Council continues to discuss changes to Walnut Street

Terry RogersGovernment, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Bicylce and pedestrian lanes as well as narrowing of the roadway are being considered to address speeding on South Walnut Street.

At a recent workshop, Sonia Marichic-Goudy, Associate Vice-President of Century Engineering, presented potential changes to South Walnut Street between McCoy Street and Maple Avenue designed to slow traffic and add pedestrian/bicycle lanes. The project was presented to the public at two different public information sessions. On Monday, August 28, the plan was presented to council and opened up for public comment.

“We’ve been working on over the past several months with the team here at City of Milford. We had a few project goals including improvement to the bicycle and pedestrian connectivity along South Walnut Street. That was in consultation with your comprehensive plan as well as the Milford Bicycle Master plan,” Marichic-Goudy said. “We were looking to add a new shared use path as well as completing gaps in the existing sidewalk system. But we also wanted to provide traffic calming measures and reduce traffic speeds as much as we could, as well as improving some of the pedestrian crossings, the one at Seabury Avenue and Clark as well as Jefferson at the railroad.”

During the study, Marichic-Goudy explained they had reviewed crash data and discovered there were 18 crashes over a three year period.

“Most of the crashes occurred when there was a lot of traffic on the road. So, during rush hour, school let out time, things like that, we saw a peek in the actual crash numbers. We also looked at the speeds so current speed is 25 miles per hour,” Marichic-Goudy said. “The average speed that we looked at was from September 11th through the 19th where we checked speeds every day. The average speed was 27. The 85th percentile speed was 31. There was one speed that was clocked very, very high over 90 miles an hour while 62% were of the vehicles were traveling more than the posted speed limit. And we did notice that half of all crashes occurred basically at McCoy and then the intersection with Seabury.”

There were no fatalities in the crashes, and most were simply sideswipes and property damage. This information was used to create the first option for slowing traffic and adding pedestrian lanes. That plan would require the removal of all existing parking and the narrowing of the roadway as a method to slow traffic.

“So as part of industry standards or industry guidelines, when we’re looking at how we can calm traffic, narrowing roads, shifting roads, adding roundabouts which really wasn’t an option for this this roadway configuration. There’s various select options that we have in the menu of what we can do,” Marichic-Goudy said. “So, we did implement a few of those. And then concept two was similar. We still have a shared use path on one side and connecting the sidewalks on the other. But we were able to conserve some parking. So in between the utility poles, we would do a bump out so that we could have still some street parking. And overall, this option was received better at the workshop. They’d like to keep the parking,”

One of the outcomes of the public workshops was a request for all-way stop signs at McCoy, Seabury and King’s Highway. Marichic-Goudy explained that a stop sign warrant analysis was conducted using three main criteria for adding all-way stops. The first is crash data which requires five or more crashes in a 12-month period. The second is volume, a certain number of cars approaching the intersection for a one hour period in an eight hour timeframe. Finally, sight distance must be taken into consideration.

“None of the intersections met a crash analysis for a stop sign. And then we went on to look at the volume criteria and none of the traffic volumes warranted a stop sign at any of the three intersections,” Marichic-Goudy said. “And then we looked at the other criteria like were there any locations that would benefit from having all of the traffic stopped or even the minor approach stopped, and none of those actions met those criteria either. So essentially, none of these locations met the warrants and so we do not recommend adding a stop sign at McCoy, Seabury or Kings Highway.”

Marichic-Goudy was prepared for comments that even though all-way stops were not warranted, they would add a level of safety and were less expensive than other alternatives that slowed traffic.

“I talked about what happens if we put a stop sign there anyway. We wanted to be ready for the community who might say we don’t care if it’s warranted, we want a stop sign there. So, generally if you install a stop sign when it’s not warranted, motorists get upset because now they’re stopping at a stop sign and there’s nobody there for them to stop for. They might try to recover lost time and go faster once they get through the stop sign or they may stop obeying it altogether and just run the stop sign,” Marichic-Goudy said. “In which case, now you may have pedestrians who think I can cross here safely. There’s a stop sign and now there’s a conflict. So, it is better to recommend traffic calming measures like narrowing the lanes, introducing roadway curbs, both of which we did in both options. And then there’s always speed enforcement that could be completed by police officers versus trying to add a stop sign that’s not warranted.”

At the public workshops, those in attendance were happy with the explanation for why all-way stop signs were not warranted. Marichic-Goudy explained that they were recommending going with the second option which would add a separate bike and pedestrian lane, create greenspace and allow for some parking along South Walnut Street. The cost of the project would be $4 million which would include contingencies, utility relocation, construction engineering, right-of-way and preliminary engineering.

