South Bethany Traffic Committee offers alternatives

Date Published: 
June 2, 2017

The Town’s Traffic Committee is wrapping up its mission to improve safety and speeding in South Bethany’s Cat Hill neighborhood.

More than a year ago, they were instructed to research ideas to address traffic volume, traffic speed and pedestrian safety in a residential neighborhood that is increasingly used as a beach-traffic artery.

Recently, they crunched the data to rate the top 12 traffic control measures for the town.

Their top alternative was to create a pedestrian walkway separated from the roadway. Next were a traffic barricade (permanent and seasonal); a new road behind town hall; and more, down to gated access (which they said they believe is permitted if public access to the road remains elsewhere in the neighborhood).

The list was loosely based on impact versus price. However, many of the projects will require more studies, on property ownership, right-of-way, engineering and so forth. The Traffic Committee didn’t have the engineering expertise to identify every potential cost associated with any given project.

They rated each project based on impact to traffic volume, speed, pedestrian and bike safety, parking, cost and more. In price, projects range from several thousand dollars to $500,000.

These are just concepts, not a comprehensive review.

“These are planning-level [ideas]. There was no science involved, besides us discussing the data we were able to collect,” said John Janowski, committee chair.

Some projects would require surveys or right-of-way studies. Once engineering begins on any project, the town council will get a better idea of cost and impact.

The problem is simple: As the year-round and vacationing population increases in Sussex County, more people are discovering South Bethany’s tiny roads can be an effective shortcut to the beach. It’s the only inland beach route in the area between Routes 26 and 54.

“This is a regional issue,” said Janowski. “There’s just a limited east-west capacity.”

But that means more traffic and faster speeds on the South Bethany roads, which has alarmed the quiet, pedestrian-focused Cat Hill neighborhood.

Since residents raised their ongoing concerns in late 2015, the council has formed the Traffic Committee and approved the following measures:

• Barricade hours were adjusted, using traffic data, to prevent vehicles from entering Black Gum Drive from Kent Avenue, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., May 15 to Sept. 15.

• A three-way stop was installed at Tamarack Drive and Canal Road.

• One new speed hump was installed.

• All speed humps were augmented to be more effective.

• Speed signs were installed to make drivers more cognizant.

• Road striping was added to visually narrow the lane, to make drivers more cognizant.

• The Delaware Department of Transportation was enlisted to perform traffic studies.

• South Bethany Police Department officers are continuously collecting traffic data, including speed and volume.

The traffic-calming measures have worked to improve the situation. Average speeds are often lower than the 20 mph posted speed limit.

But there is no silver-bullet solution that will please everyone. While many residents advocated for more effective barricade hours (which the council extended last summer), others are asking for exceptions (such as a residents-only pass to go through the barricade).

The council will seek public input and make decisions in the future. Councilwoman Sue Callaway said she was displeased that another pedestrian striping configuration was proposed when new painting was just done at the request of the citizens. Mayor Pat Voveris said that idea was originally favored by citizens, not DelDOT.

The council also budgeted $2,500 for survey work behind town hall but must give approval later if they decide to actually spend it.

Wondering about a pathway behind town hall, town officials have approached the neighboring private development of Middlesex Beach about the boundaries between the two entities. The inquiry doesn’t appear to have been taken well.

“Right now, Middlesex has chained it off as if it’s theirs, and it’s not usable,” Voveris reported of the pathway.

The Traffic Committee will begin writing their official report this summer. Otherwise, their committee work is done, and traffic will likely move under the purview of the Planning Commission.

The Traffic Committee has posted details and traffic data online at www.southbethany.org/pdf_trafficcommittee.php.