CHESAPEAKE CITY — The State Highway Administration removed two traffic islands and four bump-outs on Biddle Street last week, a result that was the product of long-simmering complaints from north-side residents.
Installed five years ago during a $150,000 improvement project that also tackled sidewalks and crosswalks, the project intended to help slow speeding traffic on the road that doubles as Route 285 and runs to the Delaware border on the north-side of the C&D Canal, but it never received much support from local residents.
While then-Mayor Dean Geracimos supported the project along with some town residents seeking a solution to speeding concerns, many more opposed it, collecting more than 60 signatures on a petition against it in 2014.
Among their complaints from the start was the fact that the islands were too large and too close to intersections. Over the years, those concerns seemed to bear out as traffic slowed near the intersections, but increased in the straight stretches between, said Town Councilman Frank Vari, who was the only official to vote against the project at the outset and led the effort to get them removed this year.
The islands were 10-feet wide and 50-feet long, which eliminated numerous on-street parking spots along Biddle Street — a fact that became more impactful when the town opened the C&D Canal Trail in 2015.
The size of the traffic-control features also made it more difficult for residents to navigate their driveways and commercial vehicles to make the sharp turns, Vari said. Often tractor-trailers would drive over them in making turns and snowplows would run right into them.
With a new mayor and council and continued complaints from residents on the project, Vari began connecting with SHA officials last year about solutions. By the end of 2018, he had received guidance on what would be needed to move forward with a removal project.
“(SHA) told me that we needed to have a public meeting to air out grievances and find out what the public really wanted,” he said, noting that meeting was held at the firehouse in the wintertime drawing dozens of attendees virtually all opposed to the islands and bump-outs. “I think we all agreed that the bump-outs and islands weren’t reducing speed as intended.”
In April, SHA notified the town that it would fund removal of the features as part of a $40,000 patching project that will cover about 1-mile of Biddle Street, and the removal was completed last week.
“The roadway patching was needed so it made sense to just remove the bump-outs at the same time,” said Bob Rager, a SHA spokesman.
Replacing the islands and bump-outs will be road striping that will mimic some of those features in an attempt to subconsciously convince drivers to slow down, a strategy that SHA employed on a similar project on Route 213 in Cecilton.
Vari said that he hopes SHA will use the Chesapeake City project as a learning tool as to whether islands and bump-outs would be effective in a community, hopefully saving some future taxpayer dollars in the future.
“I think it won’t be a hasty decision to install islands in the future, especially when your streets aren’t as wide as they should be,” he said.