“We will refresh all of the existing signs, will add crosswalks at certain intersections here at McCoy, we’re adding crosswalks so that we’re crossing everyone a little bit safer. Then much of the same we’ve got the shared use path crosswalks on the minor approach, new sidewalk on the lower side as necessary to complete the gaps. And then here we’ve got the intersection with Seabury,” Marichic-Goudy said. “So we did some modifications to that intersection so that as you’re crossing on the Seabury side of Walnut, you do have a pedestrian refuge, you do have a way to get kind of up to Seabury to get up to the school. And then we refresh all the striping and signage so that it’s everybody knows there’s pedestrians crossing here.”

In addition, Marichic-Goudy explained there would be a shared use path added for cyclists and pedestrians.

“We reconfigured the intersection with the railroad so it’s a little bit clearer. What we heard in the first community workshop was that sometimes people don’t know where they’re supposed to turn in how they’re supposed to operate. And so, we brought that in more to a 90 degree into Walnut, so it was a little bit clearer,” Marichic-Goudy said. “And then just past the railroad, there is the historic area and so we switch the shared use path to brick so that it matches more of that historical character and stays in keeping with that area and then at Maple, we do add a side road crosswalk.”

Councilman Andy Fulton asked if large trucks traveling on Seabury would be able to make the turns easily and Marichic-Goudy stated that they did a turn analysis, learning that a truck or school bus could actually make a U-turn in the area. Councilman Todd Culotta had several questions about the proposed plan.

“I got a couple of statements on this that I just want to put out there. So, in my mind this overall is a $4 million stop sign. Okay, stop signs are a lot cheaper than four million bucks,” Councilman Culotta said. “Let me use your arguments that those intersections don’t qualify for a stop sign based on your analysis. We put two stop signs on Seabury Avenue and those are mainly because we got a lot of complaints of speeding. Now we did a study, you went through the process. We brought it before the council, and we voted on it. I didn’t think we needed to, but we agreed to.”

Councilman Culotta continued, remarking that police presence was not the answer either.

“That is an important part of it. But the police can’t be everywhere all the time. And we can’t just have a cop setup on South Walnut Street all the time and we only have three or four people on the shift at one time anyway. And then once we solve speeding on South Walnut, the problem dies down, they go somewhere else and then it’s right back up. So, the police are not always the answer. They are a short term solution but not always the answer,” Councilman Culotta said. “This has nothing to do with you, but we just over the last year and a half mandated people go out and fix the sidewalks where we felt it was necessary. And now we’re going to tear them all out on this road and pay to put them back in. How was it fair to residents that paid for sidewalks to be to be fixed or comply with what was provided by the city? Those are my general statements on it.”

Councilman Culotta continued, stating that he did like the design as it seemed to improve the roadway.

“I don’t like the fact that you’re taking parking away from some the front of some people’s houses and especially on South Walnut and if you don’t have a driveway off the South Walnut, parking is very difficult,” Councilman Culotta said. “And so, sometimes parking with an extra foot that you would take away, it does impact that and that’s not everybody in the main area you’re talking about. It’s not as bad because that’s a narrow already. But that is something to think about. Those are three things that I think are pretty big hurdles to this. I mean cost is always the biggest one, right, the cost benefit, but in the short term it would not hurt to put stop signs up if in fact that’s what the community wants to see how that works out. And, I would argue, it’s working on Seabury. I didn’t like it at first, but I moved here in 1982 and many people were there long before me, and Seabury never had stop signs. And they didn’t have the accident criteria that I think was what you’re using for your argument, but we still put them there. And for the most part, they’re working.”

Mark Whitfield, City Manager, explained that council did not vote to put the stop signs on Seabury, but to ask DelDOT to do a study to see if they were warranted. DelDOT did the study and found those two intersections did warrant all-way stops. Because South Walnut Street is actually a DelDOT highway, Whitfield did not believe DelDOT would allow an unwarranted stop sign to be placed on the street. Marichic-Goudy stated that they would “frown upon it,” to which Councilman Culotta stated that “not permitting and frowning upon it were two different things.” Councilman Fulton pointed out that this was a snow removal route as well.

“How will the bump outs work with snow removal?” Councilman Fulton asked. “Won’t that be where they will dump the snow from the roadway?” Marichic-Goudy stated that with the greenspace, snow could be dumped there rather than in the bike and pedestrian lanes or bump outs.

Councilman Culotta pointed out that residents who had repaired sidewalks have complained about snowplows damaging the walks, so with the new bump outs, that would be an additional obstacle when snow had to be plowed.

