Councilman looks to disband Dover’s Bike/Pedestrian Subcommittee

Traffic backs up on west Division Street next to Phase1 Senator bikeway in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Dover City Council members debated at length the usefulness of a subcommittee focused on bicycles and pedestrians after Councilman Matt Lindell sought to disband the group.

He said members of Dover’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee have been lobbying organizations and allegedly identifying themselves as representatives of the city of Dover.

Bringing the matter before council Monday was his only recourse, Councilman Lindell said, after fellow Councilman Ralph Taylor, chairman of the Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee, would not put it on that group’s agenda.

“I wanted to go through the proper process, but I had to take matters into my own hands and move it to the next level because I couldn’t have my concerns addressed at the committee level,” Councilman Lindell said. “I think this group over the past years it was created with good purposes, but it’s been allowed to become more autonomous outside of council’s realm.”

He noted that, unlike other committees, members of the bicycle subcommittee are appointed directly by the chairman of the Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee without any formal process.

The issue rankled a divided city council as some members agreed that the Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee operates on rules that other city committees do not while others praised the work being done, including the Senator Bikeway, which recently completed Phase I of its project in west Dover.

“I don’t even know where to begin with this,” Councilman Tim Slavin said. “We’ve got a city where 15-year-olds are getting killed and we’ve got an Opioid crisis and everything else, and what seems to raise the hackles of most of our councilman is a subcommittee.

“Councilman Taylor, I’ve got to call it for what it is. You say we’ve got to stop having 15-minute meetings in a rush to get out of here, yet you wouldn’t even grant 15 minutes on the agenda for this to be heard. I’m going to ask you now, ‘Would you grant 15 minutes on your agenda for this to be heard?,’ because if you do this issue can be discussed fully and completely at the committee level where it should have been discussed.”

Councilman Taylor agreed that he would place the topic on a future Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee agenda.

Ultimately, council voted 9-0 to refer the matter back to the Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee and the discussion will be continued at the Council Committee of the Whole meeting on Jan. 28.

Mr. Lindell said he has issues with the way the subcommittee operates and doesn’t think it should remain under the umbrella of the city.

“I think it’s acting more as an interest group as opposed to an advisory group,” he said, noting that instead of making decisions to council, members have lobbied DelDOT directly and sometimes blurred the lines between ‘are they representing themselves as an individual, or as the city?”

Chris Asay, vice chair of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee, defended the work of his group and vowed to press forward.

“In 2012, Dover City Council created the Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee,” Mr. Asay said. “Up to that point, Dover had a 15-year-old bicycle and pedestrian plan that was just gathering dust. In the following years, we saw the city create and adopt the 2015 Bicycle Plan and Pedestrian Plan, and have used those plans to construct a dozen or more bicycle and pedestrian paths and sidewalks, including the West Street Path and the Senator Bikeway.

“As a result, Dover earned the ‘Bike Friendly Community’ award. Right now, Dover is in the process of updating these plans to continue our progress. Without the hard work of the volunteers on this committee, along with the support from the city council, this dramatic accomplishment would not have been made. Our work is far from finished.”

Among the highlights of the group’s work has been the annual Bike to Work Day that takes place in May in Dover, completion of a 60-page Dover Pedestrian Plan in 2014 and a 73-page Dover Bike Plan in 2014-’15 – including the Senator Bikeway as the top recommendation.

The committee also has worked on opening the Capitol City Trail, a one-mile bicycle and pedestrian multi-use path connecting Silver Lake Park to the St. Jones River Trail in 2014, starting the Ride of Silence event in 2015, having a Bike Rack contest in 2016 and completing the POW/MIA Parkway’s three-mile bike and pedestrian multi-use path adjacent to the travel lanes.

“This subcommittee has worked closely with the city council, the Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee, the Department of Planning and Inspections, the Parks Department, DelDOT and the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization to make significant improvement in the ability of Dover citizens to walk or bike to get where they want to go, if they wish to do so,” said Mr. Asay.

Support for the subcommittee

City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. appeared to be taken aback when he heard that Councilman Lindell was calling to discharge the subcommittee.

“The question is, ‘Are they hitting the aims of the committee’s objective?’,” Mr. Sudler said. “They’ve done some work recently in the city of Dover that I thought we were very appreciative of and I thought that was something that we supported. Before I talk about disbanding a committee, I’m looking at, ‘Do they meet their aims? Did the city of Dover play a role in some of the dysfunctional behavior that I’m hearing, and have they been given an opportunity to bring clarity?’

“I just don’t believe in throwing away people’s initiative and willingness to make the city even greater than it already is. I’m not hearing from the other party and I just don’t believe in just one side shutting it down. I would like to hear from them or at least have some evidence.”

Mr. Anderson said that instead of being disparaged, city council should recognize the work that they’ve been able to accomplish.

“Part of a misconception is that they don’t address pedestrians,” he said. “I’ve actually found them to be one of the most important allies for pedestrian safety in several areas, including the Dover High crossing, which can be partially credited to their lobbying.

“I think this action is, at best, premature and I think that is unfortunately guided by the fact that there are some who have personality conflicts with members of the committee and I don’t think you build long-term policy based on personalities. Personalities will change, but policy will endure.”

Mr. Taylor said several of the subcommittee members were talked to in a disparaging way — but did not elaborate on that — which led to several members, including chairman Gary Pennington, to step down near the end of last summer.

“The mass exodus was a direct result of council talking to people in a way where they felt no value whatsoever after all the hard work,” said Mr. Taylor. “This committee consisted of professionals of all types, business owners, employees of the city who are informed, well organized and collaborative as they met monthly with city officials, DelDOT, MPO, Capital School District, a consulting firm, etc.”

Others with a different view

City Councilman Fred Neil said that Dover’s 2019 Comprehensive Plan, which was adopted by city council at Monday’s meeting, shows the city’s commitment over the next decade to expand bicycle transportation lanes. He said that with or without a subcommittee, Dover was dedicated to alternative modes of transportation.

“Removing this committee does not change anything,” Mr. Neil said. “They (could) still have a presence as an Ad Hoc Committee to come to this committee and talk to us and tell us what they need. What we’re going to have to do is look at the safety as far as the pedestrians, because that is what has been missing.

“This is not an anti-bicycle council. We know, because we represent more people than bicycle people. We represent a vast number of constituents who have come to us, quite frankly, upset about the bicycles and the bicycle lanes because it affects what they’re doing, and it scares the heck out of them.”

Mr. Lindell said there’s nothing stopping members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee from forming their own group and advocating for bikes and creating a private group in the manner that one in the city of Newark did.

“They can meet wherever they want, without the trappings of FOIA (Freedom of Information Act), and they can lobby to their heart’s content with anyone they want, and it doesn’t blur lines with the city,” he said.

Mr. Lindell also said there are certainly greater challenges the city should be taking on.

“If you want to tell individuals that we’re addressing pedestrian issues, I have a resident in the First District who’s fallen several times on our sidewalks, which many of them are not ADA compliant,” he said. “He’s even gone out personally and marked 39 locations in this city where the cracks are, some of them where he has actually fallen. Now show me where that’s appeared on the committee.

“If you haven’t looked around, we’ve had several water-main breaks in the past few weeks (in Dover). So, we have a lot of other issues with infrastructure and, while bikes fit into a part of that, we need to look into the bigger picture, as well. I don’t think necessarily the committee is looking at the bigger picture and looking at all the various interests and parts that are involved.”