Monday, October 28, 2019

Bike-Ped Dead: 6 Solid Reasons For Delaware's Dismal Ranking

Even with a flashing beacon, motorists still have
the right of way to continue, at speed, through
DelDOT's crosswalks without penalty -- as long
as peds (and bikes) are side-lined and waiting.
This is a completely backwards approach.
Delaware is once again poised for a dismally high position -- if not taking the nation's top spot for walking fatalities again this year. Ditto for bicycling - in a runaway - but we will cover that in a future article. Here, in no particular order, we will examine what we believe are the top 6 reasons for why this is so and will likely never change:

1) Motor vehicle priority and right of way through crosswalks and intersections. Delaware gives motor vehicles priority and right of way through mid-block crosswalks and radial turns, and puts the onus on pedestrians to create his or her own opportunity to cross. This doesn't change even with DelDOT's flashing beacons installed at a few of them; peds are still sidelined, waiting to make the first move -- hoping cars will stop. In no way is this progressive or conducive to pedestrian safety.

The way it should be. With a little enforcement. Mass
sees far greater compliance using this simple sign than
DE will ever see using stick figures and beacons.
2) An antiquated traffic code for pedestrians. There are numerous discrepancies and problems that a complete overhaul of Delaware's vehicle code is LONG overdue. The language is so antiquated that it even includes a holiday as impacting where and how to enforce it, including "soliciting contributions shall not apply on the Saturday immediately prior to Father's Day". Advocates volunteered many hours of time and did an overhaul, presenting it in legislative bill form to Delaware's Pedestrian Council. Ultimately, the State's defacto walking advocacy org, Bike Delaware, infiltrated the Ped Council and quashed the effort.

Crosswalks through highway-speed kill zones.
3) Wide lanes, slip lanes, and unregulated radial turns that induce high speed and discourage defensive driving, even in known pedestrian hot spots. Instead of traditional crossroads, most of Delaware's suburban thoroughfares consist of radial turns to keep motor vehicles moving as quickly as possible through intersections. This seriously compromises pedestrian safety, since the beginning and end of the crosswalk is unregulated and never signalized. As they are induced to maintain speed, motorists seldom yield, and usually just barrel on through even when pedestrians are present. This is not at all conducive to pedestrian safety, and not only adds to the danger, it discourage walking in the first place.

Non-drivers will often create "goat paths", as
the State and its Counties will not seek out and
try and include these important connections
with area rehab & reconstruction projects.
4) Very few pathway facilities that make safe connections between existing communities, commerce, and civil services. Lack of connectivity in development codes, and an ignorance of livability concerns throughout most of Delaware's planning history have all but sealed the fate of its suburban dwellers. Bike Delaware at one time made mention that connectivity is their mission, which includes piecing together what few streets do connect to try and create low stress networks. But for the vast majority of disconnected and unincorporated suburbs, they have yet to demonstrate how interconnecting pathways can be added without violating private property rights and/or invoking imminent domain -- never mind the exorbitant costs involved. In the end, those walking and biking are inevitably forced out onto arterial roads and their high speed intersections to reach most destinations.

5) An apparently fraudulent "Advocacy" organization in Delaware that will not support reforms, including a bill proposal (see #2 above) to update the traffic code in the interest of safety. "Bike Delaware" lobbies for reforms with priority on new housing construction only, helping developers achieve density waivers. With the occasional bone thrown to seasoned cyclists, they can focus on builder's profits with advocacy for "TOD" (Transit Oriented Development) and have this slip by virtually unnoticed. They ignore even the simplest ideas for retrofitting the built environment and have no record of endorsing open space conservation and park opportunities. Virtually all of their efforts are focused on the more privileged areas of the State including Old New Castle, the home of their Exec Director himself. For the unincorporated and disenfranchised folks who lack open space, bike paths and/or regional park access from home, they have to settle for what's on offer. This includes the high speed arterial roads and highways discussed here, for pleasure activities such as biking, walking and jogging.

6) Very little police presence and law enforcement to begin with. It is no secret that the police in Delaware -- in particular State and County -- are either stretched way too thin or even working without a contract. In what's become a culture of "anything goes", progressive reforms that include, e.g. stronger crosswalk signage with actual fines posted will remain out of the question. Unless a rare sting, the police are never around to actually enforce it, except perhaps in court after an injury or fatality. It is not uncommon at all for residents in unincorporated areas to go weeks or months without seeing a squad car in their region. When everyone knows that they can stretch, bend or break even the most basic laws of civility and predictability, higher crash counts inevitably follow. While the actions of the pedestrian (or bicyclist) is always cited as contributing or not, a gross lack of defensive driving due to paltry driver education, no redundant education, and virtually no law enforcement is a far greater problem overall.

Summary: Though certainly not alone in this, Delaware's built environment is a microcosm of the death and carnage now accepted as "normal" in the U.S. -- normal by placing motor vehicle traffic at human scale. Earlier govt planners, engineers and architects foisted this upon us by trashing livability in favor of "Stroads" that incorporate driveways, streets, parking lots, etc as directly connected to highways. Post WW2 design should have included frontage, service, and ring roads, and other treatments that allow highways to stay just that: relatively uninterrupted carriage ways between larger destinations with ample walking-biking cross-through (tunnel under) opportunities. Now dangerous by design, the State and its Counties (along with their Advisers and Advocates) are unable or unwilling to provide the needed tools and coping strategies.

