Coun­cil re­jects Florida T

Dozens of res­i­dents voice op­po­si­tion

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­pub.com

After two years of con­sid­er­a­tion and four hours of de­bate last week, city coun­cil re­jected a pro­posal to in­stall a Florida T traf­fic con­fig­u­ra­tion at the in­ter­sec­tion of Wood­lawn Av­enue and Capi­tol Trail.

Cheers rang out among the au­di­ence as Coun­cil­man Luke Chap­man cast the de­cid­ing vote against the pro­posal Nov. 2, which was fiercely op­posed by res­i­dents of Stafford, Windy Hills, Lum­brook, Prest­wick Farms, Laura’s Glen and Capi­tol Trail. More than 120 peo­ple packed into Aetna Fire Hall – where the spe­cial coun­cil meet­ing was held to ac­com­mo­date the large crowd – and nearly three dozen op­po­nents railed against the idea dur­ing a pub­lic com­ment ses­sion that lasted al­most two hours.

“Maybe this will pro­duce ben­e­fits to the traf­fic flow on Wood­lawn Av­enue,

Capi­tol Trail and Cleve­land Av­enue, but at what ex­pense?” said Ti­mothy Ferry, who lives on Gilib­erti Lane. “To the detri­ment of the peo­ple who ac­tu­ally live here.”

Un­der the plan, the Delaware De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion would have re­con­fig­ured the in­ter­sec­tion to limit ac­cess out of Stafford and the other neigh­bor­hoods from Wood­lawn Av­enue. Only right turns in and out would be al­lowed, mean­ing res­i­dents could not use Wood­lawn Av­enue to turn left onto Capi­tol Trail or head straight to Cleve­land Av­enue.

Those seek­ing to go down­town would have had to exit via Anna Way and turn left to head into town.

The re­sult, how­ever, would have been dra­mat­i­cally im­proved con­di­tions for other seg­ments of the in­ter­sec­tion, ac­cord­ing to DelDOT en­gi­neers. Un­der a Florida T con­fig­u­ra­tion, the right-most lane of Capi­tol Trail head­ing out of the city would have a con­stant green light.

At rush hour, that would re­duce back­ups by nearly 200 sec­onds, DelDOT con­sul­tant Matt Buck­ley said.

“The ben­e­fits of a Florida T are pretty re­mark­able,” Buck­ley said. “When you un­kink the end of the hose, it will free flow traf­fic.”

The Florida T was just one of sev­eral rec­om­men­da­tions from a task­force DelDOT and the city as­sem­bled to look at ways to im­prove safety and con­ges­tion in the Cleve­land Av­enue cor­ri­dor. Other rec­om­men­da­tions in­cluded re­mov­ing on-street park­ing on Cleve­land Av­enue, in­stalling bike lanes, mak­ing part of Mar­garet Street one-way, and re­duc­ing the lanes on Cleve­land Av­enue while adding a cen­ter turn lane.

De­spite false claims by some op­po­nents of the Florida T, those mea­sures were not de­pen­dent on last week’s vote and, in fact, have al­ready been ap­proved. Only the place­ment of a new cross­walk near Alder Creek will be af­fected by the re­jec­tion of the Florida T.

Buck­ley called the Florida T “a dou­ble-edged sword,” ac­knowl­edg­ing it would af­fect res­i­dents of the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods but ar­gu­ing it is for the greater good.

The op­po­nents who packed the coun­cil meet­ing, how­ever, ar­gued they should not have to suf­fer to make things bet­ter for other driv­ers.

“Neigh­bors are feel­ing pushed out and like they don’t mat­ter to the city lead­er­ship,” Stafford res­i­dent Maria Ruckle said.

Tom Parkins, who serves on the city’s traf­fic com­mit­tee, said that it’s through-traf­fic, not lo­cal res­i­dents, that will ben­e­fit from re­duced de­lays at the in­ter­sec­tion.

“Who do you rep­re­sent?,” Parkins asked coun­cil rhetor­i­cally. “You rep­re­sent the res­i­dents of Newark.”

