Dover’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee discharged; will reform in different format

DOVER – The city of Dover no longer has an “official voice” when it comes to issues regarding pedestrians and bicyclists.

The members of Dover City Council voted 6-3 to sunset (discharge) the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee at Monday night’s city council meeting in council chambers at City Hall.

Chris Asay, who had been serving as acting chair of the subcommittee, said the decision will not deter himself and others to continue to push for better and safer pathways for cyclists and pedestrians throughout the Dover area, including the Senator Bikeway project that will eventually link the east and west sides of the city together.

“I am planning to continue to pay attention to the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians and continue to follow the actions of the city and state on behalf of those needs,” Mr. Asay said. “I believe that other members of the subcommittee plan to do so as well, but we have not, at this point, formed any kind of organization. Let’s let the dust settle first.”

City Councilman Matt Lindell had proposed discharging the committee at a Council Committee of the Whole meeting on Jan. 28 after he said members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee had been lobbying organizations and allegedly identifying themselves as representatives of the city of Dover.

He said he had issues with the way the subcommittee operates and didn’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 the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) directly and sometimes blurred the lines between “are they representing themselves as an individual, or as the city?”

City Manager Donna Mitchell proposed having city council direct her to establish quarterly meetings with members of the Dover community that have an interest in bicycle and pedestrian improvements as described in the city’s comprehensive plan.

She would then provide quarterly reports to city council updating them on the activities of the community members. City council would then consider input from the bicycle and pedestrian community in their annual list of transportation priorities sent to the DelDOT and the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“The (former) subcommittee has done a tremendous job in bringing to our attention the challenges community members have experienced in the city due to lack of focus on bicycle and pedestrian improvements,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “However, the subcommittee format has also been fraught with challenges. Public input is only that of the subcommittee and not the community.

“While public hearings and advertisements are posted, they are not reaching the general public. Property owners directly impacted are not receiving a clear understanding of the projects. Concerns have been raised because of the requirement in council’s original motion that they be city residents. Addressing this matter did not come without a lot of discourse and frustration for everyone impacted.”

She added that the subcommittee, as originally established, brings Freedom of Information Act requirements, Roberts Rules of Order when conducting meetings and official minutes. It requires city staff support and time after regularly scheduled work hours.

“When city council approved the subcommittee, monthly meetings, staff resources, facilities and materials were not considered in council’s motion,” she said. “I’m not sure it was council’s intent to require staff to support a subcommittee and give up their personal time.”

Since its formation in 2012, the Dover Bicycling and Pedestrian Subcommittee has left its mark on the city’s roads and sidewalks.

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.

Mrs. Mitchell said the subcommittee’s work will continue, just under a different format.

“The bicycle and pedestrian community members are very active and passionate regarding available and safe forms of transportation,” she said. “If the members would like to continue with more frequent meetings during evening hours, we will be most happy to provide a room in the (Dover Public Library) for their use.

“Disbanding the formal subcommittee and directing (me) to establish quarterly meetings will still enable these community members to have a voice in various modes of transportation without having to be a city resident and adherence to the requirements as promulgated by the Freedom of Information Act.”

Mrs. Mitchell added that “the disbanding of the subcommittee will not be an impediment to the next phase of the Senator Bikeway. This phase is underway and will continue as long as it has the city’s support.”

The vote to “sunset” the Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee was a fractured one.

Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. said he felt that discharging the committee was a political boycott against its’ members.

“I don’t cannot believe that there are individuals that do not want to serve on this committee, or (the city) just does not have the manpower,” he said. “I’m not going to vote in favor of this. I’m going to take a stand and it will remain on record.”

Councilmen Sudler, David Anderson and Ralph Taylor all voted against discharging the subcommittee.

Mr. Asay was far from surprised by the council’s final vote, which eventually did discharge the subcommittee in its prior form.

“The ebbs and flows of the political process result in seemingly crazy actions like this one that happened, in which most of the city councilmen first state what a great job the subcommittee members have done over the seven years of existence, and then turn around and eliminate the subcommittee,” said Mr. Asay. 

“Our current city manager (Mrs. Mitchell), who seems to have little education in public administration or transportation policy – but is highly skilled in budget management – has been fiercely dedicated to minimizing or eliminating any small monetary cost to the city, even if those small costs result in millions of dollars in transportation improvements, national recognition and elevated quality of life in our community. I don’t fault her for having a different view than me.”