View the proposed updated Delaware Vehicle Code for Pedestrians in pdf format, that was quashed by Bike Delaware and the Delaware Pedestrian Council with no further discussion. It was crafted by using the best of language from progressive States, e.g. Washington, Oregon, Mass, etc where motorist's respect for non-motorized road users is visibly higher than in Delaware, and the statistics are there to back it.

View the 2018 pedestrian fatality statistics for the whole of the U.S. Delaware took a "rest" from the top 5 in 2018, but is set to return in 2019.

Read an article in Strong Towns comparing Streets, Roads, and "Stroads", and what we can do to eliminate the latter in favor of livable streets and communities.

Watch James Howard Kunstler on YouTube destroy the very notion of cars as human scale.

Friday, October 25, 2019

"Share the Road" makes a comeback in Delaware

This modified W11 Bicycle "Share the Road" sign is found along Churchmans
Road just south of I95. Others have been reported in the DE City vicinity.
Brand new "Share The Road" signs are appearing along various Delaware roads. We have received several emails from our followers, one with the photo evidence seen at right. The signs appear to be showing up with repave or reconstruction projects, which contradicts Bike Delaware's commitment to ending "Share The Road" (oh, the horrors), not only from roadway signage but in all other DOT contexts and vocabulary. The photo at right was recently taken on Churchmans Road, SR58 in New Castle County, where the latest little piece of the East Coast Greenway (parallel bike path) was added.

According to Bike Delaware's IRS Form 990 for 2018: "Bike Delaware partnered with DELDOT in campaigning to end “Share The Road” signage in Delaware". Bike Delaware did indeed make the push to end "Share The Road", though not everyone agreed with the idea and most didn't believe it was a priority if given a choice of other advocacy pursuits. Upon the retirement of STR, Bike Delaware -- off the backs of former and non-member Advocates -- went on to take credit for the design and implementation of a replacement sign. With DelDOT's generosity and willingness to act immediately, The W11 In Lane sign replaced STR and became an instant hit, used primarily in lane-only configurations.

What is 1st State Bikes position on STR? There is nothing intrinsically wrong with sharing the road, or "Share The Road" on a sign. That said, we did not argue with the technicality used to justify its removal, as long as a suitable replacement was found. The average travel lane in Delaware is substandard width (11'-12' in most cases), therefore, it is impossible for a bicyclist and most cars to fit within the same lane - abreast - when factoring in the 3' Passing Law. Regardless, the fact that Bike Delaware made the removal of this sign and phrase a priority (and fissures now appear in its oversight) shows the length they will go to win over the support of Delaware's road bicyclists while secretly pushing a much bigger agenda.

"Share The Road" sign on Casho Mill Road in Newark, similar to those used by PennDOT (Oct 21, 2019)

W11 sign with "Share The Road" plaque found on Apple Road in Newark (Oct 21, 2019)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Senator Bryan Townsend (a time capsule)

Introducing, an all new web page that will serve as an on-line environment and quality of life time capsule for Senator Bryan Townsend (Delaware's District 11). Here, you can follow the ascension of the State's most prolific con-artist, as he makes his way to the top of the political dung heap, en-route to State Governor or a U.S. Congressional Seat. Already in his young career (38 years old), Mr Townsend has destroyed former Gov Russell Peterson's legacy by selling out Delaware's Coastal Zone to industry. He also refused to champion saving open space and critical habitat area (for both humans and wildlife) right in his own district. He, along with Rep Ed Osienski, denied Ogletown-S. Newark its last chance for its own regional park with open fields and a complete Trails & Pathways network already in place. That he posts articles on social media about the environmental crisis we now face only serves as a mask for his bought and paid-for agenda.

Help us spread the word; please share our posts around the Internet, including on social media, as you see fit.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

In matters of transparency, Bike Delaware is a joke

It's critical that donors to a non-profit know exactly
where and what their money is going toward.
"Secrecy is one of the shadier sides of private and public life"  ~Ian Hacking

Bike Delaware falls far short compared to other similar orgs when it comes to the activities they are engaged in, particularly those of their Exec Director who has been confirmed as a lobbyist for land-use matters (favoring developers) at the County level. It appears that their startup documents and a Form-990EZ is Bike Delaware's only known record-keeping and reporting.

To learn how an advocacy organization should go about its business, click on the images below from neighboring Bike Maryland, which takes matters of transparency very seriously. On their home page, note the newsletter subscription, as well as an up to date blog of current events and action alerts. Their website is also fully searchable, so folks can readily investigate what the organization is up to and grab at opportunities to get involved at every level.

Other Neighbors (in pdf format):
Bike Pittsburgh 2017 Annual Report and Strategic Plan 2016-2019.
Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia Annual Report FY2018.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Ogletown Road and the Folly of Bike Delaware

Forced to ride in the lane during sidewalk rehab activities on Ogletown Road, between the Newark Post Office
and Marrows Rd. The high speed lane or a 5' sidewalk will continue as the only options along this stretch. 