“I looked at the data earlier and the major warning signs right now, right there at Seabury. Just a half a block below are two major developments. Right next to each other. They’re starting to build out, they’ve already cut into Walnut Street as they begin to build the next phase and while the Simpsons Crossing is farther down the road, and it only takes, I think, 20 more cars an hour to hit your magic number,” Councilman Mike Boyle said. “And I think that will be achieved in a year. So, I option to add a stop sign. It seems to maybe serve two purposes. alleviate some problems now that we get complaints about speeders. Looking down the road, perhaps prevent them from reoccurring.”

Marichic-Goudy stated that they did look at future traffic projections and that even with the growth anticipated on Walnut Street, a stop sign was not warranted within the next 20 years.

“Yeah, the problem with South Walnut is as I ride my bike up and down from Lincoln, not as much as I’d like to but I do, it goes from 25 heading to Lincoln to 40 and then it goes back to 25 once you come into town and I mean that 40 is a suggestion out there. I mean, cars fly down there. And so, they come into Milford, and they still pick up a lot of steam. There’s nowhere for them to stop between there to get downtown. Not until the stop sign in front of City Hall,” Councilman Culotta said. “You say that will kind of go, they’ll dip, go hit the railroad tracks and then they’ll go fire off and speed up again. The stop sign would break that flow. You know, somewhere in there, whether it’s New Street or one of the three that you mentioned that still was we’re talking big money here, you know not to get technical, and it doesn’t really mean a lot. People don’t really pay attention to bikers, but bicycles have the same rights in the road as a car does. That’s a Delaware law. It is nice to have a bike lane for safety reasons, but arguably the bikes have the same rights as a car does going down that road. So, it is a relatively wide road now which I think is what contributes to speeding.”

The option proposed by Century Engineering narrowed the roadway a bit, according to Marichic-Goudy and research showed that when a driver has to turn the wheel or the road narrowed, the natural inclination is to slow down. She felt that introducing unwarranted stop signs could increase driver aggression to the point they would not stop, or they could try to make up time by going faster as they got past the stop sign.

“I just like the crosswalks because that’s been a pet peeve of mine since I moved here because crosswalks going from Walnut Street, across Walnut Street, near Clark,” Councilman Fulton said. “Because once that middle school opens back up again, you’re gonna see a lot of flow of kids cut across railroad tracks up the side streets, and then they’re going to be trucking across there to get to the school and, and it’s always been a Frogger situation for all the kids. It’s been closed for multiple years now but it’s gonna reopen and they definitely need a crosswalk.”

Crosswalks also tell a driver to slow down, Marichic-Goudy said.

“Crosswalks will also help kind of detect for the driver that there’s something changing here, maybe I should slow down,” Marichic-Goudy said. “Probably not the driver that was going over 90 that day, but some of the ones that are speeding but going closer to the speed limit they may slow down when they see crosswalks.”

James Puddicombe, City Engineer, explained that the city had applied for grants for the project. His department estimated they could get up to $3.8 million in grants which would have an 80/20 split between DelDOT and the city. Since the road is a DelDOT road, that agency had indicated they are willing to share costs in getting the project completed.

“Mark, just to add, we did get three TAP application acceptances from DelDOT. They wanted to include a portion of this particular project,” Rob Pierce, City Planner, said. “It’s just trying to determine where that money would be funded. They wanted to fund the gaps that were down towards the southern extents of the project, but we may try to get them to do maybe from the railroad tracks up to Maple. So, we’re trying to pull funds together to do this in one swoop or in multiple stages.”

Councilman Fulton asked that crosswalks be painted as quickly as possible.

“Ironically, it sounds easy to paint the crosswalks but, correct me if I’m wrong, James, but I think if we paint the crosswalks, we have to have an ADA compliant curb,” Whitfield said. Puddicombe confirmed that was true.

Councilman Boyle pointed out that the area they were discussing was not a rural area.

“I think the reality of it is this is an urban environment. Not a lightly populated area. And to me, Councilman Fulton’s comment about when the school reopens in a couple of years, at the at the old middle school, there’ll be 1,000 students. A lot of kids. And the school straddles both Seabury and Clark, so they don’t pick up a lot of traffic,” Councilman Boyle said. “There’ll be a lot of people in the neighborhood and a lot of bicycles. Considering that, I think we have a case go to DelDOT and say we need an exception to pursue this based on the fact that this doesn’t fit their model. It is already a heavily traveled and a populated area and it’s going to get more so in the next few years. Yeah, come back later and try and retrofit can be done on a lower cost.”

Councilman James agreed, stating that he felt incorporating stops signs along the way would benefit, especially with the construction of Simpson Crossing, Milford Ponds and the opening of the middle school.

