How walkable Delaware beach towns are trying to prevent pedestrian and bike crashes this summer
June 30, 2021
It’s not an uncommon sight when driving down Coastal Highway.
You see a blur of color. Your heart jumps into your throat as a group of people dash across two or three lanes of traffic, seemingly oblivious to the stampede of cars headed their way.
Or perhaps you’ve been the pedestrian, tapping your foot at a marked crosswalk, trying to look into oncoming drivers’ eyes to telepathically tell them to “stop.”
These issues are more than just blood-boiling annoyances on a summer day. Delaware has long been recognized as one of the most dangerous states for pedestrians, ranking fifth in a 2019 database of pedestrian fatalities by Smart Growth America.
Two people cross the street at Rodney Avenue in Dewey Beach Tuesday, June 22, 2021.
Emily Lytle, Delaware News Journal
Over the past year, Dewey Beach worked with the Delaware Department of Transportation to install these Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons, or RRFBs, which blink a yellow light for one minute when a pedestrian hits a button to cross.
On Tuesday afternoon, two groups of teenagers used the button to turn on the flashing lights and cross the street while the heavy stream of traffic slowed.
One group of girls, who seemed to come right off the beach with lacrosse sticks in tow, agreed that they felt safer using the lights and noticed that the cars were more likely to stop. When they visited two years ago, they said they often had to flag drivers down to get across the street.
Capt. Mary McGuire shares some safety tips with friends Sofia Holibaugh, Siena McCarthy and
Aubrie Chambers. Emily Lytle, Delaware News Journal
While drivers are required by state law to yield to pedestrians even when there are no flashing lights, the new flashing signs can improve compliance by more than 40%, according to C.R. McLeod, director of community relations at DelDOT.
Still, there is a learning curve. Many cars continue through the crosswalks, or the first lane of traffic will stop, while the second does not.
Dewey Beach Town Manager Bill Zolper hopes to continue efforts to increase visibility, suggesting that DelDOT paint a “yield” sign on the road so drivers see it before they approach the crosswalks.
This is all part of an effort to draw drivers’ attention toward the crosswalks and slow the rate of pedestrian injuries and fatalities along Delaware’s coast.
In the last three years, there have been 69 pedestrian or bicycle crashes on Route 1 between Lewes and Fenwick Island, and 10 have been fatal, according to the Delaware Office of Highway Safety.
These statistics carry a sense of urgency as the state expects large volumes of people to hit the beaches – and its roads – this summer, especially over the Fourth of July weekend.
Last year brought a summer unlike any other, but Cynthia Cavett, marketing specialist and public information officer for the Office of Highway Safety, said she believes this summer is going to be “unprecedented” in its own way.
“Because people are ready to get back out there again, they’re ready to celebrate with their friends and family and enjoy life again, which we absolutely want to encourage,” Cavett said. “But we also want to make sure that they do it safely.”
Tips for pedestrians
Be as visible as possible
One of the most frequent causes of pedestrian crashes is a lack of visibility, especially at dusk or dawn, Cavett said.
People can use flashlights on their phones and wear bright colors or athletic clothing that has reflective material on it.
“Even the little tiny reflective material that’s in our sneakers can make a difference between somebody staying alive or not,” Cavett said.
Always use crosswalks when available
If the crosswalk has a walk signal, make sure to use that button to stop traffic. The same is true for the flashing crosswalks.
When there is not a crosswalk available, find a well-lit area and wait for a gap in traffic that gives you enough time to cross safely. Continue to watch traffic as you cross.
Make eye contact with drivers
This was the biggest piece of advice from police officers as they educated citizens about the new flashing signs in Dewey Beach.
Pedestrians should not assume that a driver can see them, even if the flashing lights are activated. Making eye contact with the driver helps ensure that they have seen you walking.
Police also reminded people to make sure that both lanes of traffic have stopped.
Tips for drivers
Reminder: You must stop at crosswalks
It’s not a choice – it’s the law. Drivers can get fined $25 for not stopping for a pedestrian using a crosswalk or where crosswalk signs are posted.
There are often many crosswalks through Delaware’s resort towns, so drivers are reminded to stay alert and drive slow.
Do not pass a car in the crosswalk
If a car is stopped, do not immediately pass. It may be stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for people to go across the street.
Be on the lookout for pedestrians
Even when not at crosswalks, be aware that people may be walking in low-lit areas. Drivers should be extra cautious when visibility is lower at dusk and dawn.
Emily Lytle covers Sussex County from the inland towns to the beaches. Got a story she should tell? Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 302-332-0370. Follow her on Twitter at @emily3lytle.
The original article can be accessed at https://www.delawareonline.com/story/news/local/2021/06/23/new-flashing-signs-dewey-beach-aim-curb-pedestrian-bike-crashes/7769460002/?itm_source=AMP&itm_medium=UpNext