Bethany Beach officials have set Dec. 10 as the date upon which two plans for the proposed “Streetscape” project for Garfield Parkway will be presented to the town council and the public.
It is to be a refresher for both entities, since it has been more than three years since the council originally took up the issue of endorsing a Streetscape plan. Council composition has since changed, of course, and so may have attitudes about the elements shown in the design that was originally considered.
However, the current issue for some Bethany Beach residents is in trying to determine how each of the two plans to be presented relate to the original three presented to the Beautification Committee (a subcommittee of the Planning Commission) and the fourth, composite plan that group then presented to the commissioners and town council.
Current Commission Chairman Phil Boesch expressed surprise at the agenda for the Dec. 10 meeting, which includes a presentation by engineers from JMT (the town’s engineering consultants, and the people behind the Rehoboth Beach Streetscape design) of a Streetscape plan for Bethany Beach featuring two traffic lanes.
Boesch, and other Beautification Committee members, had adamantly stated at the October town council meeting that there was only one plan to be considered by the council — the one-lane composite plan they said was developed not only by committee members but with a bounty of public input after reviewing three designs presented to them.
In that plan (now known as Scheme 4):
• A single traffic lane, widened in the composite plan from 16 feet to 18 feet, after input from then-Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company President Wilbert Powell about the needed width to extend the bracing legs on the company’s largest fire truck;
• 22-foot sidewalks to accommodate the large amount of pedestrian traffic the area sees in the summer;
• A 9-foot parallel-parking area on each side of the street;
• A 38-foot center median featuring both tree islands and angled parking;
• Bicycle travel combined with vehicular traffic; and
• A low- or no-rise traffic circle at Garfield and Atlantic Avenue.
Boesch explained at the Nov. 19 Planning Commission meeting that the main emphasis of the single-lane plan was to change the focus and feel of the street from that of a roadway to that of a parking lot and entryway to the town — something emphasizing safety, reduced speed and awareness of pedestrians and cars pulling in and out, along with a destination feel.
For pedestrians, the plan featured wider, less cluttered (visually and physically) sidewalks. Utility poles are relocated to alleyways or lines buried underground — a popular idea and likely to be in the final design.
For drivers, the aim was to reduce traffic and traffic speed, to re-create Garfield Parkway as a destination street and not one for massive amounts of through-traffic. A side goal was to preserve as much parking as possible, including the existing 33 parallel-parking spaces.
Bicyclists lost their bike lane, but according to Boesch, that wasn’t a major loss anyway — they were already routinely forced into traffic lanes by the opening of doors from cars that were parallel-parked.
To meet their goals, the committee — and, according to Boesch, those present at an early public meeting — targeted a number of the elements presented in the three plans a design firm had brought to them. That included the single traffic lane — geared to reduce speed and vehicular interaction — and preservation of the parallel parking areas.
Boesch said those present at that meeting were divided on the roundabout or traffic circle, with geographic differences being clear. Those from New Jersey hated them, while those from the Washington, D.C., area liked them. A show of hands went in favor of the circle, he said.
Culled from those elements of the three original plans, came Scheme 4.
Accounts differ on how the plan was received. Boesch says the Planning Commission approved it moving forward from their purview for consideration by the Town Council.
Town Manager Cliff Graviet emphasized that the design itself was never finalized and that it never received an official endorsement from the commission, due to concerns about the single-lane idea and the circle, but that it was still allowed to go to the council for a vote.
Boesch has said council members had agreed to endorse the plan, with the minor reservation on the part of Council Member Wayne Fuller (a member of the BBVFC) to check it with safety officials to confirm an 18-foot lane width was wide enough and that the trucks could traverse the circle safely.
Graviet remembers unresolved concern among council members about the circle and potential traffic tie-ups with the single lane. They wanted the plan finalized, analyzed and approved by state and other local officials, he said.
