Bicyclists traveling down Main Street have to either ride in the roadway or walk their wheels on the sidewalk unless they want a ticket from the Newark Police Department.
The city recently put up signs on Main Street informing cyclists that it is illegal to ride bikes on the sidewalk – a law NPD spokesman Lt. Bill Hargrove said has been in place for decades, but was not always enforced.
It also wasn’t properly signed, “and that’s been the problem,” he said.
Bikes are not allowed on Main Street sidewalks between Tyre Avenue and South College Avenue or on sidewalks throughout the city where there are designated bicycle lanes or sharrows, such as on South Main Street and Delaware Avenue. Cyclists must ride in the same direction as traffic and obey the same rules of the road as cars and other vehicles.
On Main Street, cyclists are encouraged to use the entire traffic lane.
Hargrove said sidewalk cycling is as much as a congestion issue as it is a potential safety hazard with cyclists trying to navigate around heavy foot traffic, sometimes even running into pedestrians.
“When people collide like that, everybody ends up getting hurt,” he said.
Public Works Director Tom Coleman said the city is planning to put down 16 decals on the sidewalks along Main Street, in addition to the signs, as another way to let people know they have to walk their wheels.
“Basically, when you enter a block, you’ll see one,” he said.
The decals, which show a bike and a skateboard, will be installed this spring as the weather gets warmer.
Hargrove said officers are already out on foot and on bikes enforcing the restrictions. Anyone riding on the sidewalk will have to pay a $69 fine.
Bike advocate: Enforcement ‘long-overdue’
Jamie Magee, co-founder of the Newark Bike Project, said dangerous cycling on Main Street has been a problem for years, recalling a time he was almost run over by a bike in front of National 5 and 10 when he was 14 years old.
“It’s long overdue that they started enforcing that,” he said.
He said he is aware of numerous bicycle-pedestrian collisions downtown involving residents, university students, visitors and even local delivery riders like Jimmy John’s employees, who make deliveries on bikes, and are “not being as careful as they should be.”
During an interview with the Newark Post in January 2014, when Jimmy John’s first opened its doors at 133 E. Main St., franchise owner Russell Lehmann said the sandwich shop would use a bike delivery system to get around Newark’s one-way streets, promising to deliver orders in no longer than five minutes.
“You can get a lot of places on a bike quicker than you can in a car,” he said.
However, an accident last fall involving a Jimmy John’s delivery driver and an elderly woman proved quicker isn’t always safer.
According to NPD spokesman Cpl. James Spadola, the incident occurred at approximately 2:11 p.m. Nov. 20 near the intersection of East Main Street and Tyre Avenue as the 64-year-old woman made her way across Main Street from Tyre Avenue.
Spadola said the Jimmy John’s employee was riding east – the wrong way – down Main Street when he collided with the woman, who was not walking in a designated crosswalk. The woman was knocked to the ground and suffered a head injury. She was taken to Christiana Hospital and later released.
Spadola said both the cyclist and the woman were ticketed for the incident.
On Tuesday, a Jimmy John’s manager, who declined to give his name, said part of the training to be a delivery driver is knowing the local laws about biking. He said drivers are told to follow the rules of the road and not to bike on sidewalks, but would not comment on the November incident.
“We pride ourselves on delivering our food freaky fast, as we like to say, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to break the rules,” he said.
Skateboards not allowed on sidewalks or streets
Skateboards – defined as “play vehicles” in city code – are also not allowed on Main Street sidewalks, but they aren’t allowed in the roadway, either. Hargrove said skateboards are banned between Library Avenue and South Main Street, meaning skaters have to carry their skateboards if they travel downtown.
Tyler Jacobson, who owns Switch Skateboarding at 54 E. Main St., called the restrictions “frustrating.” He said many UD students skate to class and would benefit from using Main Street as a throughway, but due to Newark’s rules, they have to walk or find roundabout ways to get to their destination. Jacobson thinks it’s time the city puts skateboards in the same category as bikes, instead of labeling them as “play vehicles.”
“I feel like skateboarding should be treated as a viable means of transportation,” he said.
NPD Officer Shannon Craig recently started a community policing project to deal with complaints of skateboarders on Main Street. She is working with Jacobson to create an educational pamphlet that he can hand out to his customers, informing them that skateboarding is not allowed on Main Street. The pamphlet will also tell customers about the two skate parks in the city.
Jacobson said he wants to help, but the real issue goes beyond his reach.
“There’s so many college kids that come here from out of town with their skateboards that may never stop in the store, so I don’t know how much impact handing out a flyer to the customers will really have,” he said.
