Engineers Without Borders organizes bike pop-up for local elementary school

Courtesy of Christopher Kitson
John R. Downes Elementary School students using the bike pop-up that Engineers Without Borders helped organize.


Just a three-minute drive from the old Caesar Rodney dormitory and commons is an elementary school.

Surrounded by multiple neighborhoods and within walking distance for a significant number of its currently enrolled 462 students, John R. Downes Elementary School is truly residential. Because of the close proximity, it is within walking or biking distance for most.

This does not mean it necessarily safe to walk or bike, however.

Casho Mill Road, the relatively busy street parallel to the school, is a common place for speeding. Although crossing guards help students cross and flashing lights near the school announce it is a school zone, there are still concerns for student safety during non-school hours.

“There currently is a bike lane on Casho Mill Road, but it’s designed to be a four lane road which means cars go four lane road speeds through a school zones,” senior Christopher Kitson, ReachOut Chair for the university’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) RSO, said. “Cars are regularly going 45 miles an hour there when the speed limit is closer to 25 or 30.”

EWB wanted to help change that. With assistance from the City of Newark, BikeNewark, Wilmington Area Planning Council (WILMAPCO), Delaware Department of Transportation and the Newark Bike Project, they launched the Downes Elementary School Safe Routes To School Pop-up Protected Bike Lane Demonstration, also known as the Downes SRTS Pop-up.

This coincided with Downes’ Bike to School Week, which was May 8 through May 12, and National Bike to School Day on May 10.

Noah Kennedy, a junior who is a publicity and relations co-chair for EWB, explained that in its last 10 years EWB had worked on local projects before, but this was the first bike lane pop-up. Typically, they do work in White Clay Creek or help with efforts like picking up trash.

Junior Caitlin Grasso, who is also a co-chair for EWB public relations, echoed this sentiment.

“This is one of our biggest outreach events of this entire year and in the past, also,” she said. “It’s the first time EWB has really gotten involved in the community.”

Courtesy of Christopher Kitson

The amount of work that was put into this project reflected that.

Kitson explained that the City of Newark had a few years of work on this project before EWB had offered to help. With the help of EWB, the group organizing the new bike lane initiative had enough volunteers and assistance to finalize a pop-up.

The pop-up was a demo version of a real project that the City of Newark hopes to eventually implement. It provided a way for the community to give feedback, confirming if they actually want new bike lanes or not before spending grant money.

Kitson also said that the roads are currently 12-feet wide with eight-feet wide bike lanes. The goal is to eventually make the road 11-feet wide, create a four-feet wide buffer zone and roughly a six-feet wide bike lane. They also hope to add a rumble strip there in the future.

“To me, it just seems like we painted lines on the road but it actually feels a lot more real when you’re actually out there,” he said. “It’s partly psychological and partly a real feeling that you feel much more protected with more paint between you and the cars.”

Kennedy explained that this was an “exciting” part of being part of EWB.

“We do real engineering which is great and any engineers should be interested in that in college,” he said. “It’s probably the only way to get real engineering experience in college.”

In addition to working locally, EWB has an international branch. There are two teams; one partnered with Bohol, which is an island in the Philippines, and the Mphero village in Malawi. Roughly 20 people work on each project, with four project managers overseeing the work being done. Eventually, a few students from each team travel to the place that they worked to help and will implement the project created by EWB.

“Engineers solve problems, so anytime you have a problem that needs to be solved you either figure it out yourself or call an engineer,” Kitson said.

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