Traffic woes grow on Dover’s North State Street

Traffic on State Street and Walker Road. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Measures have recently been implemented by the Delaware Department of Transportation to increase safety for bicyclists and pedestrians on North State Street, but they have also angered some motorists due to backups in the morning and evening rush hours.

Greg Layton, spokesman for DelDOT, said, “It is a trade-off that is in the overall best interest of the traveling public.”

The safety improvements that have been put into place on North State Street include 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.

Terry Maine, who works at 1st Preference Mortgage at 800 North State Street, said 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.”

Safety comes first

Mr. Layton said the changes to the roadway were implemented in the name of safety.

“The Dover/Kent County MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) and the city proposed this change to DelDOT Planning and DelDOT Traffic who evaluated it and agreed to make the change,” said Mr. Layton. “The intent of the change is a major safety improvement for bikes and pedestrians.

“Northbound traffic on North State Street will now have to stop at a traffic light, which will create some queueing and delays that did not previously exist. However, bike and pedestrians have been given space to walk and ride as well as time to safely cross.”

Mr. Maine said “the only way to correct the issue would be to put it back to the way it was.”

Fred Neil, a Dover City Councilman who represents the affected 3rd District, said he hasn’t personally heard any complaints regarding the redesigned stretch of North State Street.
He said he backs the improvements in the name of safety.

“I must rely on the experts from DelDOT working with the neighbors who have initiated the complaint and participated in the process,” Councilman Neil said. “I will side with the Dover citizens who made the complaint, rather than the drivers who find the slowdowns inconvenient.

“As for the work completed on North State Street, I think it looks great. Whether it would slow traffic after State Street splits with Governors Avenue going south into the downtown remains to be seen. It may for a while, but only a speed monitor can determine if it’s working or not.”

Death sparks push for changes

The changes to North State Street were made in the wake of the death of a Wesley College student two years ago.

John Caldora, the area coordinator for Wesley College’s south campus, said at a city council meeting the college supports the added safety measures for 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.

Other measures had been, may be taken

Prior to DelDOT’s recent improvements, there had been other changes made in the name of safety on North State Street.

Last summer, Dover City Council members voted unanimously to construct a “median island chicane” for the section of North State Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and Columbia Avenue and to extend the 25 mph speed limit to the Walker Road intersection.

The speed limit had increased to 35 mph for drivers traveling northbound on North State Street slightly north of Pennsylvania Avenue heading towards the Walker Road intersection.

However, the speed limit has since been decreased by 10 mph in that area and a speed alert reader on the northbound side of North State Street on the block north of Hazel Road has been installed.

Mayor Robin R. Christiansen isn’t so sure the proposed “chicane” will be needed now due to the DelDOT changes.

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

“We haven’t put that (chicane) in that’s planned and I think we need to revisit that before it happens, because we already have people who aren’t used to the (new) traffic (pattern),” the mayor said. “The initial concern about putting the (chicane) has been handled by the new traffic pattern, so I think we’ll revisit that issue.”

Councilman Neil said there are a couple of issues that could affect the chicane’s future.

“The question is, should the chicane be installed now or wait?,” he said. “The answer depends on how it affects DelDOT plans if we wait.

“If we would lose the funding for it, I would say put it in place because my constituents most affected wanted it. Slowing down traffic never hurts and could save lives.”

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