Student’s death highlights need for safety
The city’s new signs and enforcement push come roughly five months after an 18-year-old University of Delaware student from Merrick, N.Y., was hit by a cyclist while walking on campus.
The student, Matthew Rosin, died at the age of 19 on Wednesday morning at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, where he had been unconscious, non-communicative and medically unstable for the past few months as a result of the severe brain injury he suffered from the accident.
The crash occurred at approximately 4:45 p.m on Oct. 23 on a patio located on the east side of the Trabant University Center near South College Avenue.
Rosin was standing outside Trabant participating in an event sponsored by the student group SCPAB, which included a concert in the patio area.
At the same time, a cyclist was riding on the sidewalk that runs parallel to the east side of Trabant and collided with Rosin, who fell backward and hit his head on the sidewalk. Rosin was knocked unconscious, and several student bystanders initiated CPR until paramedics arrived.
The bicyclist, also a UD student, was not injured and was not charged. At the time of the crash, university officials said there was “no crime involved.”
Before Rosin died, he underwent several surgeries to remove pieces of his skull due to brain swelling, as well as procedures on his chest and abdomen. The family was raising money to help cover the medical bills on a GoFundMe page created by Rosin’s sister, Halli. As of Wednesday, the page had raised $26,270.
Rosin’s parents are also suing UD for damages, claiming the university acted negligently by failing to create rules to keep bikes off busy campus sidewalks, and allowing cyclists to operate their bikes in heavy pedestrian areas.
The lawsuit, filed in Delaware Superior Court last month, also accuses the university of not protecting Rosin and other students attending the SCPAB event outside Trabant on Oct. 23.
UD spokesman Peter Bothum said in a statement last week that while the university does not prohibit bikes on the Trabant patio, The Green or other university sidewalks, “bicycle riding on university pathways is only permitted when riders do not create a hazard to themselves or others.”
He said the university also has a “Walk Safe Bike Safe” program, which encourages positive behavior and safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. The campaign officially kicked off Oct. 13 – just 10 days before Rosin’s injury – and focuses on university police rewarding individuals for being safe with “thank you” vouchers, in addition to handing out violations to offenders.
Bothum said UD students are expected to observe Newark ordinances when riding their bikes on city sidewalks. Rosin’s injury, however, occurred on university property.
Coleman said the city was planning to crack down on sidewalk cycling anyway, but the accident at UD brought the issue to the forefront. He hopes the university follows suit.
“I think that raised awareness in general,” Coleman said. “Having a regulation doesn’t do you any good if nobody knows that it’s there.”
A push for change at UD
Timothy E. Lengkeek, an attorney representing the Rosins, said that the family is suing the university not just to recover funds, but also to evoke change.
“One of the main reasons Matthew’s family wanted to file the lawsuit is they want the university to enact rules about where and when bicyclists can ride so this does not happen to any other students, like many universities already have done,” Lengkeek said.
Cycling is not permitted on sidewalks at the University of Maryland, according to the school’s website, meaning riders have to dismount and walk their bikes.
At Penn State University, bikes can only be ridden on approved bicycle routes and campus roads, and riders must walk their bicycle at all other places. Bikes are prohibited from sidewalks and pedestrian paths in the “limited bicycle zone,” but cyclists are allowed to ride on malls and pedestrian paths outside central campus. Anyone in violation of the rules faces a $10 ticket, according to the school website.
Magee said Rosin’s crash is unfortunate, but he’s not surprised that it happened. He said many people cut through the Trabant plaza to get to central campus instead of looping around through Delaware Avenue.
“It’s like the most sensible way to get there, but it’s also the most dangerous,” he said.
Magee thinks the university unknowingly lacks the infrastructure for cyclists to safely ride around UD campus because there is no physical separation between pedestrians and cyclists. He said bikers have to weave around pedestrians, which can get dangerous – especially on The Green, by Trabant and near Kirkbride Lecture Hall – during class changes.
“It’s like a big free-for-all,” Magee said.
He said the university could create designated bike lanes on The Green by painting the bricks a different color, or add onto the existing brick pathways and create a new lane that is completely separate from pedestrians.
“There’s ways for it to work physically, but it won’t look as aesthetically pleasing,” he said. “It would change the look of The Green quite significantly and maybe UD doesn’t want to do that, aesthetically.”
In the meantime, Magee wants to install bells and lights on students’ bikes for free and has been talking with university officials to secure funding for the parts. Cyclists would ring the bell as they are approaching pedestrians from behind, and the lights would help with riding at night.