Friday, May 24, 2013

Christiana Mall Project a black eye for Complete Streets

By Amy Wilburn, Chair, Delaware Bicycle Council -- It appears that Delaware's largest shopping mall is set to become even less bicycle and pedestrian accessible, and has many scratching their head given the state's 5th place ranking as a bicycle-friendly state. Among the casualties is a "goat path" connector between the Cavalier Country Club Apartment complex adjacent to the Mall, which was recently eliminated due to the construction of a cars-only entrance ramp. According to Marco Boyce of DelDOT, the option of a formal pathway was discussed as part of the ‘Mitigation Berm’ project between the Cavaliers Country Club Apartments and I-95. "Unfortunately, at this late stage, this will not be possible due to spatial constraints within State ROW for the berm and earthen wall. Also, it was indicated that the residents within the Cavaliers community are already thoroughly agitated by the reconstruction of the SR 1/I-95 interchange and probably won’t be receptive to an official pathway placed adjacent to their community at this time".

According to Boyce, any pathway along the I-95 berm would have to be coordinated with on-going development at the Christiana Mall. Mass grading is well underway for both the future Cabellas and future movie theater, thus indicating that site plans have already been approved to some extent by New Castle County’s Department of Land Use. It is unclear if any pathway connections were included as part of these specific projects, or if any leverage still exists to modify site plans to include pathway connections to the Mall. DelDOT did hold a meeting to discuss various projects under future consideration within the Churchmans Crossing/Christiana Mall area and how pathways can be included to provide the connections to this keystone area of the County. The solution will likely be a coordinated mix of pathway segments completed as part of future roadway and bridge projects, developer-funded upgrades and stand-alone pathway projects. While this is an admirable goal and I commend those who are working on it,  many components are years away from fruition.

In summary, there will be no connection to the Mall or park-n-ride for transit users without cars, or for cyclists or pedestrians, at least not for a very long time. How did this slip through the cracks? What happened to Complete Streets? It is difficult to accept these plans, because they are actually in reverse of the progress we've made. The goal is not to put bicyclists and pedestrians out on high traffic roads, but this is exactly what is now happening. There are those who do not have cars but need to get to the area. Our buses do not provide sufficient service or a sufficient network to provide for everyone’s needs. The traffic will now also increase once the construction is completed, making it even worse for non-motorized users. Most of us who walk or bike by choice can either avoid the Mall or drive to it, unfortunate as it is in the 21st century to be forced into either option. But a segment of our population does not have the luxury of either driving to the Mall or avoiding it altogether. These people include Mall employees and park-n-ride transit users who reside in the area. I have even been told about patients from the nearby Christiana Medical Center, who had to ask that medical staff drive them to the park-n-ride because it is simply too dangerous to walk.

Why are we allowing our fellow citizens to be “thrown under the bus”? I find it very depressing that these conditions exist in the state the LAB ranked as the fifth most bicycle friendly in the nation.  We can’t even get cyclists and pedestrians to a flagship destination. Maintaining bicycle and pedestrian connections to important destinations such as the Mall and its associated park-n-ride is not just a nicety, it is a matter of environmental justice. The state, county and DelDOT are tasked to meet the needs of all citizens in a country where all human beings are considered to be equal. We need to make sure that we are doing just this.

-Amy Wilburn has been the Chair of the Delaware Bicycle Council since 2008.

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