A No-Brainer?

by Mark Deshon

photo of bike under city signageSometimes a “no-brainer” is just that.

BikeNewark is indeed thankful that on Monday night, April 29th, the City Council overwhelmingly recognized the wisdom of not removing the bike lane on Delaware Avenue (instead of placing temporary parking along that heavily used central Newark artery), because it is a safety issue.

However, after that night’s lengthy special City Council meeting on the City’s parking plan during the Main Street rehab project, I got to wondering why removing the bike lane ever made it to the drawing board in the first place. Certainly, this signals to me that, while the City and its businesses like its designation as a “Bicycle Friendly Community,” the City staff doesn’t naturally consider bicycles as a mode of travel that deserves adequate accommodation on the roads, and Newark’s businesses don’t view people arriving by bike as equally important downtown customers.

This is why an organization like BikeNewark exists—because there’s a real sense among the cycling community that we have to continually remind those in positions of authority, whose decisions have far-reaching consequences, that people do get around on bikes and that this is good for everyone, those biking and those benefiting from fewer cars on the road and less air pollution.

Believe me, I get it. I understand the importance of economic vitality in this city, particularly Newark’s downtown businesses, which will each struggle to a greater or lesser extent over the next year during the upheaval on Main Street.

But we need look no further than vibrant cities like Ft. Collins, Colo.—where my son lives—for evidence that where the bicycling community is truly valued, economic development is robust and businesses benefit greatly. In fact, everyone benefits—those who prefer getting around on two wheels, four, or none.

Having now lived in Ft. Collins for two years, my son now hates the “long,” 15-minute drive to his job in Loveland, wishing instead that his job were in the city in which he lives, so he could bike to where he works, shops, and plays. He’s obviously been spoiled by platinum-level bike infrastructure there.

As a longtime Newark resident, I’ve experienced that how my son would prefer to travel to his job, downtown businesses, and recreation areas is actually quite doable here in Newark—a much smaller university city.

What if we were to take the approach of making bicycling even easier and more preferable and encourage city residents to ride their bicycles to get around during the Main Street construction (thus mitigating our already-awful traffic issues)?

I know that, contrary to the League of American Bicyclists’ designation for Newark, there are many who don’t consider this city very bicycle-friendly. It takes all of us working together, but especially a serious commitment on the part of City Council and City staff, to make a “Bicycle Friendly Community” a reality, not just a tagline on a road sign.

 

Accomplishments in 2018

2018 proved a challenging year for BikeNewark, as a number of issues began to compete for our attention. Though we know that there is so much more work ahead, there were a lot of things we accomplished last year with our partners’ support.

Let’s take a look at what we did.

Bicycle-advocacy work involved

  • consulting with and providing input to Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson on the Delaware Avenue two-way protected bike-lane project.
  • further refining Newark low-stress bicycle network concept and map in advance of initial production and application of signage on a “Central Loop.”
  • several members attending a series of UD-led Newark Futures workshops.
  • presence on behalf of the bicycling community at various City Council and city Traffic Committee meetings.

In terms of helping the City of Newark promote itself nationally, BikeNewark

  • Bronze seal art from the LAB for Bicycle Friendly Communitysubmitted LAB Bicycle Friendly Community application on behalf of the City of Newark. Newark received its third consecutive bronze-level designation, this time for 2018-2022.
  • submitted Places for Bikes application on behalf of the City of Newark. According to the data gathered by People For Bikes, Newark ranked 39th overall nationwide and 7th among cities with a population of 100,000 or less in terms of bikeability.

