Work to complete the second phase of Dover’s Capital City Trail is underway.

It looks like a small project – just 700 feet – but it will help turn an existing trail pathway and a planned walking/biking trail into a network that eventually will stretch 14 miles through and around Dover.

Construction on the latest part of the project started the week of July 7 and should be complete by mid-September.

The Capital City Trail is a piece of Gov. Jack Markell’s First State Trails and Pathways project, made up of about 506 miles of public trails and multi-use pathways, designed for walkers and bicyclists.

For Dover, the concept goes back to the mid-1990s, when the first trail, in Silver Lake Park, was built, said Ann Marie Townshend, director of planning and community development for the city.

“This will go a long way in improving Dover as a place to live and work,” Townshend said. “It will provide a great place to walk, jog or bike, whether for fitness, transportation or recreation.”

Connecting pathways

The most recent construction already has converted part of the 5-foot-wide brick sidewalk next to Legislative Hall into a 10-foot-wide shared-use path. The pathway will extend across the grassy area between the parking lot of the Public Archives building and the St. Jones River, connecting to Loockerman Street.

Work on the $251,000 project includes a retaining wall, plus landscaping and benches, with funding provided through the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Fund. Established in 1991, the fund supports transportation projects and other efforts that contribute to better air quality and help get motor vehicle traffic off city streets.

The city of Dover has not incurred any direct costs for any of the trails projects, Townshend said, although her staff has been involved in meetings and plan reviews.

The final section, scheduled to begin in 2015, will extend the end of the current project along Park Drive to Division Street, where it will join the St. Jones River Trail.

“Any given day, if you drive along Park Drive at lunch, you see a lot of state employees walking or jogging. I think with these improvements you will see even more people out and active,” Townshend said.

Ultimately the trails will reach as far north as the Delaware Technical Community College campus to the DelDOT campus on Del. Route 1.

Aiming to be bike friendly

In October 2013, Dover received an honorable mention in its quest to be recognized as a Bike Friendly City by the League of American Bicyclists. The league recognized the city’s efforts to construct bike paths and bike lanes, bicycle safety programs in schools and events such as the Amish Country Bike Tour and the Bike to the Bay Tour.

But the city lags behind others in some areas, with the league noting Dover’s bicycle/pedestrian plan, written in 1997, is out of date.

Although Markell’s Pathway Initiative is to encourage people to walk or bike as often as possible, the primary use for off-road bike trails remains fitness and recreation, noted Christopher Asay, a member of both the city of Dover’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee and the MPO’s public advisory council.

But as things now stand, some may be put off by the perception that traffic on Dover roadways makes it difficult or even dangerous to ride or walk, he said.

“There’s been a general impression that it’s becoming less safe to ride your bike on the roads,” he said. “You’ve got three groups of people: some who will ride no matter what, and some who won’t ride at all,” he said. “Then you have the folks in the middle who are interested, but who are concerned about safety for themselves and their families. They want to see off-road trails and paths where they can feel safer.”

Dover also needs to work on connecting different city neighborhoods, particularly along east-west roadways where cyclists must ride in traffic. Those areas need to become more conducive to bike riders, he said.

“It’s almost like there’s a complete barrier from the center of Dover out to west Dover and back,” Asay said.

That and other issues were addressed at a June workshop, sponsored in part by the Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization, which has worked with the city almost from the beginning of the trails project. Those attending the workshop helped identify areas where improvements are needed, including high traffic volume and lack of shoulders along Route 8, North State Street and Saulsbury Road.

In May, the League ranked Delaware fourth in the nation as a bike-friendly state; the First State had ranked as low as 31st place only eight years ago.