As far as Boesch and some Beautification Committee members are concerned, the council’s conditional endorsement for Scheme 4 was all but a done deal. And grants for engineering on a Streetscape project (design unspecified) were subsequently applied for and granted. But DelDOT wanted an unconditional endorsement of a design from the town council and the project has languished.
So, the issue was raised again recently, with an effort to get a final plan unconditionally endorsed by the council and, hopefully, under way.
But which plan or plans should or would be presented has remained a source of debate. Boesch and Beautification Committee members, having put considerable effort into Scheme 4 and considering it their final recommendation, have put their stake into that plan.
But Graviet and some council members wanted at least one other option presented to the council before it makes a decision. So Graviet asked JMT to examine the two-lane scheme from among the three original designs done for the committee and make some adjustments.
The result is what Graviet terms “an alternative scheme.” Two changes are immediately noticeable:
• The absence of the parking shown on the original two-lane scheme that would have been located on what is Christian Church property. Representatives from the church, upon hearing of the idea, laid to rest any notion that the church would cede any of the land to the town and issued reminders that even the existing playground property is only leased to it.
• The absence of the controversial traffic circle, which Graviet said some of the council members had expressed doubts about to him and which is still a source of concern for the fire company.
The resulting “alternative scheme” (Scheme 5?) also differs from the original two-lane design in one important way — it does not eliminate 33 parking spaces.
Boesch objected to the two-lane plan as a basis for any presentation to the council on that basis. But Graviet told the Coastal Point this week that the new two-lane plan, despite eliminating any proposed parking on the verboten church property and existing parallel parking, that the number of spaces lost is just 12.
The tradeoff for that could be viewed as a positive by many:
• Retention of a bicycle lane, which Graviet views as more inviting to visitors and less likely to encourage vehicular traffic downtown, since bicycling will be a more viable option;
• 24-foot sidewalks — even wider than in Scheme 4; and
• Two 11-foot travel lanes — wide enough, according to the BBVFC to not only allow those stabilizing legs to be extended but to also allow needed room (20 feet total, minimum) for firefighters to walk around the large legs, a concern they expressed recently when the Streetscape design issue re-emerged.
Graviet said that his experience, as the town’s police chief for eight years, was that the wider 18-foot lane of the single-lane concept was also too wide to truly slow traffic as desired and just wide enough to allow drivers to dangerously move into two de facto lanes, marked or not.
The two 11-foot lanes would, he said, allow traffic flow — battling concerns that traffic might back up onto Route 1 under the single-lane scheme — while being narrow enough to inherently encourage slower vehicle speeds.
Graviet also expressed concern about the notion of shifting Garfield Parkway from travel-oriented street to destination, saying that encouraging traffic on neighboring residential streets was a potential safety issue.
Which goals, reasoning and justifications the town’s residents and council members accept will be determined, at least in part, at the Dec. 10 meeting on the issue. (A time has not yet been set.)
At that meeting engineers from JMT, in addition to presenting the new two-lane scheme, are to examine both plans for projections on how they would work based on traffic and pedestrian studies the company did last year.
Mayor Jack Walsh told the Coastal Point that aspect of the presentation was particularly important in his mind, since it would provide information the council didn’t have when it originally considered Scheme 4.
And while Boesch has complained that JMT developed the new two-lane scheme without meeting with the Beautification Committee members beforehand, Graviet said the company was to arrange a meeting with Boesch prior to the Dec. 10 presentations, to consult on the origins of Scheme 4 and get his input on the alternative plan.
Graviet also emphasized that the plan came solely from the original two-lane concept, with the minor adjustments required by the current realities of no church-property parking and concern over the traffic circle.
Both plans have been presented to the town’s citizens, in a letter to be mailed this week. It encourages thorough examination of both schemes (also available on the town’s Web site at www.townofbethanybeach.com), as well as input to the town offices and council members. That can be given now or at the council meeting on the subject, set for Dec. 10.