A decade later, Streetscape plans finalized in Bethany Beach

After more than a decade of consideration for various plans to redesign downtown Bethany Beach, town council members this week voted unanimously to approve a final design concept for the project, with its construction to potentially begin in the fall of 2012.

The council last week considered the most recent designs in a long series of proposals for Streetscape on Garfield Parkway, asking for new iterations during an April 11 workshop that would be ready for a vote at their April 15 meeting.

Consultant Mike Rothenheber last Friday again explained the elements of the various plans, including their pros and cons, before recommending a new design concept labeled as Concept 2.

Concept 2 would move angled parking in the 100 block of Garfield Parkway to the curbs on both sides of the street, next to the sidewalk. The angled parking would be head-in, as most of the parking is in that block now. (The council soundly rejected a concept involving back-in parking at the April 11 workshop.)

With the parking on the outside, the town would double the number of spaces where drivers and passengers can get out right at the sidewalk, posing less of a safety concern, Rothenheber noted.

Parallel parking would be moved from curbside to the north side only off a 4-foot-wide raised center median, which is designed to allow drivers to make their way more safely to the town’s new parking paystations.

Those using the parallel parking will have to parallel park on their left, rather than the traditional right side – an issue that council members had voiced concern over earlier last week but found consensus on preferring over back-in angled parking.

Concept 2 uses two 10-foot travel lanes in the westbound lanes of the street, on the north side of the median, while a 10-foot lane and an 11-foot lane are possible on the southern, eastbound side.

The plan also provides room for a 5-foot bicycle lane on both sides of the roadway – an aspect the council had previously been willing to scrap in favor of retaining more parking or creating wider sidewalks, but which came as a required part of the package with the front-in angled parking scheme, due to state transportation requirements for turning radius for the parked cars. The 5-foot bike lane is actually a foot wider than the current bicycle lane.

The roadway will be 101 feet wide, from curb to curb, with an additional 7 feet or more to use to widen the sidewalks – a major selling point for the council, which has targeted opening up sidewalks for pedestrians as a major focus of the project from Day 1. The sidewalks currently run about 6 feet wide, on average, and are in the process of having utility poles removed to further improve access.

Concept 3 has just 89 parking spaces on Garfield Parkway, down from 125 at present, but the town has already made arrangements to add 66 parking spaces starting this summer under a profit-sharing agreement with the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company for use of its easternmost lot off Hollywood Street and with the owner of an undeveloped parcel on Garfield Parkway, just west of the existing lot shared by the town and the adjacent bank.

Further, Town Manager Cliff Graviet reported that the town has been in negotiations over a third possible location for additional parking, which could add another 20 to 25 spaces, bringing the town to as many as 180 total in that downtown area – a net increase of 65 over the present count.

Aspects of other designs rule them out

The plan labeled Concept 1 included angled parking on either side of the median, similar to today, but updated to modern standards, including 5 feet of space allocated behind the parked cars to keep vehicles backing out from wandering into the far travel lane.

Because that 5 feet of space is at the center of the roadway, it cannot be designated as a bicycle lane – as is the case with the angled parking on the outside of the roadway – so, Concept 1 eliminated a dedicated bike lane in favor of merging cyclists in with vehicular traffic.

Under Concept 1, parallel parking would have been retained on the westbound, northern side of the road. There would be an additional 6 feet of sidewalk width – which some council members said they favored, but Rothenheber noted that there would likely be delivery and drop-off impacts, with more people trying to drop-off passengers and blocking traffic while doing so.

Additionally, he said the lack of separation between the sidewalk on the south side of the road and the adjacent traffic posed a safety risk to pedestrians. The town would also lose its on-street bicycle parking.

The bottom line, he said, was “DelDOT has concerns,” leading him to not recommend Concept 1.

Asked directly how strongly DelDOT opposition would be to Concept 1 should the council choose that, he added, “It would be a very strong challenge under the Complete Streets policy adopted in 2009. That says you need to address all the elements – not just roadway function. They felt a 4-foot raised median in the center was needed for the safety of those parking in the median. We felt it would be extremely challenging, if at all possible, to get approval.”

“Does that mean no?” asked Councilman Lew Killmer.

“As much as it’s possible for me to say, yes,” Rothenheber replied.

The third design, Concept 3, featured parallel parking on the eastbound lane, on the south side of the roadway, with angled parking on both the north and south sides of the westbound roadway and a 4-foot raised median at the center. Concept 3 retains a 5-foot bike lane – again, a step up from the 4-foot bike lane that exists now.