It's hard not to laugh when reading Bike Delaware's pages, adorned with slogans such as:

"Making cycling and walking safe, convenient, and fun in Delaware"

"OUR MISSION: Bike Delaware advocates for safe, convenient and fun cycling and walking for everyone"

"Bike Delaware’s organizational mission is to make cycling and walking safe, convenient and fun transportation options in Delaware"

"Our vision is bikeway networks that everyone can use to get where they want to go on a bike"

To anyone paying attention, it's only made "safe, convenient and fun" when it brings high profile attention to Bike Delaware, or if you happen to live in one of the State's few privileged locales or regions. Otherwise, you're SOL.

The photo at top was taken on Oct 5, 2019 on Ogletown Rd/SR273, between Marrows Rd and Library Ave in Newark. Bicyclists who are trying to access the Post Office are completely disenfranchised. The only access available to them is the high speed traffic lanes or a 5' sidewalk directly adjacent, with narrow twisting curb ramps. Access from behind the P.O., perhaps via College Square, is completely fenced off.

The Marrows Rd to Library Ave/SR72 phase of Newark's "Main Street Improvements" project is now underway. Ironic that nobody -- not even Wilmapco made a strong case (if any) that bicyclists cannot safely access this critical service, as well as other buildings along this stretch. But most ironic was the absence of Bike Delaware, that they didn't care to address this gross deficiency with DelDOT during the planning of this project or at any time before construction began. Here was a prime opportunity to include bicycle access in the form of, e.g. an 8' asphalt sidepath or shared use facility instead of the lane with cars or a narrow sidewalk. Yet they didn't even publicize the project notification for this critical aspect, never mind the project itself.. Wilmapco was content to leave it in their Newark Bicycle Plan as something for "future study". It will now be 15-20 more years before another rehab/reconstruction opportunity might present itself.

A recently repaved section of sidepath along Library Ave in Newark. At 6'
wide, it fails all known engineering criteria for a bi-directional bikeway facility,
and qualifies as just a sidewalk.
Of course, none of this comes as any surprise. Similar projects are going on all around Delaware that present clear opportunities for dedicated bike (and ped, shared) infrastructure, adjacent to or outside the lanes of traffic. Of crucial importance is when there is no shoulder or bike lane on a given road, and access can only be had by taking and controlling the lane of traffic -- often times at freeway speeds. Another example is SR72 in Newark and further south -- aka S. Chapel Street -- that many bicyclists use as a bike path connection between S. Newark, Bear, and points south. Advocates fought for 17 long years to upgrade the deteriorated 6' of asphalt sidepath to a more formal 8' shared use or "cycle track" facility. DelDOT finally agreed to "rehab" the existing facility using the same failed design standards used in the 1980s when it was first built.

Conclusion: For the disenfranchised and "unwashed" that populate the vastness of Delaware's suburban landscape, you'll be hard pressed to find anything positive going on for bicycling and pedestrian advocacy. Bike Delaware appears a fraud, a fake organization that pretends to care about bike-ped safety for all of us, but whose real mission it is to fast track high density development projects and profits to their corporate masters. This comes at the expense of key infrastructure safety and improvements in the built environment, never mind the loss of our last remaining wildlife, forests, fields, wetlands, and parkland opportunities. Bike Delaware does little or nothing at all to bring attention to individual DelDOT projects and workshops -- even when absolutely critical and presenting a one time-ever opportunity for making key connections. They are a virtual no-show in person and on their website when it comes to -- at the very least -- rallying Delaware bicyclists to the very projects that could possibly make their bicycling "safer" and more "convenient".

Sunday, September 29, 2019

What kind of "Non-Profit" is the White Clay Bicycle Club?

The White Clay Bicycle Club does not appear
in any search of the IRS Non-Profits database.
What kind of "non-profit" is the White Clay Bicycle Club? Virtually everyone you ask -- including past Board members -- believe it is a 501(c)3. However, the organization does not appear on any search of the IRS non-profits database, using the simple keywords "White Clay". Six other orgs do appear, however (see image on right).

Assuming WCBC is missing in the results somehow, and it is indeed a 501(c)3 or (c)7 or other 501-type, is it appropriate for them to donate relatively large sums of member dues and event fee monies to another 501(c)3 that does not follow the recommended rules of transparency? The recipient org, Bike Delaware is a confirmed 501(c)3, but has:

  • No annual report
  • No periodic newsletter of any kind
  • No annual meeting with minutes and election results
  • No search feature on their website to search out these items or topics of interest
  • No posted meeting minutes
  • No lobbying records or reports at the county and regional level, much (if not most) of which centers around land use

WCBC's main source of revenue is membership dues and event fees; probably half or more is sourced from non-members participating in their recreational cycling events that are open to all. Is it legal and appropriate that non-members (and members alike) are helping fund activities that they may not approve of, in this case lobbying for developer and builder interests at the expense of parks, green space, and retrofitting the built environment for multi-modal transportation?

John Haupt, President of WCBC, gave these terse replies when asked about his org's Form-990 and/or a financial disclosure:

Q: Is WCBC a 501(c)3, or (c)7, as described here?

