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.