State agencies discussing pedestrian safety concerns on Route 1

Pedestrian safety has been a particular point of concern this year. In 2012, there were a total of 30 pedestrian fatalities in the state, according to the Delaware Office of Highway Safety (OHS), and within the last six months, there have been at least 13 pedestrian fatalities — several in local beach towns.

Some North Bethany residents have been so concerned that they are contacting state agencies in an effort to get the speed limit lowered along the Route 1 stretch between Bethany Beach and the Indian River Inlet.

In July, Cotton Patch Hills resident Seth Hamed sent a letter of concern to the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and local legislators about roadway safety along Route 1.

“Our goal is to reduce the speed limit on Route 1 in North Bethany to a much safer level of 35 mph, equivalent to the speed limit in South Bethany,” he wrote. “We have much cross-highway foot traffic and a density similar to South Bethany. Our lives and that of our children are at risk due to the excessive speed limit on our road.”

Hamed emphasized that he believes the only way to modify the “aggressive driving and speeding that occurs in North Bethany is to lower the speed limit to 35 mph and to enforce it!”

DelDOT officials said discussions regarding the safety concerns began earlier this summer, after several emails and phone calls expressing concern were made to the Office of Highway Safety (OHS), which were then forwarded to DelDOT. Officials there said the department is currently analyzing and evaluating collected data, and that Secretary Shailen Bhatt had been sent a letter on the issue and was made aware of the deliberations to prepare a response.

“The issue of the speed limit on SR 1 between Dewey and North Bethany is being heavily discussed internally at DelDOT, and with Ms. Simpler at Office of Highway Safety,” wrote Tina Shockley, legislative liaison for DelDOT, in a response to Hamed’s letter. “We do take your inquiry and suggestions seriously as we contemplate this matter. As noted, it will be discussed.

“We ask that you consider that the speed limit of 55 mph was established and based on engineering studies and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) that considers the safety of vehicle roadway users,” her response continued. “This speed limit is reasonable for the function of the roadway, a minor arterial that is meant to service large traffic volumes for longer trips. The roadway geometry, the cross-section and alignment, enables vehicles to travel safely at 55 mph.”

Shockley added that further study and review of crash statistics would need to be done in order to lower the area’s speed limit. Currently, the department has speed data, and they are counting pedestrian crossings and researching the area’s crash history.

“We cannot lower the speed limit arbitrarily, because drivers would likely not comply, as it would appear unrealistic,” she continued. “Again, discussions and possibly future traffic studies will occur to determine the appropriate speed limit given the changing nature of the roadway (which now includes more pedestrians and cyclists).”

Shockely added that, “In general, SR1 is not a roadway that should be crossed by pedestrians unless there is a traffic control signal that stops traffic with a red light.”

Currently, there are two crosswalks without traffic control signals on Route 1 between the Inlet Bridge and Fred Hudson Road, just north of Bethany Beach.

“They will be recommended for removal when the next roadway repaving project is scheduled,” DelDOT officials noted. “There should be no crosswalks on SR1 where the speed limit is 55 mph.”

Officials went on to say said that placing traffic signals along that stretch of roadway would not necessarily be the solution.

“A traffic signal would only be installed if it were justified based on traffic volume and pedestrian volume. There would need to be a combination of volume on SR1 and demand volume of traffic or pedestrians on the side road to consider a traffic signal. An unwarranted traffic signal would cause other concerns — the creation of rear-end crash experiences and delay.”

Hamed added that he and his neighbors have been concerned for years about the speed limit and hope it will be lowered to a “safer level.”

“We are avid bikers and runners. We cross Route 1 a few times a day to get to the bay. We are in constant fear that at some point there will be an injury due to the reckless level of the speed limit on the stretch north of Bethany populated by so many families in the summer,” he wrote.

“We have friends that refuse to bike or run because if the risk. We have friends that would never own real estate in North Bethany for the same reason. We have friends that will not vacation here for this reason. We would like to retire here, but this excessive speed limit and the reckless driving it encourages is a concern.”

“Because the roadway is in a beach area, there is also a need, but also a challenge, to accommodate the non-vehicular roadway users that use the shoulder of SR 1,” Shockley said in her response. “Special markings are provided on the shoulder, especially near side streets, to guide and control bikes and pedestrians. Bikes use the shoulder closer to the travel lanes and pedestrians use the shoulder farthest away from the travel lanes.

“Special bicycle-friendly rumble strips are between the travel lanes and the bike portion of the shoulder. The rumble strips alert vehicle drivers that they are encroaching onto the shoulder pavement. Ideally, residents in homes on the west side of SR 1 should only access the beach by driving in vehicles.”

DelDOT confirmed that they have received numerous communications from residents such as Hamed, expressing concerns about the safety along Route 1. “But it is not apparent whether they are the full-year residents or summer residents. Some of the phone numbers were cell phone numbers from outside Delaware.”

The department has been offered numerous citizen recommendations to help improve safety. Pedestrian overpasses have been mentioned numerous times; however, DelDOT officials said it would be “prohibitively expensive and pedestrian utilization would be questionable.”

Some concerned citizens have also suggested that the installation of Jersey barriers along the shoulder might help alleviate concerns about pedestrians and cyclists, to lower the risk of accidents.

“To separate travel lanes from shoulder with a barrier would not be very feasible. It would need to have many breaks for access to side development driveways. The several barrier ends would be subject to collisions,” said officials.

Shockley added that it’s a complicated issue but that DelDOT is working hard to find a solution to citizens’ concerns.

“It is a complex issue, trying to accommodate motorists, cyclists and pedestrians within the busy resort corridor. We appreciate your input and will work with OHS and various groups (Sussex Cyclists, transit, etc.) as we work to improve the safety of this corridor,” she wrote.

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