A lack of continuous pathways throughout the Dover area and Kent County discourages bicyclists as what appears to be a dedicated bike route often disappears as riders are forced to merge with traffic.

    A designated bike route starts along the eastbound lane of South Little Creek Road and runs about a block before ending at a heavily traveled intersection where nine lanes of traffic converge.

    Another nicely painted bicycle route runs south along Saulsbury Road but disappears into a vehicle merge lane approximately 300 feet past the Route 8 intersection.

    The story’s the same on North Street, moving east toward the railroad tracks where the off-road path abruptly ends and bikers have a choice of riding into a traffic turn lane or onto an uneven gravel shoulder.

    For bicyclists navigating the roads throughout the Dover area and Kent County, the scenario is far too common. What appears to be a dedicated bike route often disappears as riders are forced to merge with traffic, often putting their safety in the hands of those drivers with whom they now must share the road.

    Local cyclist Chris Asay has been working for more than a decade to improve conditions for bike riders. The avid bicyclist knows area roadways well from his years of commuting by bike to work and for pleasure. Though he continues to ride, he’s noticed an increasing risk with additional vehicles on the road and said he has friends who have quit riding on certain stretches for fear of their lives.

    “Every now and then it looks like we’re getting bike improvements but in a practical sense they’re no improvements at all because they’re discontinuous,” he said. “You can have a beautiful bike path that runs for a long distance and has a couple of dangerous gaps and nobody’s going to use it.

    “For the average Dover resident who wants to get out and get a little exercise or take the kids out, it just doesn’t seem safe anymore,” Asay said.

    Asay was encouraged when he worked on a 1997 Bicycle Transportation Plan for the city of Dover but more than 10 years later, he said none of the recommendations to improve bicycle and pedestrian routes have been carried out.

    In fact, Asay said intersection improvements throughout Dover have made traveling by bicycle more dangerous because shoulders have been changed into turn lanes forcing bicycles to merge with vehicle traffic.

    “It’s a step in the wrong direction in terms of getting people to use roads,” he said.

Local government leaders weigh in

    Dover City Councilman Gene Ruane has bicycled on area roads and knows first-hand about the safety issues presented to bicyclists.

    The need for improved bike routes is included in the city’s current draft comprehensive plan and he believes it should be a highly ranked priority.

    “We’ve made some improvements over the years with both city and DelDOT support but the attention now needs to go to identifying the gaps and segments needed to provide a continuous network,” he said. “It’s being done in a rather piecemeal fashion now and it’s an on-again, off-again program.”

    The county, likewise, included bike route improvements in its recently passed comprehensive plan.

    Levy Court Commissioner Eric L. Buckson is a major proponent of improved roadways in unincorporated areas and believes better bikeways would go hand-in-hand with safer roads.

    “From an accessibility standpoint there’s no question that having bike paths and bringing something like that to the forefront is needed,” Buckson said. “It’s a quality of life issue when you look at how to make Kent County a better place to live.”

Funding an issue

    The reason for the piecemeal process of building bike routes comes down to funding, said Juanita Wierczoreck, executive director of the Dover/Kent Metropolitan Planning Organization.

    “There’s no money for anything right now,” she said.

    While state mandates have required new road improvements to provide bike lanes, the result has been short, disconnected strips that lead nowhere.

    Though improved bikeways are part of the latest version of the Dover/Kent MPO Regional Transportation Plan, the map denotes a general route that follows existing roadways with no differentiation between which ones have shoulders or designated bike lanes.

    And with no law requiring funding of bike lane projects, Asay doesn’t expect much to come from the MPO, comprehensive plan or any other current plan.

    “There’s no mandate to make the connections in between,” he said. “It just pays lip service. There’s no teeth to it.”

Email Melissa K. Steele at melissa.steele@doverpost.com