  • ... do not include the WCBC or any members of the WCBC Executive Committee on your email messages or correspondence.
  • The White Clay Bicycle Club is not a 501(c)(3) as you state in a prior message.
  • The White Clay Bicycle Club is not a "political organization" as you possibly elude to in a prior message.

Summary: According to the IRS website at this time, WCBC is not a non-profit org. Even if this is an oversight on their part, it would still appear that there is a 509(a)3 "Type 3" relationship between WCBC and Bike Delaware, meaning that regardless of revenue totals each year, they should still file a Form-990 (or other documentation) and be transparent about it. This can be found in the IRS' 4221-PC Compliance Guide (pdf).

Given this is an inquiry, of which we can only hope there is nothing fraudulent in the end, we will update this article as we learn more. Feel free to comment below.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Is WCBC's sponsorship of Bike Delaware a conflict of interest?

Does the White Clay Bicycle Club (WCBC) care if their generous annual donations are used in lobbying efforts to dismantle development codes, zoning rules, and open space requirements? To promote density waivers, and other pro-development initiatives? Are their members aware that by supporting what is purported to be a "non-political" 501(c)3 organization, they may be supporting the loss of green space, decimation of wildlife/biodiversity, hastening of climate change, and increases in traffic congestion and stress on the very roads they ride on?

This may be the case with WCBC's generous annual financial support of Bike Delaware. In addition to a vocally pro-development Executive Director James Wilson, at least two of Bike Delaware's Executive Board members have ties to the building industry. SB-130, first opposed by the New Castle County Civic League, was widely recognized among advocates as a developer windfall. Since then, similar legislation has been introduced and passed. Recently, NCC Council largely dismantled traffic impact requirements in the approval of even major building/land use projects in much the same context as Bike DE's SB-130.

Because they are a top sponsor, WCBC should be asking the tough questions, and holding Bike Delaware to the highest standards of accountability and transparency. This goes well beyond their Form 990; it needs to include detailed lobbying reports (beyond this), meeting minutes, and donor lists. As the 4th most corrupt State in the nation, Delaware has no County-level mechanism for tracking lobbyist interactions over specific Council legislation unlike the State, which maintains a reporting system for all lobbying on bills and is overseen by the Public Integrity Commission.

We raised these concerns with WCBC's President John Haupt on June 27, asking whether or not pro-development/anti-open space lobbying fits his org's mission, and if they do demand transparency from Bike Delaware. If the document(s) are there to prove it, his org should present this (or make it available to) their membership. Contrary to similar organizations, nothing except Bike Delaware's Form 1023-EZ and 2019 Form 990 is made available on the Internet.

It's also noted that WCBC's Haupt has a land-use connection as an Associate Vice President & Manager with a major land surveying company. While that may or may not directly implicate him given everything above, it is fair to ask for WCBC's position on open space, the environment, and road safety and education. It directly relates to what his organization endeavors to provide for their sanctioned rides and events, in terms of more rural and scenic roads with fewer cars. Historically, WCBC has also supported the 6 Es of bicycling advocacy, few of which Bike Delaware actively pursues in the built environment.

Summary: WCBC has claimed to be a "non-profit" since the early 1970s, but the club cannot be found in any search of the IRS's "Tax Exempt Organization" database. They raise significant funds (possibly up to half of their income) from non-members -- mainly in the form of event fees -- and donate said funds to Bike Delaware, another non-profit that lacks transparency (no newsletter, no annual report, no annual meeting, no posted meeting minutes, no website search tool, etc) and engages in lobbying activities for pro-building and development causes.

WCBC is one of Bike Delaware's top sponsors, and as the largest recreational bicycling club in the State, that makes them responsible for transparency and accountability for monies donated. Its President and Executive Board owes it to those who pay dues, event fees (non-members included) and other monies into the organization, believing it has their best interests at heart. WCBC needs to demand detailed transparency from Bike Delaware before handing over thousands of dollars in member dues and event fees on an annual basis.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Where is Bike Delaware on projects that really matter?

Wawa, new shops planned for Christiana area

From the Delaware On-Line. Excerpts from the article:

Construction is expected to begin this fall on a new Wawa off Del. 273.

The Wawa will be in a new development east of the University Plaza shopping center, which includes Burlington and Acme. The convenience store will also have gas pumps.

Plans for the site also call for two retail pads, one designed for a fast food or quick service restaurant, and the other for a larger restaurant or retailer.

A new road will be constructed west of the development off Del. 273 and across from Browns Lane, which leads to the Christiana Town Center.

Another Wawa is nearing completion at the corner of Wrangle Hill and Red Lion Roads in Bear. It is expected to open in late 2019 or early 2020.

Every time these overwhelmingly car-centric development plans surface, is Bike Delaware even remotely advocating for protected bicycle facilities, bike parking, and place-making in general? They easily find time to arrange meetings with developers and County Council members while advocating for high density zoning and maximum build-out of DE's last remaining open spaces. But why are they absent when & where they're truly needed, in projects where cars dominate and inviting bike-ped accommodations aren't even considered? Projects that include stores like WaWa, Royal Farms, and other mega-"convenience" stores with a dozen or more gas pumps are a major disaster for the environment, safety, community building and place-making in general. At the very least, Bike Delaware should be at the forefront, demanding safe bike-ped accommodations.

