Saturday, April 11, 2020

Where is Bike Delaware on these top 5 action items?

One of numerous "goat paths" in New Castle County. Without the State's
advocacy org working with DelDOT on pathway connections between
neighborhoods and commerce, foot traffic will make their own.
A frequent question we receive at 1st State Bikes is this: What exactly is Bike Delaware doing in the interest of bicycle & pedestrian safety? What are they actually doing to advocate for local access to pathways, connectors, and regional parks in order that folks can stay out of harms way -- not just for bike/ped transportation but for recreation as well? They did advocate for some local spur trails to connect a few high profile projects, such as the Jack Markell Trail in New Castle. Beyond that, it is very difficult to quantify any efforts they are making. There is virtually no organizational transparency, nothing to the effect on their web platforms, and countless opportunities have come and gone without their support or involvement. If anything, they have a history of undermining the advocacy efforts of others, that could have brought sweeping reforms e.g. the updating of the vehicle code for pedestrians.

In no particular order, here are 5 badly needed action items that Bike Delaware -- along with State and County legislators -- could and SHOULD be working on right now:

Update Delaware's vehicle code for modern times, commensurate with other progressive States

Delaware consistently ranks in the top 5 most deadly States to walk in, even taking #1 just a few years ago. An overhaul (pdf) of Delaware's vehicle code for walking was completed 4 years ago in bill form. The draft "Pedestrian Bill" was modeled after other progressive States such as WA, MA, OR, etc. It brought Delaware's code up to date with our built environment and modern times. As it stands now, Delaware's code is overwhelmingly car-centric, placing the onus squarely on pedestrians not to get killed. It actually requires a person to be in a crosswalk before a yield is legally required, whereas other States require simple intent to cross. In other words, you could stand at the curb waiting for all eternity, because motorists are legally permitted to continue (at speed) through crosswalks unless you physically place your body out there - in harms way.

Other issues with Delaware's current pedestrian code include dispensation for soliciting just prior to Father's Day which has no relevance today. Meanwhile, the State's death and injury rate -- consistently ranking top 5 per-capita in the U.S. -- continues unabated. The legal system targets pedestrians, holding motorists blameless in virtually every case. Routine patterns such as smart phone use, speeding, and aggressive driving are never cited, though most drivers engage in it. Updating the language would be a monumental step in the right direction, helping to provide a sensible basis for education and enforcement and to give pedestrians the confidence they need to use proper facilities where available. (NOTE: Bike Delaware actually quashed Advocate's attempts at a bill to update the vehicle code to increase safety and priority of pedestrian travel. You can view the updated code in pdf here).

Fight that everyone has local access to their own regional park(s)

According to Nemours and the CDC: Comprehensive recommendations for reducing the prevalence of obesity identified improving access to outdoor recreational facilities as a key strategy for creating safe communities that support physical activity. A comprehensive review of more than 100 studies supports the CDC’s recommendation. The review found that time spent outdoors and access to recreation facilities and programs near their homes correlated positively with increased physical activity among children and adolescents. Additionally, the economic benefits are critical to community health and wellbeing.

In the corrupt defeat of regional park Advocates in Ogletown-S. Newark, losing the last significant open space on the entire Rt.4 corridor suitable for such a purpose had serious implications for biking in the region. Gone forever is a bicycle-friendly destination, key trails and/or pathways connections between several existing developments, local place-making and an enhanced quality of life. Now being paved over with hundreds of unneeded homes, thousands of residents are forever condemned to racking up and driving their bikes (or sneakers, if walking or running) 15-20 minutes, either to Glasgow or Pike Creek if they wish to enjoy such a facility. This contradicts Gov Ruth Ann Minner's Livable DE and Bike Delaware's Trails & Pathways initiatives, among others. (NOTE: Bike Delaware is not on record anywhere, at any time (since their incorporation) as having supported open space acquisition and preservation. If anything, the record shows that they prioritize development, even when an entire region will lose its last park opportunity forever).

