North State Street: Traffic calming measure a couple of years in the works

DOVER — It’s been a couple of years in the making, but traffic is about to get a little “calmer” on North State Street, at least that’s what Delaware Department of Transportation officials and nearby residents are hoping.

North State Street will be experiencing both daytime and nighttime closures in both directions from Pennsylvania Avenue to Columbia Avenue from next Monday until Nov. 30 as a traffic calming feature — a “median island chicane” — is installed to slow traffic down in the area.

Dover City Council members voted unanimously in the summer of 2016 to construct the “median island chicane” on the northern stretch of State Street, which travels past the Silver Lake Cemetery.

A chicane is defined as “an artificial narrowing or turn on a road.”

Greg Layton, a spokesman for DelDOT, acknowledged that changes to North State Street were coming a couple of years ago and now there is finally a timeline for the project.

“In cooperation with the city of Dover and working with Representative [Sean] Lynn and representatives from the community along North State Street, DelDOT looked at various options intended to reduce speeding along North State Street,” Mr. Layton said. “Several options were considered, but impacts to the adjacent properties were significant, thus undesirable.

“Ultimately, the idea of what is called a ‘chicane’ was proposed for the area between Columbia Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue. This measure will help to slow traffic as it enters the more densely populated areas of the upper end of North State Street.”

Rep. Sean Lynn

Rep. Lynn, who represents the 31st District in Dover, said he had been asked by Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen a couple of years ago to chair a committee with neighboring residents to look into the traffic situation on North State Street.

What Rep. Lynn found was traffic that was coming off U.S. 13 continued to speed at around 35 to 45 mph as it traveled down State Street, which has a 25-mph speed limit.

“I’m most excited for the residents of North State Street who worked so hard on getting this traffic-calming measure installed,” said Rep. Lynn. “It is the culmination of a long effort by the North State Street Neighborhood Watch and Neighborhood Link.”

The “median-island chicane” will be the latest in a number of safety improvements that have been put into place on North State Street in recent years, including a working stop light at the roads’ intersection with Walker Road – it was previously a flashing yellow light – and single-lane traffic up to Lepore Road. It had been two lanes.

There have also been new bike lanes added to both the northbound and southbound lanes of State Street and Governors Avenue over Silver Lake Bridge.

Mike Somers, senior transportation planner for DelDOT, said the idea of the median island chicane is a “horizontal measure” to slow traffic as it enters and leaves North State Street.

Mr. Somers said the chicane would contain the driver’s field of vision, causing motorists to naturally slow down.

“The idea is to slow drivers as they enter the corridor,” Mr. Somers said. “The median should slow traffic [in front of the cemetery] but it will not extend all the way down the street. Nothing done in one place will change the nature of all the traffic.”

Mr. Layton said the chicane will fit right in with the neighborhood.

“It is intended to be a visually appealing measure, and designed to be consistent with existing local architecture,” he said.

Tim Slavin

Tim Slavin, president of Dover City Council, said that he lives in the area of North State Street and is “very aware of the concerns with the traffic.”

“There is a high frequency of vehicles speeding in both directions,” Mr. Slavin said. “Part of the issue is because the road becomes wider for cars traveling northbound because no one parks in front of the cemetery.

“The downtown area is choked, causing drivers to slow down, and the sudden crest that leads to the causeway across Silver Lake naturally causes people to accelerate. I believe a median will help slow the traffic.”

Mr. Slavin said the city has already placed speed alert readers on both sides of North State Street, in response to one of the measures asked for by the residents.

Several residents of the impacted area of North State Street welcome the changes, saying it should make the area much safer.

However, there are also several people who do not welcome the changes.Terry Maine, who works at 1st Preference Mortgage at 800 North State Street, said last year that he travels the road every day and finds it consistently frustrating.

“My feeling is that there was no thought put into this reconfiguration as to traffic impact studies,” Mr. Maine said. “Also, I am sure police, fire and EMS are having difficulties getting through at vulnerable times because there is no place for traffic to go, as required by law.

“I work at Compass Point Business Center on Silver Lake, so I am on this road every single day. I have had clients complain that they have to sit through several red lights just to go less than a quarter-of-a-mile – not really the thing you want to hear as a business person.”

John Caldora, the area coordinator for Wesley College’s south campus, said the college supports the speed-control measures for the increased safety of its students.

“One of our freshman students, Brittany Paige, was killed (in 2015) at the cross section of Walker Road and North State Street,” Mr. Caldora said. “She was an education and special education major from Maryland and a bright and warm person who is greatly missed.

“I think the [speed-control measures] will encourage motorists to pay attention and to slow down in that area.”

Ms. Paige was struck and killed by a car while she was jogging on North State Street near Silver Lake Bridge on March 16, 2015.

Police said that Ms. Paige, a 19-year-old from Dundalk, Maryland, was jogging and stopped to cross the street at 4:47 p.m.

The police investigation showed Ms. Paige had been jogging on the southbound side of North State Street. Traffic was stopped facing southbound at the intersection with Walker Road when she walked between the stopped vehicles.

Witnesses said she had been looking at her cell phone and was wearing earbuds as she walked through the traffic and then began to jog across the northbound lanes without looking for oncoming traffic.

Ms. Paige was hit by a Mazda that had just turned left from Walker Road onto North State Street.

For Rep. Lynn and DelDOT officials, finding a way to get traffic slowed down to make traveling North State Street safer was a long process and they are glad they finally agreed on the construction of the chicane.

“We had a difficult time trying to find something the community would accept because many of the measures considered would take away a lot of the parking in the area due to the way State Street is laid out,” Mr. Somers said.

“The median island chicane should be effective.”

Dover City Councilman Fred Neil is all for the new safety measure.

“Slowing down traffic never hurts and (the chicane) could save lives,” he said.

 

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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