But then, unless it's high profile and to their advantage, Bike Delaware never rallies around (much less attends) workshops for individual DelDOT reconstruction and/or pave & rehab projects either. These usually include marginal sidewalks and/or shared-use shoulders, with clear opportunities for upgrades to (e.g.) cycle tracks and/or protected bike lanes. An organization whose "mission" it is to build complete bicycling networks suitable for everyone -- including children -- would have a major presence with each and every project, regardless of size and scope. Instead, we have roads, sidewalks and intersections routinely rehabbled or reconstructed using the same bad engineering practices instead of, for example, installing min. 8' wide asphalt multi-modal pathways that afford bicyclists equal right of way with car traffic.

Bike Delaware's mission statement: Bike Delaware advocates for safe, convenient and fun cycling and walking for everyone.

Whatever Bike DE's advocacy entails, it isn't anything holistic and doesn't include the networking of safe inviting pathway facilities that would enable Delawareans to replace car trips with active transportation modes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Is Bike Delaware a Tool of Developer Interests? (Updated: 9/28/2019)

8 things to consider if you support Bike Delaware and believe in their mission and vision.

SB-130, Enterprise Districts
  • One of Bike Delaware's top legislation pieces centers around land use. At the core is SB-130 Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Districts, which promotes large, high density mixed use developments. Selling them as multi-modal wins New Castle County Council's support to relax vehicle level of service (LOS) requirements, and put such development on the fast track. Only recently, NCC Council largely dismantled traffic impact requirements in the approval of even major building/land use projects in much the same context as Bike Delaware's SB-130.
Lobbying efforts (infrastructure)
  • Lobbies almost exclusively for high profile trails and pathways projects. These benefit developers by increasing surrounding property values, and ultimately, it becomes a selling point for homes clustered nearby. Lobbying also focuses on high density housing developments, under the guise of "transit oriented developments" (aka TODs). These include land use meetings with developers and NCC Council members, more recently with the loss of the Brandywine Country Club and open space.
Dissing and undermining of on-road bicycling safety efforts
  • Ignoring efforts at road bicycling education and infrastructure. Any pragmatist would agree that we need to FIX what we already have -- before heaping on more development. This would rightfully suggest that we can and should retrofit the built environment -- FIRST. Instead, Bike Delaware advocates for multi-modalism with new housing developments only, giving these a higher likelihood of density waivers and project approval (tip: doesn't work when surrounded by auto-dependent suburbs).
A project to "upgrade" the S. College Ave (SR896)
overpass at I95 has had workshops with no reported
involvement from Bike Delaware. Such a project could
include a separated bicycle facility making an in-
valuable connection between Newark and Glasgow.
Never attends DelDOT workshops
  • Unless high profile as mentioned above, Bike Delaware has little known presence rallying around (much less attending) individual DelDOT reconstruction and/or pave & rehab project workshops. Projects usually include sidewalks and/or shared-use shoulders, with clear opportunities for upgrades to (e.g.) cycle tracks and/or protected bike lanes. An organization whose mission it is to build complete bicycling networks suitable for everyone would have a major presence (or at least a call to action) with each and every project, regardless of size and scope. Instead, we have roads, sidewalks and intersections routinely rehabbled and/or reconstructed using the same bad engineering practices instead of, for example, installing 8' wide asphalt multi-modal pathways. It should also be noted that Bike Delaware quashed any notion of revamping the State's badly antiquated anti-Pedestrian language in the vehicle code.
Developer-friendly Staff and Board of Directors
  • In addition to their developer-friendly Executive Director, at least two of Bike DE's board members have ties to the building industry, development firms, and property management. Their profiles can be read HERE.
No record of endorsement for open space and/or regional park initiatives
  • Bike Delaware has no known record supporting (never mind lobbying for) the use of DE's last remaining green spaces as regional parks, even when proven to have enormous benefits for bicycling, walking, the environment, local economy, and interconnecting communities.
Touting the impossible
  • Selling an impossible vision to Delaware's bicycling community, by insisting that we can build a complete, low-stress, "protected" bicycling network locally accessible to everyone, including 8-80 year olds. The facts say otherwise. (tip: a course in home rule and county land use would also help).
Fails to appear with any charity watch organization
  • Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, Universal Giving, Philanthropedia, GiveWell, Great Nonprofits, and others do not include Bike Delaware as one of their ethical, creditable non-profits worthy of charitable donations.
What little open space remains in NCC is mostly what planners and developers refer to as "infill", where any type of connectivity is fiercely opposed by existing neighborhoods. Most larger tracts -- also surrounded by car-dependent sprawl -- are either off limits or being hotly contested for open space acquisition. That said, if they really are intent on paving over most of the State's remaining farmland in Kent and Sussex, it might be possible to build enough contiguous TOaD that more folks do indeed bike and walk between communities, and use transit if the State arranges and funds it. Alternatives to car usage might become a little more popular. But then you have the cheapest gas in history (inflation factored) to ruin the incentive, and examples like Stevenage to explain around.