Advocate for a "20 IS PLENTY" campaign or similar

One of the most popular advocacy campaigns in the world is 20 Is Plenty. Without question, Bike Delaware should be at the forefront and leading this effort for their State. We asked Senator John "Jack" Walsh (D: Dist 9) to explore the possibility of such a campaign based on chronic speeding in Harmony Woods in Ogletown. DelDOT is unwilling to implement speed humps due to flawed and/or inadequate speed study data using the 85th Percentile. Then the legislators cite constant demand (i.e. "everybody wants speed bumps") as a further problem. We received the following reply from Mr Walsh:

We have completed an initial review with DelDOT and received a relative cost estimate that would be necessary if we were to change the residential speed limit from 25 MPH to 20 MPH statewide. The estimate ranges from approximately $550,000 to $1.1M for the installation of 2 signs per development since we maintain 1,501 developments statewide. This type of effort would involve fabrication and installation of over 3,000 signs at a minimum. However, the estimate doesn’t account for 1) developments that have multiple access points or speed limit signs (some developments have as many as 4-5 access points, if not more). 2) Speed limit signs co-posted with radar speed signs within developments. 3) Roads within municipalities that are state or locally maintained, such as Wilmington, Newark, Dover, Rehoboth, Lewes, etc. We have also discussed these bills with our colleagues, and we will continue to do so over the next few months. For the reasons listed above, however, we are not confident that we would be able to move legislation you proposed forward at this time.

Demand min 8' wide asphalt bike paths instead of sidewalks where shoulder bike lanes do not exist

There are numerous projects (or potential projects) all around Delaware that present clear opportunities for dedicated bicycling infrastructure, adjacent to or outside the lanes of traffic. Of crucial importance is when there is no shoulder 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. An infamous example is SR72 (S. Chapel Street) that many bicyclists use as a bike path connection between Newark, 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.

The Marrows Rd to Library Ave/SR72 phase of Newark's "Main Street Improvements" project is another example. Ironic that nobody -- not even WILMAPCO made a strong case (if any) that bicyclists cannot safely access buildings along this stretch, in particular the post office. But most disturbing 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 (and this). 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.

Reform County Codes to better facilitate bicycling

While New Castle County does mandate bicycle parking with new construction, the most glaring deficiency in their Unified Development Code (UDC) involves the retrofitting or reconstruction of existing structures. Essentially, a building and its property is only bound by rules set forth on the day of its first recorded plan; more recent requirements -- including bicycle parking -- can be disqualified, unless the project expands the building by least 1,000 square feet.

In NCC, for an existing structure, multi-modal access and improvements are put squarely in the hands of the business or property owner. They can omit said access in favor of dozens of other choices, as long as it meets this "400% improvement" matrix, however that's determined. And the problem isn't just limited to reconstruction; missing code requirements are sometimes found on brand new buildings.

In short, this represents a major opportunity for Bike Delaware to advocate for change, by asking for bicycle facilities to be a required feature in all construction types. They should also spearhead a call or write-in campaign to encourage and assist bicyclists in their own efforts to attain bicycle parking or access where it is needed most, e.g. shopping malls and strips.

Also of note: NCC continues to use motor vehicle barrier types that include hanging chains or cables. These force bicyclists -- that are permitted -- into an inconvenient detour situation, which can be very dangerous. When it comes to keeping out cars, appropriately spaced bollards (one removable) perform the exact same function as a gate, yet allow non-motorized users to pass through safely as if nothing was there.

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. Currently, Delaware ranks as the #1 most deadly State for bicycling. The above five advocacy goals are just a few of the many outlined on this website over the last 7 years that could help turn things aground. As the self-proclaimed #1 bicycling and walking advocacy org for the State, it is incumbent upon Bike Delaware to act and to advocate for the best possible retrofits and improvements in THIS built environment, in all contexts. In other words, advocate to fix what we already have. Unfortunately, Bike Delaware's main focus is walkable-bikeable design with NEW housing developments and increasing builder's profit margins. Unless this changes, walking and bicycling as "safe, convenient and fun" will continue to flat line or even decline in Delaware.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.