“In discussing what that shared use path out there near the Ponds, because I’m walking all over Ward 2 all the time. I’m on my feet. I’m running, jogging, walking. And that shared use path is wonderful because it’s nice and wide. And, honestly, I still don’t like ever riding a bicycle on Walnut because I have little faith in some of these drivers, especially the ones that go 90,” Councilman Fulton said. “But a shared use path would be wonderful out there because then I would actually be tempted to use it. My senior now, I say that because she was known as my little one, which was a long time ago, but my senior, me and her would jump on our bikes and ride downtown instead of jumping in a car because it was a shared use path. It’s safer. And it would be a lot better because I’d rather not be run over.”

Pierce explained that staff was trying to fit the entire project into an existing right-of-way, but that the plan could be adjusted in the future.

“There’s nothing that would preclude, in this particular concept of future design plans from adding a stop sign later. There’s not a lot of adjustments that would need to be made to accommodate that. So, it could be something that we get started with the design of this particular layout and then come back to the stop signs at a later date and try to see if it’s warranted at that time,” Pierce said. “And then, as Councilman Fulton mentioned, there is a shared use path at Milford Ponds, The Simpsons Crossing development is also going to be installing a shared use path along its entire frontage. So, the intent would be providing that connectivity from the far southern end, the far community all the way back into downtown and allowing riders of all ages and abilities to utilize instead of having your kids ride in the roadway or on the sidewalk.”

At the next meeting, Carolyn Price questioned what would be done while the shared use path was constructed.

“I think that they need to put lines on some of these streets to narrow the lanes. I think that would slow traffic down and it shouldn’t cost that much money to just put lines in and more crosswalks. I believe that that would make it safe. We walk our dogs at least two miles every day. And we’ve had people fly through crosswalks while we’re standing in them,” Price said. “I feel that there should be more advertising because I’m not altogether sure that people understand that it’s the Delaware law to stop for people. And then when they get the new school, we’re going to have all those children coming from those developments and I know there are a lot of them because we walked through Simpson Crossing with the dogs and they’re gonna want to be able to safely get to school.”

Price also worried about the many large trucks that travelled through town.

“Another concern is the truck traffic I think is out of control in this town. I feel that the semi-trucks every time they go past my house, they hit a bump or a repair in the street and our whole house shakes, our neighbor’s little tea set on her microwave shakes and I end up straightening my art all day long because it literally shakes. And I also feel that they’re dangerous,” Price said. “And I think that there has to be a better way reroute them so they can get to the warehouses off of McCoy and I know it would be inconvenient for them but today, I had to guide this huge, loaded semi flatbed. He was backing up all the way down School Place because he didn’t know where to go. And he asked how to get to 84 Lumber, and he was right on School Place. I just think it’s out of control, especially downtown. And especially in front of the post office. They barrel by the post office, and we all know there’s a lot of foot traffic with people crossing the street there. And it’s just frightening, and these are things that we witness all the time.”

Price was the only person to make comment about the plan, despite advertisement that council wanted to hear from the public about the proposal. During the additional public comment period later in the meeting, Price spoke again.

“Again, my major concern is what is going to be done during this all the planning of this bike path because right now I’m a little afraid in this town. So, that is my major concern, slowing down the traffic coming up with a plan. I don’t know if it means more tickets. It’s good to sometimes in order to change the behavior of an adult might be hitting the wallet and that might be maybe more four way stops. Things that you can do that aren’t expensive but are helpful. Narrowing the lanes. We have so many straightaways and people just turn off of South Walnut on two wheels onto Seabury Avenue and so it’s very dangerous out there. That’s why I refuse to ride a bike,” Price said. “I was almost hit on South Walnut. I am glad I had a rearview mirror on my bike because I could see this speeding car. And he came within inches of me.”

Price continued, talking about a visit to Colorado recently.

“And so, in Colorado when we were there last time, we went by an elementary school, and there were probably 15 bike racks completely full. They have designated bike paths, and they’re actually even separated from the road. And it was such a beautiful sight to think that kids could get on their bike and ride to school. I don’t know of really any parent that would feel comfortable about their child getting on a bicycle right now and riding to the library. I don’t think I would let my daughter even in high school,” Price said. “My neighbor was hit and landed on Rehoboth Boulevard, she’s now 89. But a policeman happened to come by and see her, she was knocked unconscious on her bicycle. I think she said it was 10 years ago, so she was 79 when that happened. I’m getting too old to repair. So, in the meantime, I just would like to suggest that things be put in place until these bike lanes are installed if you decide to go through with the project and they are put in place.”

Council decided to table a vote on the matter to allow one more option for the public to make comment on the plan. The matter will be placed on the September 11 agenda where it will likely be taken to a vote.




















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