BikeNewark-organized or -supported events held during 2018 included

  • photo of 2018 Bike to Work Day participants (photo by Kathy Atkinson, courtesy of UD)the annual Bike to Work Day on University of Delaware campus on May 21 (successfully rescheduled due to poor weather). Keynote speaker was New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer. More than 70 participants came to the event, which was supported by 6 corporate sponsors. During the event, the annual Bicycle Friendly Community Leader Award was presented, and a Trek hybrid bicycle was given out as a random prize.
  • nine First Friday Rides (January and March events were cancelled due to poor weather). These social slow rides through Newark averaged about 25 participants.
  • two Newark Historical Buildings Bicycle Tours in the fall, in cooperation with Newark Bike Project. Each event drew between 10-20 participants.
  • photo of bike lights night volunteers and customera Bike Lights Night event on October 25 at the corner of North College Avenue and Main Street, during which 25 sets of lights, courtesy of UD, were installed free of charge.
  • four Bike Centrals in cooperation with the University of Delaware, Newark Bike Project, and DelDOT:
    • Spring event, during which 10 sets of bike lights were installed free of charge.
    • August 25, in coordination with UD’s 1743 Welcome Days, during which 6 sets of lights were installed free of charge.
    • September 12, during which 20 sets of lights were installed and 6 helmets were given out free of charge.
    • October 25, during which about 20 sets of lights were installed free of charge.
  • two BikeNewark Community Nights—June 21 at Handloff Park and October 26 at Wooden Wheels, attended by 31 and 50 participants, respectively.
  • the annual Mayor’s Fun Ride on June 2, which was a big success in terms of funding raised for bicycle-related projects.

4 bike safety tips in Mandarin ChineseOur public service involvement included

  • distributing bike-safety flyers in four languages—English, Spanish, Chinese, and French—to the English Language Institute. These were based on the “4 Safety Tips for Bicyclists” cards that were printed in January 2018 for use by partner organizations.
  • executing and posting results of a City Council candidates survey in advance of the April municipal election.
  • volunteering at the Walkable/Bikeable Delaware Summit in May, which was organized by Bike Delaware, one of BikeNewark’s partners.
  • hosting an information table during Newark Community Day (September 16).

Bike to Work Day 2018

photo of 2018 Bike to Work Day participants (photo by Kathy Atkinson, courtesy of UD)

Newark celebrated National Bike to Work Day on Monday, May 21, the event having been rescheduled from May 18 due to rain. The first sunny day in a week saw more than 70 riders converge on Mentors’ Circle on the University of Delaware campus for the early morning event.

Also see:

> WDEL coverage
> UDaily coverage

sponsors graphic - Mayor’s Fun Ride, Little Goat Coffee Roasting Co., Bloom Energy, Trek Bicycle Newark, STAR Health, and WILMAPCOThough ridership was a bit off what we’d experienced over the past couple years, the event enjoyed great support in terms of sponsorships, which allowed us to this year to include a “grand prize” of a new Trek hybrid bicycle.

Speakers and attendees alike rode in, each in one of six area “bike trains.” This year we missed what would have been the largest group, from event sponsor Bloom Energy, as they could not attend due to a plant-wide production meeting. Attendees enjoyed light breakfast fare and coffee, supplied by the Little Goat Coffee Roasting Co., and garnered free “Bike Month Delaware 2018” T-shirts, courtesy of DelDOT in cooperation with the Delaware Bicycle Council.

University of Delaware Vice Provost Matt Kinservik officially welcomed everyone, giving some personal testimony to the positive changes that are occurring in Newark in terms of bicycling and how bicycling has influenced his own commute. He referred to what may be happening within our sphere of influence here in Newark as “Copenhagenization.”

Dressed in her Bike Delaware jacket, Newark Mayor Polly Sierer graced the podium next and listed the number of important infrastructure improvements that will be taking place within the next several years that will enhance the bicycling experience here in Newark, already a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community.

photo of Matt Meyer (photo by Kathy Atkinson, courtesy of UD)
New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, himself an avid bicyclist, was the event’s keynote speaker.

The morning’s featured speaker, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, spoke about his vision for bicycle connectivity throughout the county and put a local spin on what Kinservik had said, coining a new phrase—“NewCastleCountyization.”

BikeNewark Chair and event emcee, Mark Deshon, mentioned that the League of American Bicyclists had not yet released information about Newark’s most current Bicycle Friendly Community designation. Instead, Deshon pointed to a recent People For Bikes assessment and ranking of the City of Newark. The City is ranked 39th nationwide and 7th among cities with a population under 100,000 in terms of bikeability, according to data the organization gathered.

photo of Bicycle Friendly Community Leader Award presentation (photo by Kathy Atkinson, courtesy of UD)
State Sen. Dave Sokola (left) and BikeNewark Chair Mark Deshon (right), join John Bare (second from left), as he receives Bicycle Friendly Community Leader Award from event coordinator Mike Fortner.