For­mer coun­cil­man Todd Ruckle, who helped gal­va­nize op­po­si­tion to the Florida T, said Wood­lawn Av­enue is a “gate­way” to Newark for him and his neigh­bors. Without an easy way to head to down­town Newark, they would be more likely to head the other di­rec­tion on Capi­tol Trail and pa­tron­ize busi­nesses out­side the city.

“They will not go to sup­port the busi­nesses on Main Street. They will not sup­port the busi­nesses on Cleve­land Av­enue,” Ruckle said. “They will not sup­port the city that does not want them to be a part of it.”

A real es­tate agent by trade, Ruckle claimed tak­ing away the exit will lower prop­erty val­ues in the neigh­bor­hoods and sug­gested res­i­dents might file a class-ac­tion law­suit against the city and DelDOT to re­coup lost eq­uity.

“Where you see traf­fic pat­terns, I see peo­ple – peo­ple who have in­vested their lives in their homes, peo­ple who have made that their pri­mary in­vest­ment,” Capi­tol Trail res­i­dent Corinth Ford added. “Now you’re de­valu­ing our prop­erty.”

Oth­ers de­scribed the Florida T as a safety con­cern, ar­gu­ing that a con­stant green light would lead to in­creased speeds on Capi­tol Trail, where speed­ing is al­ready a com­mon prob­lem. Ad­di­tion­ally, they said, the steep exit on Anna Way is a hazard when cov­ered with snow or ice.

“We’re talk­ing about trad­ing time for safety and maybe death,” said Kirk’s Flow­ers owner John Mayer, who lives and works on Ash Av­enue.

Only two mem­bers of the pub­lic spoke out in fa­vor of the idea.

State Rep. Paul Baum­bach pointed out the Florida T would im­prove con­di­tions for 96 per­cent of driv­ers in the area.

“The in­ter­sec­tion is a se­ri­ous prob­lem. The pro­posal is a se­ri­ous so­lu­tion,” said Baum­bach, who rep­re­sents a large swath of Newark but not most of the af­fected neigh­bor­hoods. “Please sep­a­rate fact from fic­tion. While the pas­sions are un­der­stand­ably high tonight, the facts are crys­tal clear. This pro­posal is very good for our city.”

Amy Roe, rep­re­sent­ing the Newark branch of the NAACP, ad­vo­cated for the Florida T be­cause of the se­condary ben­e­fit it would have for Alder Creek, the Newark Hous­ing Author­ity com­plex on Cleve­land Av­enue. DelDOT has agreed to in­stall a cross­walk near the com­plex to make it safer for res­i­dents at­tempt­ing to cross the road.

If the Florida T was ap­proved, the cross­walk would have been in­stalled at McKees Lane, the nat­u­ral spot to cross the road. How­ever, without the Florida T, queue lengths re­quire the cross­walk to be fur­ther west, in a spot in which peo­ple may be less likely to use it.

“We are dis­crim­i­nat­ing against low in­come com­mu­ni­ties and hav­ing them live in very dan­ger­ous pedes­trian en­vi­ron­ments,” Roe said. “I’m shocked by the be­hav­ior I see here tonight and I re­ally think that this meet­ing should have been han­dled much dif­fer­ently and that we should be see­ing and pri­or­i­tiz­ing the is­sue of the cross­walk and pedes­trian safety at the Alder Creek af­ford­able hous­ing com­mu­nity.”

Ul­ti­mately, coun­cil voted 5-2 against im­ple­ment­ing the Florida T.

Chap­man was joined in op­po­si­tion by coun­cil­men Jerry Clifton, Chris Hamil­ton and Mark More­head, as well as Mayor Polly Sierer, who ini­tially sup­ported the project but cast a “no” vote after its fate was al­ready ap­par­ent. Only Coun­cil­man Stu Markham and Coun­cil­woman Jen Wal­lace sup­ported the mea­sure.

NEWARK POST PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

A sign on Capi­tol Trail urges city coun­cil to vote against the pro­posed Florida T traf­fic con­fig­u­ra­tion prior to last week’s meet­ing.

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