Delaware's fall from #3 to #7 as a Bicycle Friendly State was largely due to a lack of low stress connectivity and a bicycling mode share that barely registers. Unless the State is prepared to spend enormous sums and begin using eminent domain, connectivity that the 8-80 yo "interested but concerned" folks can use to circumvent arterial roads and intersections will remain impossible. Govt would have to strategically condemn and raze private properties in order to install non-motorized pathway connections between developments, and designate their streets as "bike boulevards". Doing so would draw the ire of adjacent residents, and trigger a frenzy of lawsuits. Except in a rare case or two, it isn't going to happen.

The Oil Crisis of 1973 was the last time in U.S. history that bicycling was truly popular for transportation purposes. With mode share currently at 0.2% in Delaware, major Govt spending on bike path infrastructure by confiscating private property would be political suicide. Bike Delaware should also understand that where cities and countries have high bicycle mode share, car ownership and fuel costs are prohibitively expensive and/or inconvenient. Raising the cost of driving to encourage alternative modes would again be political suicide.

So decide for yourself what Bike Delaware's true motive is, and just who may be bankrolling their staff and for what purpose. Organizations like the White Clay Bicycle Club lavish thousands of dollars every year on Bike Delaware, knowing full well that they are anything but transparent about their activities and finances. Delaware bicyclists should consider all of the facts mentioned in this article before joining either organization. If anything discussed here can be proven as false or inaccurate, please email or include in comments below any supporting evidence and documentation.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Lisa Diller, Matthew Meyer, Edward Osienski, and Bryan Townsend: The Epitome of Corrupt Government in DE

Corruption is a cancer: A cancer that eats away at a citizen's faith in democracy, diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity"  
~ Joe Biden

For the record, Saving the Orphanage Property (STOP) was a three year grassroots campaign (2015-2018) to save the last significant open space in Ogletown, Delaware, for a regional park and biking-walking pathway system. A host of other reasons -- some critical -- also existed for why the land should have been preserved, and was not suitable for development. However, the effort was crushed and defeated by government corruption on the part of New Castle County (NCC) and State elected legislators with financial ties to development interests, and a newly elected pro-development County Executive.

The below fact collection tells the entire story. No actual evidence was ever presented to disprove them. These legislators -- Councilwoman Lisa Diller, Rep Edward Osienski, and Senator Bryan Townsend -- then acted to deceive the electorate prior to the 2018 election, campaigning that they did everything possible to bring a park and place-making (180 acres of trails, critical habitat area, and open space) to Ogletown, and that these facts are in some way "unsubstantiated". All three then went on to resounding victories in their re-election bids, despite the dire environmental and socio-economic consequences.

If any of the 16 facts below -- in BOLD font -- are false or inaccurate, please comment with the evidence and/or proof otherwise, and we will eagerly retract and update this blog.

FACT: News of the Felician Sisters desire to develop the Orphanage Property was NOT brought to the public for over 2 years (documented) than it could have been. And discussion about the possibility of development was brought to Councilwoman Lisa Diller, Representative Ed Osienski, and Senator Bryan Townsend at the very beginning of that time. Additionally during the 2013-2015 time frame, Diller and NCC Council raised $150,000 to help the Felician Sisters get a plan approved, with virtually no public knowledge.

FACT: From the time that the July 2015 public meeting was held at Holy Family Church, Councilwoman Diller and Rep Osienski were heard on many occasions referring to the development or their help in saving the Orphanage Property as "Done", "Finished", and/or "It (the Chestnut Hill "Preserve) is going to happen, it’s going to happen", etc. Osienski in particular made it clear in writing that a STOP campaign started years earlier -- in 2013 before the exploratory plan was even drawn up -- would have made no difference in the outcome.

FACT: The Traffic Impact Study (TIS) was carefully scoped to exclude nearby signalized intersections that fail level of service (LOS). In contempt of the Unified Development Code (UDC), they used driveways, median cut-throughs and residential T streets along Route 4 to fulfill the "three intersections in each direction" mandate. This underhanded action insured that the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" would move forward with no chance of traffic concerns taken seriously.

FACT: (Provided via expert opinion from a now former NCC Council member and expert in the field, and in a meeting between Advocates and officials from the NCC Dept of Land Use): The Orphanage Property sits atop one of the highest water tables in the State, and would be very difficult to build on without exasperating flood-prone issues in adjacent communities and a FEMA "100 year" flood plain down on Leathermans Run/Christina River.

FACT: According to NCC’s GIS mapping tool, all 180 acres of the Orphanage Property was shown as “Low Density Suburban”, in terms of future land use. Somewhere along the way, without public notice, it was re-purposed as mainly High Density for the approximate 60 acres of open field space abutting Route 4. The rest (120 acres of non-buildable wetlands, woodlands, and vernal pools) became a “gift” from the developer, to be used to fulfill what is normally a very small percentage of open space mandated in the UDC. So, in essence, when considering what was actually “buildable”, and the fact that the Chestnut Hill “Preserve” does indeed clear and pave over a portion of the forest and wetlands, the result is a negative contribution to open space.

