Two Coastal Highway fatalities are prompting Bethany Beach and South Bethany officials to push for better safety features along Route 1. The two towns agreed to form a coalition in July to push the issue with the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT).
“It would be done in the DelDOT right-of-way,” said South Bethany Mayor Tim Saxton. “There are some studies that are under way on this already, but we want to make sure we get our impression in with Bethany Beach as to what needs to be done on Route 1.”
The towns will likely reach out to include nearby homeowner associations in unincorporated areas (Middlesex Beach and Sea Colony) and try to rally local state legislators to their cause.
But, apparently, DelDOT is already working on plans to improve highway lighting for nighttime crossings. When Bethany Beach Police Chief Michael Redmon contacted DelDOT, he said, they sent him a recent lighting improvement memo about the 3.3-mile stretch from Fred Hudson Road to York Road.
According to Bethany Beach Vice-Mayor Rosemary Hardiman, a consulting firm found that daily traffic ranges from 19,000 to 33,000 vehicles daily, with a surge in pedestrian, vehicle and bike traffic in summer, which is also when a majority of related accidents occur.
“There is not a DelDOT lighting system along the corridor, and there are un-signalized pedestrian crosswalks located at most cross-streets but not all of the cross-streets,” Hardiman said.
The only signalized crosswalks are located at the six regular stoplights along that section of highway.
From 2005 to this summer, “There were 58 pedestrian and bicycle-related crashes, which is a little over four per year. However, none of the deaths occurred until the past seven months, when we had two fatalities,” Hardiman said.
Those figures are only for the 3.3-mile corridor. Additional pedestrians and cyclists have died along Coastal Highway from the Indian River Inlet to Fenwick Island.
From this report, Hardiman said, DelDOT is considering a cost-effective twin-arm lighting system to be added to the medians. DelDOT would fund and install the project, and the local governments would pay for ongoing maintenance and electricity.
DelDOT officials have promised nothing as yet, and they are just at the beginning of researching the pedestrian safety problem.
While DelDOT is looking into the issue, Hardiman suggested the creation a multi-town coalition anyway, to encourage installation sooner, rather than later, and to seek additional pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements, “including signalized walkways along Route 1 corridor, because the study noted that, of the 58 crashes that occurred during the study period, 49 of them were during daylight hours.”
Additionally, both education and enforcement are considered important, as bicycles and pedestrians are often seen traveling in the wrong direction.
“You ride your bicycle with traffic, and you walk facing traffic,” Redmon said, “And cyclists are responsible for all the rules of the road,” although they are now permitted a rolling stop when traffic is clear, he said. “You have to be aware of your surroundings.”
Redmon said his department does not typically ticket pedestrians for moving violations, such as using the wrong lane. However, both the BBPD and of SBPD have done proactive safety checkpoints for pedestrians and bicyclists, often teaching the rules of the road and giving out helmets, flashlights or reflectors.
Cell phones are distracting drivers and pedestrians
Officials emphasize that it is everyone’s responsibility to drive, walk or cycle safely.
Referencing a recent accident, South Bethany Police Chief Jason Lovins said, “Unfortunately, in that circumstance, no matter how much lighting you had out there, no matter how many officers you had on Route 1, no matter what speedbumps you put up, no matter what signs you put up — [those would not] would have prevented that.
“There’s only personal responsibility — you don’t cross in front of cars. And, right or wrong, a pedestrian’s going to lose against a 3,000-pound moving vehicle.”
However, cell phones are a major distraction for pedestrians and drivers.
“One of the biggest problems I see with pedestrians crossing is they’re doing this —” Lovins, said, hunching over and looking down “— there’s a cellphone.”
In areas lacking a pedestrian signal, Delaware law says that pedestrians must yield to vehicular traffic. However, if pedestrians are already actively crossing in the crosswalk, vehicles must yield to them.
According to Delaware Office of Highway Safety, a person struck at 40 mph has an 85 percent chance of dying.
After sunset on Dec. 19, 2018, the driver of a pickup truck didn’t see a 79-year-old pedestrian in an unlit and unregulated crosswalk near Sea Colony.
This year, after the Fourth of July fireworks, a 27-year-old bicyclist crossed into the highway, directly into the path of a Toyota van.
Beebe Healthcare has also reported an increase in bicycle-related trauma patients this summer, compared to last year.
“We have asked DelDOT for years and offered to pay for crosswalk enhancements of any sort,” said Bethany Beach Town Manager Cliff Graviet, “and DelDOT has declined our offer and said that we don’t meet their engineering criteria for them to put in crosswalks or lit crosswalks or signed crosswalks up and down Delaware Route 1.”
Local towns are hoping their new coalition and DelDOT’s renewed interest will move things forward quickly.
Meanwhile, 3 miles south, Fenwick Island is focusing on sidewalks to improve pedestrian safety. Without a continuous line of sidewalks, the people, strollers and wagons typically travel along the highway or through parking lots. The State of Delaware recently allocated the first $250,000 for the multi-million-dollar project.
By Laura Walter