This year the City of Newark and BikeNewark presented the annual Bicycle Friendly Community Leader Award to Bike Delaware’s John Bare. Bare was chosen because of the groundwork he laid for the Bicycle Friendly Delaware Act, which was signed into law in October 2017 here in Newark.

In the words of Bike Delaware Executive Director James Wilson, “John not only created the initial draft of the legislation in September of 2016 but was also involved at every step with all the many revisions right up until the bill was finally filed in May of 2017, more than seven months later.”

Newark-area state Senator Dave Sokola was the bill’s co-sponsor, and he spoke to the gathered attendees about the facets of the new law and added a few words about the work done by John Bare on the bill. Then Bare came to the mic and shared how this bill had been something that he’d been working toward for many years.

photo of bicycle giveaway winner Mary Ellen Gray (photo by Kathy Atkinson, courtesy of UD)
Mary Ellen Gray was both surprised and happy as the random winner of the Trek bicycle giveaway.

A large group photo was organized, and then event coordinator Mike Fortner, one of BikeNewark’s liaisons from the City of Newark, joined Deshon to make the morning fun by giving away a couple give certificates to local restaurants. Then, to cap off the event, the Trek bicycle winner’s name—Mary Ellen Gray—was drawn by a Trek Bicycle Newark employee and the bicycle was presented to her.

2019’s Bike to Work Day event in Newark will take place on Friday, May 17. BikeNewark looks forward to seeing you there.

Photographs by Kathy Atkinson, courtesy of the University of Delaware

In transition

by Mark Deshon

photo of Mark Deshon speaking at 2014 Bike to Work DayIt’s National Bike Month, and these are certainly heady times for Newark.

While we await word from the League of American Bicyclists with regard to Newark’s redesignation as a “Bicycle Friendly Community,” the national organization People For Bikes just released its rankings for cities based on five criteria—ridership, safety, network, acceleration, and reach—and Newark is ranked 7th among cities with populations under 100,000—nationally.

Whereas this is exciting in a certain sense, the overall rating was only 2.5 out of a potential 5.0. Of the five criteria used, Newark’s highest ranking was for acceleration—“how quickly a community is improving its biking infrastructure and getting people riding.” What People For Bikes picked up on is that, while Newark is certainly not yet a bicycling haven, there is a lot currently being planned that will improve, dare I say transform, Newark in terms of mobility for bicyclists.

If I remember my Latin correctly, the root of the word “transition” is the verb transire, which means “to go through or beyond.” With major DelDOT paving-and-rehab projects scheduled over the next several years—Main Street, Delaware Avenue, Cleveland Avenue—Newark will indeed be in a period of transition. And, just like the current condition of Main Street, the road ahead will be bumpy.

Before or by, say, 2022:

  • Main Street will have a new look and a surface that should weather better than in the past, including greenbacked sharrows to draw the attention of and better attention to bicyclists.
  • A repaved, redesigned Delaware Avenue will feature a two-way, protected bike lane on its north side from Orchard Road to the Pomeroy Trail and bike lanes on either side of the road from there to Library Avenue.
  • The length of the repaved Cleveland Avenue will feature bike lanes on both sides of the road, owing largely to the removal of on-street parking (in 2017) and reconfiguration of the segment between Chapel Street and Capitol Trail (Kirkwood Highway).
  • The new train station will be completed, which will include sheltered parking for 60 bikes.
  • The University of Delaware’s STAR Campus will have seen further development and build-out, with bicycle infrastructure.
  • The University will have added a few new buildings adjacent to or near South College Avenue and the South College Avenue corridor will probably be scheduled for paving and include new bike amenities.
  • Progress will be well underway for the Charlie Emerson (bike/ped) Bridge over White Clay Creek near Paper Mill Road.

Hopefully, by then, a citywide bicycle network will also have been identified and marked with wayfinding/destination signage.

Progress doesn’t happen often without pain, though. And, despite what we will have “to go through” to see these improvements in transportation infrastructure, BikeNewark continues to advocate for Newark “to go beyond” where it has been in terms of bicycling.

What has made other cities—university cities like Ft. Collins, Colo. and Davis, Calif.—so successful, though, is that their citizenry, municipal government, and business community have all embraced a culture of bicycling. The benefits of a community that has embraced bicycling are clear—better overall health and wellbeing, a cleaner environment, a more vibrant economy—in short, a place where people want to live, work, and play.

