South Bethany gets permission for Route 1 bike racks

By Laura Walter
Staff Reporter

Parking space is at a premium in South Bethany, even for bicycles. After months of researching the topic, the town’s Planning Commission made its first round of recommendations to safely increase bicycle parking around town. This came shortly after the announcement that Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) will now allow South Bethany to install bike racks near the highway on the west side of Route 1.

South Bethany Town Council has scheduled a workshop on Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 2 p.m. to continue discussions of bike parking (plus townwide speed limits, permit parking and beach vendors), although Mayor Tim Saxton does not intend to take formal votes toward a solution at this time.

This summer, the town was torn over bicycles. Sure, it reduces vehicle traffic, but the volume of bikes overwhelmed the town’s few designated parking areas. A major concern is inappropriate parking on private property or bikes potentially sticking into the roadway and blocking of service vehicles.

“Bicycling’s growing,” said Joe Conway. “The state is promoting bicycling and walking,” but many towns have not kept up with the demand, in terms of infrastructure or parking.

On behalf of the Planning Commission, Conway treated the public to a condensed version of the full report that councilmembers received in October.

Their strategy is to address the regular weekend traffic first; observe public behavior; and then try “surge” alternatives for the busiest holiday weekends.

Ever since the Commission was assigned this topic, they have collected public input; drove around on Labor Day weekend; inventoried the town-owned properties and possible private leases; got state input; and studied other models of urban bike planning.

On Labor Day weekend, they found disproportionately more bikes parked at the beach in the northernmost section of town (“Zone 1”) compared to the rest of town.

Although they have no proof, they offered several observations: first, SB residents and visitors are more likely to bike from Cat Hill, which is farther west than other residences; second, for people outside of town limits, “Zone 1” is the closest public beach for many cyclists.

“This town was not built for this, does not have the infrastructure for the issues we have,” Saxton said.

Hindering South Bethany’s efforts are the lack of town-owned property; disinterest in property owners for leasing their undeveloped lots to the town; street width; enforceability; and more.

Council considers the options

The Planning Commission was trying to balance several goals: an amicable resolution; no unreasonable restrictions to owners’ property; preserve the town character; equitable implementation; cost effective; and minimal impact on town staff.

Along Ocean Drive, a handful of regular car parking spaces could become designated bike parking. Midtown and south, where the town is planning the first round of dune crossover improvements, bikes and carts could be stored along a narrow strip next to the path.

During the busiest holidays and “surge” weekends, there could be a “bike corral” a roped-off section of sand for bikes on the beach, along the southern edge of Sandpiper Village.

Town officials are also still hoping to lease an empty lot for bike parking, although there were no takers this summer.

Plus, DelDOT has given permission for South Bethany to consider bike racks along the entirety of Coastal Highway, west of the highway and of the metal utility poles. (This doesn’t mean the town will use every single intersection, Saxton said.)

Councilmember Sue Callaway asked about the aesthetics of parking on Coastal Highway. She was happy with the news, but, “I don’t want, as soon as you to drive into South Bethany, it looks like...”

“Sandpiper Village!” exclaimed several people who have dealt with illicit bike parking in their neighborhood.

“Like it or not, today, that is where our space capacity resides,” Saxton mused. With crosswalks and flashing lights in the right place, bicycle and pedestrian traffic could be funneled safely from the highway toward the beach.

Mostly, this will mean a change in behavior, like parking on a different street than usual. 

“We all get to the beach in different ways, and it’s a lot of work … But we all agree it’s worth it,” Callaway said. “Because that’s what we’re here for. So, we may have to change our behavior and accept that we’re going to do things a little bit differently.”

“When we change our culture … it’s going to be painful because we have to make a decision how to enforce this,” Saxton said.

“Do you think people are really going to use the west side of Route 1?” asked councilmember Carol Stevenson.

“Cars take up space, bikes take up space … There’s a limited amount of space. At least there’s an alternative,” said Linda Lewis, outgoing chair of the Planning Commission.

All the proposals had mixed reactions, which town council must balance in their final decisions later this winter.

Others questioned how bicycles would affect the beach’s natural beauty, especially if people dump their bikes next to an over-full corral.

Some people suggested South Bethany forego the roughly $50,000 Delaware Municipal Street Aid (MSA) grants in order to privatize the Cat Hill neighborhood roads and reduce cut-through traffic.

Keeping it realistic

The Planning Commission has been receiving public input since they were first assigned the topic. They said they seriously considered and responded to every suggestion, whether simple (more bike racks), out-of-the-box (shuttle service from town hall) or zany (a bicycle valet company).

The bike parking passes aren’t a realistic option, the Commission decided. Bikes aren’t licensed or registered vehicles, so “The challenge is enforceability and identifying the owners,” said the Commission’s Scott Fischer. The town would’ve had to enforce the rule; remove and store the confiscated bikes; consider the safety of people now crossing the highway to retrieve their missing bikes; and possibly auction all the unclaimed bikes each autumn, like the city of Rehoboth Beach.

“When the enforceability, the cost, the practicality, the liability is all considered — it isn’t enough. But it was considered. It was actually considered … We didn’t challenge it from just emotional [standpoint].”

Discussion will continue at the Nov. 19 council workshop. To view the presentations and more data, visit https://southbethany.delaware.gov/planning-commission. To hear the audio recordings of the Oct. 24 workshop, visit https://southbethany.delaware.gov/town-council.

• The Planning Commission’s next meeting is Friday, Nov. 22, at 10 a.m. The only agenda item so far is a public hearing to consider a partitioning request at 137 Brandywine Drive.

• There is one vacancy on the Planning Commission. Terms are for two years, and meetings are typically bi-monthly. The Planning Commission researches and makes recommendations to town council on various issues; prepares and updates the town’s Comprehensive Plan every five years; provides updates on the status of the goals in the plan; and holds occasional hearings on land use issues, such as lot partitioning or lot separation. Send questions or to submit a brief resume by Dec. 6 to Town Manager Maureen Hartman at townmanager@southbethany.org.