Bethany Beach proposed EV charging stations

Bethany Beach has approved a contract that would add eight electric vehicle (EV) charging stations to parking spots in the downtown area, at no cost to the Town, except to connect them to electrical service. Users would pay $2 per hour to charge, plus any parking fees.

Bethany Beach will add eight electric vehicle charging stations to parking spots downtown, under a contract with the Electric Vehicle Institute (EVI) that will install the charging stations at no cost to the Town, outside the cost of connecting electrical supply to the stations.

Town Manager Cliff Graviet told town council members at their July 16 meeting that after the Town became interested in installing some EV charging stations earlier this spring, they’d discovered that Ocean City, Md., has had a five-year relationship with the EVI, under which a number of EV charging stations have been installed in the Maryland resort town.

“They make a very unusual offer to jurisdictions,” Graviet said of the deal, in which EVI provides the charging stations, performs the installation and maintains them for five years. The only thing they ask the municipalities to do is provide electricity to the charging station locations.

Graviet said town staff had mapped out eight charging station locations downtown: two across from PNC Bank, another two across the street from the Blue Crab, two more across from Lighthouse Station and two in the Town-owned gravel parking lot next to the Blue Crab. He said he believed the cost to the Town would be truly minimal, given the proximity of those locations to electrical power supply.

All of the locations would be both pay-to-park parking spots during the pay-to-park season and electric vehicle charging stations. Those who wish to charge their electric vehicles in those spots must pay to park during the paid parking season, as usual, though those who park in them but do not need or wish to charge their vehicle will only have to pay the usual parking rate. Charging costs the driver $2 per hour, in addition to any parking fee.

Graviet described the move as Bethany’s “toe in the water” with EV charging.

“Ocean City has had great success” with the program, he said, adding that it has had a positive impact on EV charging in that town.

Councilman Patrick Sheplee made the motion to accept the contract with EVI, with fellow council members noting that Sheplee himself owns two EVs.

“I’m very much in favor of these,” he said of the EV charging stations. “This is the future.”

The council voted unanimously to approve the contract with EVI.

Town to install 20 mph speed-limit signs on residential streets

Bethany is also putting a toe in the water on changing the speed limit on its residential streets to 20 mph, down from the 25-mph standard. But the change comes with a notable caveat: It’s not legally enforceable — at least not yet.

Graviet said that one of the things that generates the most complaints for the town each summer is the feeling that the town’s roads are unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists. He asserted that the town’s streets were never designed to host the volume of traffic they do during the summer, with streets just 18 to 20 feet wide and shoulders, he said, mostly claimed by homeowners for their trash bins or occupied by culverts, leaving no safe space for pedestrians and cyclists to travel alongside motor vehicles.

With even one or two pedestrians, he said, the existing 25-mph speed limit is too high to be safe on Bethany’s residential streets. Graviet said that current traffic design standards reject speed limits slower than 25 mph, and when there are exceptions made for lower speed limits, it’s usually done on a street-by-street basis.

“Rarely do you see towns say they’re reducing their speed limits due to safety concerns and actually get anything done,” he said.

Hoping to address the issue, Graviet said, the Town has been working with the T2 Center, which is affiliated with DelDOT but operates out of the University of Delaware. He said the hope is the Town might be able to get a blanket special exception to reduce its residential speed limits to 20 mph. (That would not include Route 1, Route 26 or Kent Avenue, which aren’t Town-owned streets nor considered residential.)

The Town may also, he said, ask surrounding municipalities to join in the effort. And if they can’t get the change approved through DelDOT, Graviet said, then it might be possible to get it made through the state legislature.

Graviet said the effort had been generated during a recent meeting of the Town’s new Pedestrian & Bicycle Safety Committee, which considered the 18-mph posted speed limit in the Turtle Walk community. Just to the south, he said, South Bethany has posted 20 mph speed limit signs on its residential streets, with a “novel way to enforce it” that involves citing drivers who go over the posted 20 mph speed with a violation of a town ordinance, rather than the usual traffic speed violation under state statute.

“I think we might want to approach it a different way,” he said of that option, instead favoring continuing to work with T2 to get a blanket exception to change the speed limit for all residential streets in the town.

In the meantime, Graviet said, the Town hopes to get officials on board with the idea by taking the first step of switching its speed limit signs on residential streets to 20 mph.

“Is that enforceable?” Council Secretary/Treasurer Jerry Morris asked Graviet.

“No. That’s the crux of the whole thing,” Graviet said. “This is a first step.”

So Graviet asked the council for their approval to begin changing the 25-mph signs over to 20-mph signs, “and to work to aggressively to change the speed limits down” in a more official and enforceable way. With their approval, he said, town staff would be switching the signs out as soon as they could be ordered and start to come in.

Graviet said the Town has had some good discussion with T2 on the possibility of a blanket exception for the Town to move to 20 mph residential speed limits, with the engineering standard “being created and followed that disregards important factors, such as pedestrian traffic.” Despite that, he said, “You’re seeing major jurisdictions throughout the country changing limits in residential areas to 20 mph.”

The town manager acknowledged that while there are commonly complaints that drivers exceed the posted 25-mph speed limit, allegedly going 30 to 35 mph, when the Town has put speed-monitoring devices in place in those areas, they find that very few drivers exceed 25 mph.

“But even 25 mph is not acceptable or safe,” he said of the conditions on the town’s residential streets, especially during the summer.

Morris asked whether the Town could post an even lower speed limit, such as 15 mph.

“We would like to make this appealing to those who would authorize and help us with the change,” Graviet explained, saying that 15 mph “may be too big of a step. If we want to be able to maybe enforce 20 mph, we should make it 20 mph,” he said.

Resident John Gaughan suggested the Town consider posting the speed limit at 19.01 mph to mark the Town’s incorporation in 1901, as well as to garner the attention of people with the odd number, such as the 18-mph speed on Turtle Walk’s signs.

That 18-mph number “in its own way is different,” Graviet acknowledged, “but in terms of getting a buy-in from state officials and engineers, I think we should stick with 20,” he said.

The council voted unanimously on July 16 to approve the purchase and installation of the 20-mph speed limit signs for the town’s residential streets while it continues to pursue an exception that would make that speed limit enforceable.