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City rejects request for walk-your-bike signs on South College Avenue bridge

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South College Avenue bridge

On the South College Avenue bridge over the Amtrak tracks, cyclists and pedestrians share this sidewalk. Some pedestrians say the situation is unsafe, but one cycling advocate said a proposal to require cyclists to walk their bikes is “really draconian.”

When Mona Stein crosses the South College Avenue bridge over the Amtrak tracks on her daily morning run, she often feels like she’s taking her life into hands.

The fact that cyclists and pedestrians share the same sidewalk over the bridge creates a dangerous situation, especially when cyclists pick up speed coming down hill, she said.

“I’ve had cyclists coming at me from behind and toward me, racing up and down that bridge as if it was the Tour de France. No saying to me ‘On your left’ like they’re supposed to do, no bells, no ringers, nothing,” Stein said. “The bicyclists just keep on riding, and we’re supposed to scatter.”

Stein, along with Councilwoman Jen Wallace, recently lobbied the city’s traffic committee to require cyclists to dismount and walk their bikes while crossing the bridge.

“This suggestion to make it a walk-your-bike zone could ease some of the tensions that happen there and hopefully make it safer for pedestrians to feel like they’re being allowed to use the sidewalk,” Wallace said.

However, facing staunch opposition from cycling advocates, the traffic committee unanimously rejected the request.

The stretch of South College Avenue that goes over the bridge does not have a bike lane. Cyclists can either ride in the main travel lanes with cars or on the sidewalk, which is separated from the road by a chain-link fence. Only one side of the bridge has a sidewalk, meaning that it is used by cyclists and pedestrians going in both directions.

“Essentially, the sidewalk is available for use by a bike if there’s not a bike lane available,” Acting Public Works Director Tim Filasky said, though the city has long banned cycling on Main Street sidewalks.

The bridge once had walk-your-bike signs, but they were removed because they had not gone through the proper channels for approval, said Filasky, who argued that such signage would be ineffective because the cyclists causing the problem wouldn’t obey it.

“A person who’s going to go 50 mph down the other side isn’t going to get off their bike, anyway,” he said.

Police have no record of collisions between cyclists and pedestrians on the bridge, according to Lt. Dennis Aniunas.

Dave Saunders, a member of the cycling advocacy group BikeNewark, said asking cyclists to walk their bikes is “really draconian,” comparing it to asking a motorist to get out of his car at every traffic light and stand next to his vehicle to prove he isn’t going to run the red light.

Susan Grasso, also of BikeNewark, wrote in a letter to the traffic committee that Stein’s request is not good for cyclists.

“Forcing bicyclists to either walk their bikes across the bridge or use the narrow shoulder in the travel lane on the bridge will only hamper bicycle issues,” she said.

Mark Deshon, also of BikeNewark, noted the group wants the Delaware Department of Transportation to look at ways to improve the entire South College Avenue corridor.

“We recognize this bridge is an incredible pinch point ,and it’s going to continue to be if we don’t address the whole corridor and find ways to come up with some smart compromises,” Deshon said. “We need to encourage more biking and not do things that discourage biking.”

Instead of requiring cyclists to walk their bikes, the city will improve the signs that instruct cyclists to yield to pedestrians and work with BikeNewark and the University of Delaware to educate cyclists about safe riding practices, Filasky said. The public works department will also measure South College Avenue to determine if it’s wide enough to add a bike lane.

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