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Downes Elementary marks Bike to School Week as city OKs upgrades for Casho Mill Road

Colorful helmets and bicycles led the way through a dreary Wednesday morning as many Downes Elementary students made their commute to school by bike.

The Bike to School event, in its third year, is part of a Safe Routes to School effort that endeavors to make the walk and bike ride safe for students.

Throughout the week, students met in four different locations to bike together as a group, led by parents, school staff, city staff, the Newark Police Department and community members like State Rep. Paul Baumbach and BikeNewark members.

Wednesday morning drew assistance from Chip Kneavel, a project manager for DelDOT who wore a traffic cone costume, and Mayor Jerry Clifton, who handed out prizes for cyclists.

Josh Cohen, academic dean for Downes, explained that the event has many benefits for the students and the community.

“It helps further strengthen the neighborhood school and how it’s important to ride to school when you live in a community,” he said. “It also promotes exercise and physical activity.”

He added that it also benefits local residents, as it cuts down on congestion on the streets.

Mark Deshon of BikeNewark said the effort promotes health and also introduces children to a different mode of transportation, meaning more adults on bikes and less dependence on cars in the future.

“Downes is probably the school in Newark that has the best infrastructure possible to bike to school,” he said, noting it will get better in the coming years, with the planned changes to Casho Mill Road.

Last month, city council approved the road safety upgrades and agreed to contribute $232,000 to supplement a $125,000 grant from the federal Safe Routes to School program.

The project has been in the works since 2016, but the city’s contribution will allow the Delaware Department of Transportation to expand the scope of the work.

Workers will install a bike lane – including a stripped buffer to give the bikes some separation from vehicular traffic – on both sides of Casho Mill Road between Pickett Lane and Church Road. The project also includes a new crosswalk, a pedestrian refuge island, curb ramps, traffic calming islands and radar speed signs.

Public Works Director Tim Filasky said the concrete islands and the buffered bike lanes are intended to reduce the speed of traffic by narrowing the roadway. Casho Mill Road currently has wide travel lanes and shoulders, giving drivers the impression that they can go fast, he said.

“It just feels like a freeway,” Filasky said. “This will tighten it up and slow traffic.”

Eventually, the city would like to lower the speed limit.

“You can’t just lower speed limits arbitrarily because people will still drive the speed that makes sense for the road,” City Manager Tom Coleman said. “One of the goals of the project from the beginning has been to add enough features that it drives down the 85th percentile speed to a point where we could reduce the speed limit from 35 to 25.”

A pedestrian hit by a car going 35 miles per hour is three times as likely to die and twice as likely to be seriously injured than a pedestrian hit by a car going 25, Coleman added.

“There are real safety improvements that come as a result of changes like this,” he said. “Doing improvements isn’t going to prevent people from getting hit by a car, realistically, but what it might do is prevent that person from dying or prevent that person from being seriously injured.”

Councilman James Horning Jr., who represents the area around Downes Elementary, said speed on Casho Mill Road has been a common concern among his constituents, and he has heard from many who support the effort to make the road safer.

“A lot of residents would certainly appreciate that even if they don’t have children in the school,” Horning said. “Obviously the children getting to school is a big priority also. It’s a neighborhood school with a lot of walkers and pedestrians.”

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