With Memorial Day approaching things are heating up at the beach. And it’s clear that there is no love lost between Sussex Cyclists and DelDOT public relations Chief Darrell Cole.
Delaware cyclists say biking not a priority in the First State
By Ron MacArthur
The current issue of Bicycling magazine contains a list of the top cycling cities in the world, including the top five in the United States. Don’t look for any in Delaware.
Mike Tyler of Lewes, an avid cyclist and advocate for Sussex Cyclists, said on a scale of 1 to 10, Delaware would be at the low end, rating a 3.
Tony Pezone of Rehoboth Beach, president of Sussex Cyclists, agreed with a ranking of 3 or 4. “The state is not the worst, but it’s far from the best,” Pezone said.
Tyler said that’s because the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) places a low priority on bicycles.
“DelDOT is auto-centric and continues to place emphasis on everything to do with cars with only lip service to cyclists and mass transit,” he said.
He said the perfect example is the shared lane on Route 1 in Rehoboth Beach and Lewes. Cyclists say what’s needed is a typical bike lane, not a shared lane. Instead, bicyclists, buses and vehicles making right turns all share the lane.
“Buses need to be out of that lane,” he said.
Tyler said he and other members of Sussex Cyclists testified before Route 1 construction projects began about the need for a traditional bike lane on Route 1. “We will continue to ring the bell,” he said.
Pezone said the state has a great master plan for accommodations of bicycles and creating and adding facilities for bicycles on new roads and existing roads when projects take place.
“But they don’t follow it,” he said.
Dairy Farm Road, just off Route 9, is a case in point, Pezone said.
The road is part of the state’s designated Bike Route 1, but when repaving took place, no shoulder was added to provide a safe place for cyclists to ride. “And the drop-off is now five or six inches because of the new paving,” Pezone said.
Darrel Cole, director of DelDOT public relations, said the problems raised by Sussex Cyclists are not issues raised by other cycling groups in the state.
And he went a step further. “I wish the leadership of Sussex Cyclists were more cooperative,” he said.
“Every opportunity they get, they take pot-shots at DelDOT, and that’s very frustrating. It’s also not conducive to a good working relationship.”
Cole admitted more could be done to make the state more bicycle friendly, but more could be done on a variety of transportation issues.
“We just cut half a billion dollars out of our six-year transportation program – everything suffered,” he said. “Sure, there is more we could do, but there is limited money and resources.”
Cole said he is aware of the criticism regarding the construction of shoulders on some Sussex County roads.
“To magically think we can build shoulders on every road is a pipe dream. It takes time and money – we can’t do it all,” Cole said.
He noted that DelDOT just finished paving the last dirt road in Sussex County in 2002.
Towns want to be friendly
Tyler said there are pockets of bike-friendly areas in the state including Lewes, which he would rate an 8 out of 10.
As chairman of the Lewes Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee, he is making a push to get the city rated a Bike Friendly Town – national recognition of specific initiatives done to promote cycling and make it safer.
Sussex Cyclists members have also met with officials from Rehoboth Beach who are interested in attaining the designation. Tyler and Pezone gave Rehoboth Beach a 5 to 6 ranking.
“There is a problem with the diagonal parking on Rehoboth Avenue,” Pezone said. “Drivers can’t see bikes coming at them.”
And getting into Rehoboth Beach from areas off Route 1 is a concern. The addition of the Junction and Breakwater Trail between Lewes and Rehoboth has been a major addition to provide a safe bike route off congested roadways.
Tyler said he does not want to diminish the importance of the trail, but the fact that it’s multi-use for walkers and runners makes it extremely popular.
“It’s not a dedicated bike trail like there are in many other states,” he said. “It’s nice to be connected by a great trail, but it’s not the same.”
Cape Henlopen State Park, which provides bikes free of charge, has a paved multi-use trail.
Cyclists’ wish list
Tyler said if Delaware wants to be bike friendly, three things need to take place:
• The state needs a secretary of transportation who recognizes the value of the bicycle as a commuting tool.
• The Delaware Bicycle Council needs to have more power to influence transportation decisions.
• When bike lanes are created, they need to be maintained.
Tyler said the shining star in the state is Anthony Aglio, DelDOT’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. “But, he’s not a high-ranking official and most of what he says falls on deaf ears,” Tyler said.
Pezone said significant change starts at the top.
He said a bike route could be designated in the Route 1 corridor. “If there was a mind set to do it and people’s jobs depended on it, people would find a way,” he said.
Cole said any inference to lack of leadership is not an informed statement. “To say there is no leadership is absolutely wrong,” Cole said.
He said under Secretary Carolann Wicks, the department has made strides in its bicycle program – even with tight economic times. He pointed to the safety checkpoints and free helmet giveaways in the Cape Region, work with the Delaware Bicycle Council, rails-to-trails programs and the addition of the safety rumble strips along Route 1 between Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach – the first in the state.
“The criticisms are not accurate considering how far we’ve come,” Cole said.
Tyler said as gas prices climb toward the $4 mark perhaps more people would dust off their bicycles and use pedal power.
And this month is a perfect time to get started – it’s National Bike Month. Bike to Work Week was May 12-16, and state legislators and cycling advocates marked that event with the Delaware Legislators Bicycle Ride from Newark to Dover.
Sussex Cyclists promote bicycling
For everything about cycling, Sussex Cyclists, a nonprofit club based in Rehoboth Beach, is the group to contact. For more information on club rides, phone 302-945-3360 or visit www.sussexcyclists.org.
Mr. Cole needs to give New Castle County cyclists some credit to New Castle County Advocates. Of the 110 TIP comments submitted to WILMAPCO, 61 were related to the disparity in funding between motorized and non-motorized transportation projects. Over 50%.
The 2009-2112 Transportation Improvement Program allocates approximately 0.5 percent of funds toward cycling and pedestrian improvement projects.