Sunday, September 7, 2014

Crossing I95 in the Newark area: Otts Chapel Road

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The 1st of an eight part series, we will examine every I95 overpass/underpass in the greater Newark area from a bicycling safety perspective. Crossing I95 is a major impediment for City and area bicyclists, and a show stopper for many who might otherwise consider commuting or riding for basic transportation. Of the eight, we already know the following:
  • 2 are equipped with a truly safe, segregated pathway intended for non-motorized use - but are not necessarily safe to reach on a bike.
  • 2 contain access ramps to and from I95 in both directions, rendering them totally unsafe.
  • 6, which includes this one, are direct crossings with no I95 access, but contain little or no bikeable shoulder space.
  • By request of Delaware Bikes Advocates, 4 are under consideration for Bicycle Warning Signs.

Otts Chapel Road I95 overpass
is the farthest west in Delaware. Many bicyclists consider this the least unsafe of the on-road crossings, because it has a 5' shoulder. A big issue, however, is debris collection along the barriers. This forces bicyclists to ride closer to the high speed lane or risk tire puncture or slippage. Fortunately, the span is rather short, with 8-10'' shoulders opening up in both directions immediately beyond the guardrails.

In a recent survey, Delaware Bikes readers overwhelmingly cited Otts Chapel's bridge crossings as "Hot Spots" in desperate need of more frequent sweeping. This includes a major RR overpass just north of I95. Both have barriers or curbs and collect massive amounts of debris. To that end, DelDOT Maintenance and Operations (M&O) listened to bicyclist's concerns, and said they will be increasing sweeping of many such hot spots as per their all new NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit.

Tips for crossing I95 on Otts Chapel Road:
  • As with riding on shouldered roads in general, take steps to fortify your tires against stones and sharps. This will decrease the worry of riding through debris.
  • In the interest of safety, and for peace of mind, always use a rear-view mirror to monitor overtaking traffic.
  • Wear a safety vest, and/or mount a reflective triangle to your rear rack bag or back pack, if you have one.
  • Try not to appear too predictable. Riding a steady line will increase your odds of being "buzzed". Stand on the pedals, or move around a little bit within the shoulder. This usually has an immediate impact on driver's passing speed, and can make them skittish about coming too close.
  • If this I95 crossing is too intimidating in any case, slow down and stop before the shoulder narrows. Wait for a comfortable break in traffic before charging across the span. If timed right, it may be possible to clear the overpass with few or no cars overtaking.

  • Minus debris, a bicyclist can ride well within the shoulder on the Otts Chapel Road I95 overpass. Many do, as this road is a popular bicycle commuting route between Glasgow, Bear, Elkton, and Newark.

    Debris collection is typical anytime there are barriers, curbs, or other containment features. In DOT-speak, these are known as "Reflection Zones", and usually require more frequent sweeping.

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