Before approving its long-term Regional Transportation Plan the Dover Kent Metropolitan Planning Organization addressed comments from local cyclists who say the plan doesn't do enough to promote a safe and organized system of bike routes in the county.

    The Dover Kent Metropolitan Planning Organization approved its updated Regional Transportation Plan Jan. 28, but not without considering some public criticism of the plan, especially its treatment of bike routes throughout the area.
    The plan is a long-term planning document that catalogs and prioritizes road and transit projects, calculates their costs and projects the environmental impact transportation will have on the region in the future.
    In a summary of comments received during a month-long public review period, MPO staff outlined citizen concerns related to bike paths, traffic signals and passenger rail service.
    The most substantial of the comments, however, indicated displeasure with how the updated plan characterized the availability and usefulness of established bicycle-friendly travel routes in the county.
    “The MPO should make mention of problematic areas for bicycle use and emphasize that small, hazardous gaps along bike routes make the entire route unacceptable for bicyclists, specifically in cases of U.S. 13 and Bay Road, which have heavy traffic and no bike paths,” read one entry in the comments summary.
    Area cyclists have complained about the lack of continuity in dedicated bike lanes along major roads, especially at busy intersections.
    MPO Executive Director Juanita Wieczoreck responded to the criticism at a meeting of the MPO Council Jan. 28. The council, which voted to approve the plan, is made up of representatives from local governments, the Delaware Department of Transportation and the community.
    “We agree that Routes 13 and 113 do pose significant barriers for people riding from one side to another,” Wieczoreck said. “We’re getting more bike paths, but that volume of traffic is daunting.”
    Another citizen comment asked the MPO to complete a regional bike plan by January 2010, and to “insist that bike and pedestrian projects be funded separately from auto projects and built every year.”
    Wieczoreck said she’s not opposed to including stronger language on the importance of well-planned and continuous bike routes, but cautioned against adding rules that would make it more difficult to complete road projects.
    MPO council member and DelDOT Planning Director Ralph Reeb said at the meeting that updating the MPO’s bike plan by the end of 2010 is a reasonable idea.
    “We do welcome the interest,” he said. “We do have a bicycle plan, but I think it’s time to refresh it.”
    Camden Mayor Robert Mooney agreed with public comments that cited unsafe conditions for bikers at major intersections, especially in right-hand turn lanes. He asked Reeb if DelDOT has any means to erect physical barriers that would prevent vehicles from crossing into bike lanes and protect cyclists from cars making right-hand turns.
    Reeb said that DelDOT has developed no plans for barriers, and that a combination of painted lines and “Share the Road” signs are the primary means for reminding drivers to watch out for cyclists.
    Another comment urged the MPO to add plans for passenger rail service that would serve Kent County, but Wieczoreck said such an addition would not be feasible.
    “Passenger rail service can’t be included in the plan because there’s no funding for it,” she told the council at the meeting.
    Federal regulations governing regional transportation plans require final drafts to include realistic funding provisions that cover their lists of projects. If no such funding is expected to be available for a project from state or local sources, it can’t be listed in the plan.
    Conversely, transportation projects only can be initiated if they are listed in the plan.
    Now that the MPO has approved the plan, it will be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency for a final review.
    After those agencies lend their seals of approval, Reeb said the plan and the MPO’s list of transportation improvement projects can be amended should additional federal stimulus funds for infrastructure become available.
    Brad Eaby, member of the MPO council and Kent County Levy Court commissioner, said that by March the council will have an updated list of projects that can be expedited if funding materializes.