Mitigating traffic volume and improving parking seem to be universal concerns here in Newark, particularly within the downtown business district. Promoting bicycling as an important mode of transportation and an alternative to the car is one important puzzle piece in the overall solution to these problems.

I imagine a Newark in which a much larger segment of the population uses the bicycle as basic transportation to get from place to place within the city. We who do use a bike for reasons other than recreation understand the convenience of traveling on two wheels under our own power.

Creating better overall conditions for bicycling—developing a low-stress bicycle network, reducing conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians/cars, educating the public about good cycling behavior, and encouraging more people to get out on their bicycles—is what BikeNewark seeks to do. In other words, moving bicycling forward in Newark, Delaware.

But we need your help.

BikeNewark members Caitlynn Coster and Mark Deshon talk to participants at 2017 Walkable Bikeable Delaware SummitI am blessed to have worked over the past eight years with people who genuinely care about Newark and improving conditions for bicycling throughout the city. In 2017 we took the bold step of reorganizing the former Newark Bicycle Committee as BikeNewark, a Delaware nonprofit corporation. But now BikeNewark is also in a period of transition. Like a flower that has been planted and has quickly pushed up through the surface and blossomed, BikeNewark now needs to be maintained, well fed and watered, so to speak.

As BikeNewark grows, we are looking for individuals—residents and non-residents alike—and business partners who are passionate about advocating for a bicycling culture and bicycling improvements within Newark and are willing to work cooperatively with others who are likewise motivated. If this is you, please get in touch with me and do get involved.

As I tell folks from our partner organizations, we are all working for the same goal—to make Newark the best community it can be for all who live, work, and/or go to school here, and for whom it is a desired destination.


Editor’s Note:
Mark Deshon is the current Chair of BikeNewark and has resided in Newark since 1987.

Imagine

photo of Ismat Shahby Ismat Shah

Not that we don’t know that there are almost as many vehicles in the USA as there are people, that automobiles utilize only 15–20% of the energy we pump into them, that each gallon of gasoline produces 8.8 kg of CO2, etc., it is just that these statistics and awareness do not lead to any concrete action plan, either individually or as a society, that could neutralize the transportation-related environmental policy discussions.

We blame the leadership, operational issues (bike paths, parking, thefts, and bus routes), lifestyle, etc. No doubt there is some truth to all of these, but the main culprit still is personal lethargy. It is so much easier to get up in the morning, get in your car, and go where you want to go. What a life! What a freedom! What a luxury! But what is next? To what does this lethargy leads us?

We have heard enough about global warming, the inevitable extinction of fossil fuel, etc., so no need to repeat all that. I just want to bring to your attention a few simple facts that, I hope, will help people think of an alternative-transportation strategy.

graphic showing two-mile radius from Kirkwood Hwy near Newark with overlay of bikes and busThe efficiency of bike riding is 3,200 passenger-miles per million BTU. This efficiency drops to a pathetic 280 passenger-miles per million BTU for an automobile1. Coupling the fact that about 65% of New Castle County is urban with the fact that DART First State (DART) buses serve about 70% of this urban area2 means that about 45% of all of New Castle County is served directly by DART. If you extend the served area merely by a two-mile diameter from a DART bus stop, the percentage goes up to almost 75%. That two miles is what bothers most of the people, and that is the gist of my blog—What if we combine bike riding with bus riding?

I live about a mile from the nearest bus stop for a direct bus to the University of Delaware. I live six miles from the University. I ride my bike to the University every day. However, there are a few days I am unable to do that. On those days, I ride my bike to the DART bus stop, put the bike on the bus, and ride the bus. All DART buses are equipped with bike racks, and they will give your bike a free ride. This is just the first step.

I am hoping that this bike-and-bus habit will eventually lead to an all-biking habit, and then, one day, I envision a Cantonese-like bike density on Kirkwood Highway that even the county will not be able to ignore, such that it will be forced to construct a dedicated bike path. Or even better, perhaps with the reduced number of automobiles, it will be able to dedicate one of the traffic lanes to a shared bike-auto lane, a la Main Street, Newark.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”


Editor’s Note:
Ismat Shah is a professor of materials science and physics who specializes in energy and environmental policy at the University of Delaware.

1Transportation Energy Data Book Ed. 24, 2004
2calculated based on the maps at DART First State website