars drove through the neighborhood of Cat Hill that sunny beach day.

It is a problem for the whole town, not just Cat Hill, the committee noted.

“It does affect the town. It affects the economy. It affects safety, and that’s everything,” said committee Chair John Janowski.

Speed-wise, most vehicles don’t exceed the low 20s, the committee noted.

But anywhere from 21 to 51 percent of traffic uses Cat Hill as a shortcut, according to a traffic study from Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

That’s a number the Traffic Committee wants to reduce, and they’re discussing the whole gamut of options to mitigate traffic congestion. Those options range from long-range plans (such as sidewalks or de-annexation) to immediate ideas (a stop-sign traffic study for Canal and Tamarack Roads from July 8 to 9).

“These streets are basically neighborhood streets, and the demand that’s placed on them is more along the lines of what you would put traffic on for a connector road,” Janowski said.

Cat Hill’s citizen traffic committee previously found that 5,500 homes have been approved for the area but are yet to be built.

But Janowski said a 2006 traffic study (done just before the economy fell flat) envisioned more than 9,200 housing units, a new golf course and hundreds of thousands of square feet of new retail and office space.

“That’s mega-development,” Janowski said. “There is an issue with cut-through. Volume is large, and it’s not gonna get any less,” and it’s not South Bethany vehicles causing such heavy traffic.

He admitted that he would take the shortest distance, too, if given the option. But the advent of online mapping services, such as Google and Waze, has seen motorists starting to be directed down lesser-known roads — including tractor-trailers drivers, who likely learn their lesson after one attempt on narrow, winding Cat Hill roads.

Considering a connector road should have a capacity of 2,000 cars daily on each lane, Cat Hill is severely tipping the scales, with almost 3,000 vehicles daily on streets whose lanes are 9 or 10 feet wide and lack shoulders and sidewalks.

Since the issue was raised in the winter, the Town has brought the Delaware Department of Transportation in for several traffic counts and directional studies during peak traffic.

Additionally, three radar signs have been installed to notify drivers of their speed (one is about to be repaired). Two weight-restriction signs were added.

The town council voted months ago to bring the speed humps up-to-date, and add another one. Construction fell behind because of heavy springtime rains, which severely delayed the contractor’s schedule, according to an email sent to property owners on July 5. A-Del Construction Company could come during Fourth of July week, they said, but that requires closing the road entirely.

“Complete road closures at this time of year would cause disruption, and residents would not be able to get to their homes for the entire day, since the asphalt would have to ‘cure,’” the email read. “Also, trash service and possibly emergency service responses would be affected, which could incur liability for the Town.”

Most towns avoid such roadwork in summer for that very reason.

But the Town of Bethany Beach has come to the rescue, lending the Town a temporary speed hump for use in the vicinity of 421 Black Gum Drive, to be installed in early July.

Some residents said they are grateful and have noticed a difference already. But others are still wringing their hands.

In a letter forwarded to the Coastal Point on June 30, resident Sandi Roberts said, “It appears the council couldn’t care less about correcting the problem.”

Writing angrily that day, Roberts described an incident of a driver not sharing the road, when during a walk (against traffic) Roberts said she stopped to chat with a neighbor on the side of Canal Drive, near the Tamarack intersection. Her greyhound’s rear legs were slightly in the roadway when a “Jeep Cherokee approached and refused to swerve even a little to avoid us.” At the last second, Roberts said, she yanked the dog’s leash to whisk it out of the way of the Jeep, which she said passed only “inches” away.

“I screamed, ‘You almost hit my dog!’” Roberts recalled. “The man’s response: ... ‘Then get out of the damn road!’”

“What is it going to take to make the traffic cutting through Cat Hill your priority?” Roberts wrote. “Will it take the injury or death of someone’s pet? Will it take a child being hit? At what point will it become important enough that the mayor and the council recognize the urgency of the situation?”

Her letter followed another Town letter to residents, written June 27, describing the Traffic Committee’s mission to study the issue and make recommendations to the council. It includes the police chief, town manager, council members, homeowners and DelDOT representatives.