FACT: In a blatant conflict of interest, Exec Meyer appointed Joseph Setting (Orphanage Property developer at the time, according to the WNJ, and still vested via multiple LLCs) and Michael Hoffman (of Tarabicos-Grosso, firm representing the Felician Sisters) to Chairman and sub-Chair positions on the NCC Parks Transition Team. Their job was to help Meyer prioritize parkland needs for every region of NCC. This was a clear conflict of interest, and Save The Orphanage Property (STOP) Advocates filed a formal complaint with the NCC "Ethics" Commission (NCCEC). The NCCEC would not go beyond a "preliminary" investigation, basing their conclusion on hearsay and/or very minimal inputs. They ruled that it was not a conflict of interest and did NOT appear improper, when in fact, placing Ogletown-S. Newark (aka “Route 4 corridor”) at #3 priority guaranteed the Orphanage Property would be lost to development based purely on lack of funds. The Parks budget barely had enough to cover #1 and #2 – Red Lion and Middletown – whose land was either donated or already owned by NCC. Purchase of the Orphanage Property should have easily been #1, given the one chance-only opportunity it represented.

FACT: Senator Townsend and Rep Osienski would NOT intervene, assert themselves and/or participate in Orphanage Property buyout negotiations; instead, they trusted and allowed their NCC Democratic colleague -- newly elected County Executive Matt Meyer -- to handle all negotiations on behalf of saving the Orphanage Property. Despite pleas from Advocates to oversee Meyer's negotiations, and the chance of losing this one chance-only opportunity for a park, both would not get involved and they wouldn't even enlist the highest office for help - the Governor.

FACT: (According to Townsend through emails and phone calls): Exec Meyer FAILED to include several basic conditions in his written buyout offers that he had personally promised the Sisters in prior meetings (i.e. who's going to plow the snow at the entry road, etc). According to Meyer, there were four buyout offers -- but it was later found that only two were in any way usable. Because Diller had publicly stated in public and in an e-mail to her Constituents that she was “Done and Finished” and would not support the objections to the development -- and there was no State Legislator oversight in spite of them sharing constituents and being equally vested -- none of this was rectified.

FACT: (According to Townsend through emails and phone calls): Meyer refused to offer above appraised value for the Orphanage Property, despite approx $1M dollars already spent in developer planning, engineering and labor that would have to be absorbed. The Felician Sisters, in favor of the park themselves, offered to "meet halfway" on that, as long as Meyer produced a viable offer with basic conditions met. Meyer hesitated, sticking to his non-viable offer, then he waited a couple of months for the Sisters to "counter". Upon not hearing from NCC and Meyer, the Sisters had to commit one way or the other. With so much uncertainty surrounding Meyer and government funding in general, the last Orphanage Property deadline passed and the land was locked in for development. Again, because there was no State Legislator oversight -- in spite of them sharing constituents and being equally vested -- none of this was or could be rectified.

FACT: The Ogletown-S. Newark region does NOT have a regional park, and now thanks to Diller-Osienski-Townsend (and Meyer 11th hour) they never will. This is in contempt of the State's supposed Mission included in such programs as "Livable Delaware" (Minner), Trails & Pathways (Markell), along with endless studies and data that proves the value of such facilities to the health and well-being of the communities that surround them. The economic benefits of parks are also invaluable, and they more than pay for themselves. These three Legislators went the entire opposite direction, compromising an entire region's health, happiness, property values, and right of access to healthy exercise. Instead, they chose an increase in congestion and the stresses of over-development, and to require residents to drive 15-20 minutes to use another region's park.

FACT: All 3 of the region's Legislators and Exec Matt Meyer accept numerous and generous campaign contributions from developers, land use attorneys, and others in the construction and building industry. Although STOP did receive a Resolution from the Civic League of NCC (CLNCC) in support of saving the Orphanage Property, Advocates are unaware of any efforts on their part to call out the enormous level of corruption that took place throughout the STOP campaign, most notably the above-mentioned conflict of interest and the NCCEC's failure to cite it.

FACT: A highly esteemed past president of the CLNCC had repeated to Advocates on several occasions that it is 'normal' procedure for NCC Govt and the involved Councilperson to give the genuine appearance of helping citizens and Advocates in matters of land use and conservation. Then approval of the development project goes to a vote, at which point the entire Council -- minus the Councilperson whose district it is -- votes to approve it. This, in effect, helps said Councilperson salvage their job since they voted against approval, while the others voted to approve, making it "not their fault". Citizens watched this exact scenario unfold as Councilwoman Lisa Diller was the lone vote against the Chestnut Hill “Preserve”.

FACT: (Stated by CLNCC members on several occasions): The NCC Dept of Land Use and NCC take in enormous sums of money from development projects, but in the long term, tax revenue from each new home ends up being 10-20% less than the County pays for needed civil and other services. This initial cash infusion drives NCC Council and their Legislators to act in the interest of short term self-preservation, not their constituents interests and regardless of whether existing home inventory is high or if parkland is needed.

FACT: Councilwoman Lisa Diller voted YES with NCC Council to pay above appraised value for the land that the new Route 9 “Library and Innovation Center” now sits on. This facility – while welcome for a community well outside NCC Dist 5 -- ended up costing NCC nearly $30M after what was originally projected as a $20M expenditure. Diller, however, defended Meyer’s stance that NCC will not pay a dime over appraised value for the Orphanage Property, despite a relatively small amount being clearly justified and benefiting her own constituents.

