On the road to reality: Senator Bikeway breaks ground on trail

This is the area just past Booker T. Washington Elementary School on Division Street where a large concentration of the work will be taking place for Phase One of the multi-phased Senator Bikeway project. Submitted photo

DOVER — The Senator Bikeway, a long-sought after multi-use trail for bicyclists that will eventually run from Dover High School at its west end and will cross over U.S. 13 to White Oak Road on the east side of the city, has broken ground.

Phase One of the multi-use trail will focus mainly on the areas around downtown Dover. The estimated $3.5 million project, which will be built in several phases over multiple years and eventually be 3.5 miles long, gets its name from the fact that it will take cyclists and walkers past three school in the Capital School District.

Gerry Pennington, chair of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee, and Chris Asay, vice chair, gave an update on the Senator Bikeway to members of the Council Committee of the Whole’s Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee in Council Chambers at City Hall on Tuesday night.

“The Senator Bikeway has finally got construction started,” Mr. Asay said. “They broke ground over near the railroad tracks (on Division Street), put in some crosswalk material, and they’re going to be putting in another device to help with crossing the railroad tracks if you’re a bicyclist crossing from the west to the east.”

“Phase One of the plan is what is on the table for this year.”

City Councilman Ralph Taylor, chair of the city’s Safety Advisory and Transportation Committee, was excited to hear the bikeway has broken ground.

“I’m a firm believer that the city should make an investment into promoting bicycle safety within the city limits,” Councilman Taylor said. “I believe that if we want more people to start using these pathways, let’s tell them about it.

“Let’s tell them about the safety, let’s tell them about the options, the greenhouse effect, there are so many positives with this that instead of us letting it sit quietly on the shelf I believe we need to promote it a whole lot more. I’m a supporter.”

Mr. Pennington and Mr. Asay said the first phase of the Senator Bikeway includes an off-road multi-use path on the north side of Division Street from near Saulsbury Road in front of the (Booker T. Washington) Elementary School to the traffic light.

After the light, heading east, the path will become a “protected bikeway,” meaning it is a two-way bikeway on the north side of Division Street. The bike lanes will be separated from Division Street motor vehicle traffic by small plastic devices called delineators, described as “a visual fence between automobile traffic and the kids on the bikeway.”

From there, the bikeway will go over the railroad tracks and will then turn north on North West Street for two blocks. At that point, the trail turns east onto Cecil Street before crossing State Street, turning onto an alleyway two blocks north to Washington Street, where it will take a right and head into Silver Lake Park.

Councilmen issue concerns

Councilman Tim Slavin had some concerns with the alley portion of the bikeway.

“I’m a huge supporter of the project,” Councilman Slavin said. “I think it’s a wonderful project. That route of bringing bicycle traffic up through that alley from Cecil Street up through to Washington Street, one of the boundaries is my property there, and we have a significant problem with traffic in that alley because it’s a cut-through to get to North State Street.

“We might encourage (the Delaware Department of Transportation) to look at that issue.”

Bill Hare, city council president, had concerns with the city having to pay for replacing the delineators every time some of them get knocked down.

City Manager Donna Mitchell said that was part of the deal when city council gave its approval to build the Senator Bikeway.

“The city staff will have to maintain all of them (delineators),” Mrs. Mitchell said. “The project was what was approved by council, so this is part of the project. Since council approved the Senator Bikeway the components that go with that project the city staff will have to maintain. Anything curb-to-curb, we have to maintain.”

City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. issued concerns over safety and asked Mr. Asay if any safety studies had been done regarding the bikeway. Mr. Sudler brought up the deaths of cyclists that have occurred on the bike lanes on U.S. 13 in recent years when they were struck by motor vehicles.

“I’d like to make a distinction between those bike lanes on (U.S.) 13 and the Senator Bikeway,” Mr. Asay said. “The bike lanes on (U.S.) 13 are considered by national standards to be a high-stress bike lane because of the high volume of traffic and the high speeds and so on.

“What we’re intending to do with the Senator Bikeway is to create a low-stress bikeway that doesn’t put folks in that kind of position. Almost all of the bikeway is on off-the-road multi-use path and there’s a small section that has the little delineators for about two blocks. A bunch of the bikeway after heading east from there are neighborhood streets that have very low traffic volumes and a 25 mile-per-hour speed limit.”

He added, “The intention is to have this bikeway be safe enough that you’d be willing to let your 12-year-old granddaughter make the trip by herself.”

Project timing depends on funding

Jonathan Hermes, associated vice president of Century Engineering, said that he believes once the Senator Bikeway project gets rolling it will be difficult to stop.

“A lot of it depends on the funding and the timing,” Mr. Hermes said. “The project starts at Dover High School and runs all the way to (U.S.) 13. There are some spots where we’re going to have to get some easements from property owners and talk to them.

“We’re going to be going up around [Central Middle School] and into Silver Lake Park, so some of those connections are going to take a long time. DelDOT is committed to multiple phases, it’s just how much the funding will allow at each time.”

Improving bicycle mobility along Del. 8 from east to west has long been a priority for DelDOT and the Kent County/Dover Metropolitan Planning Organization, who are working together on the joint project.

Cyclists are hoping it follows in the footsteps of safer bicycle and pedestrian trails throughout Dover, such as the Capital City Trail and the bike path along the POW/MIA Parkway, among others.

Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen said bicycling is not only healthy for the riders themselves, but also for the environment.

“In many communities we see people wanting to use bicycling and walking as both a form of recreation and everyday transportation. Dover is no different,” Mayor Christiansen said. “Bicycling offers low-cost mobility for those who do not have access to automobiles, which also includes school-age children.

“It will be a great way to reiterate the importance of a healthy lifestyle and combine that with the safety aspect of using the path versus the street, we are hoping it will entice families to utilize the paths together.”

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

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