That third concept would also add about 2 feet of sidewalk space, as opposed to the additional 7 feet under Concept 1. It would retain the bicycle lane. Parking spaces drop from the current 125 to 94 – five more than Concept 2.

But Rothenheber said last Friday that he believed the council should choose Concept 2 to 3 because of the 5 additional feet of sidewalk width, even at the cost of five parking spaces.

Council weighs need for parking

During the discussion, Councilwoman Margaret Young focused on the net increase in parking space.

“We will pick up 66-plus parking spaces elsewhere,” she said, labeling the end result as good.

“I don’t share that view,” countered Councilwoman Carol Olmsted. “If we can have 62 extra spaces, I’d like to have 62 extra spaces, not 32.”

Olmstead said she favored Concept 1, and she asked Rothenheber to explain why it was a likely non-starter.

“If you’re going to move ahead with Streetscape, DelDOT will require you to meet current standards,” he said, pointing to the lack of a raised center median in Concept 1 and noting requirements to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, as well as a lack of sufficient room for cars to back out without going into the second travel lane. “They would make us redesign it to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he emphasized.

Vice-Mayor Jack Gordon said he, too, preferred Concept 1, but he was pragmatic about the project.

“I think we’ve got to do something,” he said. “From what I’ve heard – while I prefer Option 1 – we can’t get there from here. With the idea that we do have 90 parking spaces,” under Concept 2, he said, “we are always going to exceed the number of parking spaces we’re going to lose. … I would recommend Concept 2.”

“I prefer Concept 1 also,” said Olmstead. “The only thing missing is the bike lane?” she asked.

“There’s also less sidewalk and no barrier,” he said, between traffic and pedestrians. “The larger issue is whether DelDOT permits Concept 1 to move forward.”

“Then we would be right back at the table again,” Killmer noted.

“We can’t keep putting it off,” Gordon reiterated. “We need to do it or don’t do it.”

“This could go on forever,” said Young of the alternative, before the council cast its unanimous vote in favor of Concept 2.

Business owners concerned about parking

Jim McGrath, owner of Bethany Surf Shop, asked the council last Friday how the concept had gone from 30 spaces being lost in the original Streetscape design, then having it changed to avoid losing so many spaces and had now gone back to losing 30 spaces.

“Why has this come back?” he asked. “From a business standpoint, we would always like to see extra parking.”

Resident Steve Wode suggested the town push DelDOT to label Garfield Parkway as a parking lot, limiting the impact that bicycle and vehicular travel requirements would have on the redesign.

“DelDOT owns the road and considers it a transportation connection,” Rothenheber replied, adding that Wode’s concept of a single travel lane on either side of the road was also something DelDOT considered a non-starter.

Kathy Dryden, owner of Shore Foods and the neighboring bakery property, said she, too, didn’t like the idea of losing parking spaces.

Dryden said she was also concerned about the lack of a mid-block crosswalk – something she had been told DelDOT would not approve. She pointed to mid-block crosswalks on Route 1, at Wellington Parkway, at Sea Colony and at St. Ann’s Catholic Church.

“I don’t understand why. We’re just adding lines,” she said. “People come to a complete stop on Route 1 to let people cross.”

Rothenheber said the issue had been addressed with DelDOT and that mid-block crosswalks are against their general policy.

“Each of those is an exception,” he said of her list of mid-block crosswalks, noting that DelDOT would look at whether there is another path close by and where parking is located.

“They felt that, with Atlantic and Pennsylvania avenues so close, it wasn’t needed.”

“It is a safety issue,” Dryden replied. “We need it just to slow people down in the town of Bethany.”

Gordon, in introducing the proposals for a vote, said on April 15, “Time is of the essence.”

After more than a decade of work on the downtown redesign, including many variations, the $447,000 grant the town received this year for the development of final design documents that could allow the project to move forward is on a tight timetable. Rothenheber must complete his work before fall to maintain the terms of the grant.

That would keep the project on a timeline for bidding in the subsequent months, putting it on track for construction start in the fall of 2012 – provided funding for the construction can be found in DelDOT’s budget or through federal grants.

That remains to be seen, but DelDOT officials have hinted that it’s possible. However, that issue won’t be addressed until the town has design documents in hand and ready for bids.

But with a 7-0 vote on April 15 to approve Concept 2 as the final plan for the Streetscape project, the town could finally be on its way to a revamped Garfield Parkway.