Council rejects Florida T
Dozens of residents voice opposition
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.
A sign on Capitol Trail urges city council to vote against the proposed Florida T traffic configuration prior to last week’s meeting.