City, DelDOT studying ways to improve Cleveland Avenue
Cleveland Avenue is a dangerous road, one of the worst in the state.
That fact is not debatable, according to state and city officials, who cite statistics showing there were 358 crashes on the 1.11-mile stretch of roadway between 2011 and 2014.
“These crash numbers are very scary,” said Matt Buckley, a consultant for the Delaware Department of Transportation.
What is up for debate, however, is the best way to make the road safer while also reducing congestion and making the road more accommodating for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Cleveland Avenue is scheduled to be repaved in 2017 or 2018, so time is of the essence as officials study the best course of action. If a plan is approved in time, the changes can be incorporated into the repaving project for little added cost, Buckley said.
At DelDOT’s urging, the city has convened a committee of city officials, residents, Cleveland Avenue business owners and other stakeholders to suggest and evaluate ways to improve the road. On Tuesday, Buckley presented to the group his analysis of several possible solutions.
The committee will meet in a few weeks to vote on each suggestion. Those approved at the yet-unscheduled meeting will be forwarded to the city’s traffic committee, which will make a recommendation to city council. The council, which has final approval, is expected to take up the issue in late fall or early winter.
Here is a look at some of the major proposals being considered:
‘Road diet’ The most visible of the proposed solutions would be what DelDOT refers to as a “road diet.”
Under the plan, the portion of Cleveland Avenue that is currently two lanes in each direction – between Paper Mill Road and Capitol Trail – would be reduced to one lane in each direction with a shared center turn lane.
This would eliminate the need for left-turning motorists to stop in a travel lane, a frequent cause of rearend crashes, as well as frustration.
“We’ve had some rather staggering crash clusters involving sittingduck left turners,” Buckley said, adding that other drivers abruptly changing lanes to avoid stopped vehicles also cause concern.
He said traffic modeling and a similar project recently completed in Claymont shows that reducing the number of lanes would not lead to more congestion, though he admitted that seems counterintuitive.
Providing the center turn lane would mean through-traffic would be less interrupted and lead to a more comfortable driving experience.
“As you drive down Cleveland Avenue, you’re on edge,” Buckley said. “But when you create a turn pocket, that fear is minimized.”
Reducing the number of lanes would also allow crews to install bike lanes on both sides of the road.
Councilman Stu Markham, who represents the area surrounding Cleveland Avenue, said he supports the road diet but said the city needs to make sure it engages residents and explains why the reduction makes sense.
“People will have a hard time understanding how you go from four lanes to two without affecting traffic,” said Markham, who added he gets many complaints about Cleveland Avenue from constituents. “It sounds like a win-win, but we need to prove it.”
Five-point intersection Perhaps the most vexing part of Cleveland Avenue is the five-point intersection where Cleveland Avenue, North Chapel Street, Paper Mill Road and Margaret Street meet. It is a frequent area of traffic delays, due in part to the fact that green light time has to be split several ways because of the four roads that intersect.
DelDOT originally studied implementing a traffic circle there, but officials found that the traffic volume is too high, and a roundabout would cause more problems that it would solve, Buckley said.
Instead, he is recommending taking Margaret Street out of the mix, meaning more green light time could be allotted to the other roads. Motorists would still be able to turn from Cleveland Avenue onto Margaret Street, but traffic would be prohibited from entering the five-point intersection from Margaret Street.
Instead drivers coming from Margaret Street and the businesses on Creek View Road would have to take either Christopher Lane, which connects to Cleveland Avenue near Domino’s Pizza, or Creek View Road, which connects to Paper Mill Road near Timothy’s Restaurant.
If the change is made, Buckley said, DelDOT would evaluate the merits of installing a traffic light at Paper Mill Road and Creek View Road.
Pedestrian safety On the portion of Cleveland Avenue between Paper Mill Road and North College Avenue, the block dominated by student rental homes, the most pressing issue is pedestrian safety. The road as a whole saw 10 pedestrian-involved crashes in a four-year period.
Officials are focusing on improving the safety of the pedestrian crossing at Wilbur Street. One suggestion is to build a concrete median so that pedestrians only have to cross one lane at a time, rather than waiting for the right time to cross both directions of traffic.
Doing so would require eliminating parking in surrounding area.
The committee is also considering eliminating parking on Cleveland Avenue altogether. Doing so would take away the hazard of pedestrians darting out from between parked cars to jaywalk across the road and would allow for the creation of a buffered bike lane.
However, Newark Public Works Director Tom Coleman conceded that such a move would be “contentious.” Most of the rental properties have parking spaces in driveways and backyards, but with several people living in each house, parking is extremely tight.
There is also the issue of two designated handicapped spaces, but Coleman said his department is reaching out to those residents to examine alterative solutions.
Scramble phase At certain times of the day, students heading to and from the University of Delaware’s Laird Campus flood the intersection of Cleveland Avenue and North College Avenue.
This causes traffic congestion, in part because turning vehicles frequently must yield to pedestrians.
To fix this, Buckley suggests implementing a “scramble phase” for pedestrians. That means during a particular phase of the light cycle, all traffic would stop and pedestrians could cross the intersection in all directions – north-south, east-west and diagonally. Then the light would proceed to vehicle-only phases, eliminating vehicle-pedestrian conflict.
A similar solution was implemented at the intersection of Delaware Avenue and South College Avenue last year.
Buckley called the scramble phase “a slam dunk.”
The Florida T The proposal that would have the biggest impact on reducing congestion is also the most controversial.
Officials are proposing implementing a “Florida T” at the intersection of Cleveland Avenue, Capitol Trail and Woodlawn Avenue. Under the plan, traffic would no longer be allowed to turn left from Woodlawn Avenue.
This would mean that the rightmost lane of northbound Capitol Trail would never have to stop at a red light, reducing backups at the intersection.
Buckley said this would reduce delays by 100 seconds but admitted that such a change would anger residents of Stafford and Windy Hills who use the Woodlawn Avenue exit to head toward downtown. Those residents instead would have to exit their neighborhood onto Capitol Trail from Anna Way or another side street.
The Florida T was proposed a few years ago but was dropped after strong opposition from residents.
The intersection has already been a point of contention in the last year, after Woodlawn Avenue’s green time was reduced to accommodate other changes at the intersection. DelDOT recently agreed to add a second left turn lane to help accommodate more vehicles, but both left turn lanes would be eliminated if the Florida T is implemented.
Off-road trail To further improve safety, city officials are proposing an off-road trail that would allow pedestrians and bicyclists to bypass the commercial portion of Cleveland Avenue between Capitol Trail and Paper Mill Road.
On Tuesday, Coleman presented several route options. All roughly travel behind the car dealerships and connect to either Creek View Road or Old Paper Mill Road.
The trail is separate from the DelDOT project on Cleveland Avenue and would be funded through the city’s capital budget and grants, Coleman said.
Two pedestrians dart out in front of traffic on Cleveland Avenue on Wednesday afternoon. The city is considering several measures to improve the safety of the road.
Traffic backs up at the five-point intersection where Cleveland Avenue, North Chapel Street, Paper Mill Road and Margaret Street meet.