FACT: In Senator Townsend's on-line timeline "Ogletown Park", and in person and in emails, he and Rep Osienski tell a very different story from Exec Meyer of what took place during negotiations with the Felician Sisters. According to "County Efforts" -- an article published on NCC's website -- it appears certain that Meyer and NCC gave it their all in the buyout attempt. Townsend and Osienski, on the other hand, describe how Meyer was anything but sincere and genuine in wanting a regional park. Both have provided many examples supporting their positions, with Meyer going so far as to say that Townsend had originally secured $6M toward the Orphanage Property in the State’s bond bill. So in a game of "Name that Liar", we have two attorney politicians representing the County and State, with two very conflicting stories.

For all intents and purposes, the July 2015 public meeting hastily arranged by Diller was already TOO LATE for constituent involvement in terms of best use for the Orphanage Property. It was also too late for Advocates to change the outcome to a park, given so much time and money already invested in planning the Chestnut Hill "Preserve". The Public and the Constituents, most importantly those in the communities adjacent to the project, were not notified, nor asked for their input. Not one of the 3 legislators whose districts this involved reached out to Advocates, or notified the media (e.g. Newark Post, WDEL) when first learning of the Felician Sisters intent in 2013.

Counciloman Diller, Representative Osienski, and Senator Townsend refuted these facts throughout their 2018 campaigns, through hearsay or by applying their own political spin and/or attorney-speak to these events. Never once were these facts formally contested during STOP’s three year campaign, yet in what appears overwhelming fashion, the people approved of their job performance by re-electing them in a landslide. It should be noted, however, that this landslide (an average 2-1 margin for all three) represented about 20% of their district's citizens; about half are registered voters, and of those, about 2/3 turn out and vote. Then you have their legislative districts that are gerrymandered to ensure out-of-region participation. It is not clear how someone living in chateau country northwest of Newark, or someone living on Orchard Avenue near the University of DE, for example, has the same needs and interests as those living in, say, Brookside or Todd II. But then, the "system" is designed to ensure victory for these politicians, even those who commit the worst crimes against their constituents, because what effects one region likely won't affect the other (re-election chances saved).

Absent were Delaware's key so-called "environmental conservation" and civic organizations, who either refused or could not be bothered with endorsing STOP after repeated appeals to do so. A few including Delaware Nature Society, White Clay Creek Watershed, and even the UAW's CAP Council jumped on board immediately with vocal and written support of three concise Orphanage Property preservation statements. Delaware Audubon, Sierra Club, and Wildlands either declined or ignored the campaign completely. STOP Advocates were also met with resistance from Newark area "environmental" advocacy leaders, who not only didn't support STOP, but were troubled that their email list was used to reach out for endorsements.

Among the few bright spots was the Civic League of New Castle County,
 that did endorse STOP. But actual support from that organization fell woefully short and/or turned negative as the campaign struggled late. Vic Singer, their most prominent and respected board member (and 13 years past Chair of the NCC Planning Board) maintained from the outset that Advocates were conducting an "emotional" campaign doomed to failure, instead of "simply" asserting the letter of the law as written in the UDC. According to Singer, the Chestnut Hill "Preserve" could be halted at the 51st NCC building permit. 51 housing units is all that the Unified Development Code allows dispensation for when level of service (LOS) is in failure mode -- as it most definitely is along Route 4 and at its intersections. The truth is, nothing was going to stand in the way of the full development; not Vic Singer; not DelDOT, and certainly not the State legislators, who could have easily secured the funds and stopped this travesty over the 6 years they knew about it. It was completely moot, and served only to create a false sense of hope; once all the key infrastructure elements (streets, curbing, sewer, drainage, etc) were in place, even if Singer was legally correct, a way to complete the entire development would still have to be found. In spite of this difficulty, there were a few on the CLNCC that did work with the STOP campaign when there was actually a chance (before construction began) to stop it, and their efforts were appreciated -- alongside several other citizens, organizations and Advocates that gave a hand.

Given everything written above, the overwhelming odds are that a carefully orchestrated plan was in place to ensure that the Orphanage Property was developed. The Legislators mentioned above, acting on behalf of their campaign donors and/or other monetary interests, acted together to keep themselves safe from any form of judicial or disciplinary authority. NCC Exec Matt Meyer was granted exclusive control to "negotiate" on behalf of a County-State buyout, and would take the fall since he didn't need the Ogletown-S. Newark region for positive NCC-wide approval ratings. On the citizen end of things, a few folks residing in the adjacent communities of Todd Estates II and Breezewood were outstanding. But support from fellow Advocates, from so-called "environmentalists", and from local civic groups wasn't even lukewarm. That apathy, combined with rampant government corruption is what cost us this land, and given that, the Ogletown-S. Newark region will forever be at a loss -- a HUGE loss.

People's indifference is the best breeding ground for corruption to grow"
~ Delia Ferreira Rubio

“The politicians are put there to give you the idea you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land, they own and control the corporations that've long since bought and paid for, the senate, the congress, the state houses, the city halls, they got the judges in their back pocket, and they own all the big media companies so they control just about all of the news and the information you get to hear. They got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else. But I'll tell you what they don't want. They don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that. That doesn't help them.” ~ George Carlin