OCEAN CITY — City and state officials turned out in force Wednesday to showcase the efforts being made through Ocean City’s new Walk Smart! campaign.
Also in attendance were Cecilia Roe and Christopher Cheswick, the parents of Matthew Cheswick, the young man killed last summer while waiting for a bus by a drunk driver on Coastal Highway. Roe and Christopher Cheswick both hope that Walk Smart! will help serve as a legacy for their son.
State Highway Administration (SHA) District Engineer Donnie Drewer said Monday that the state has made several changes to improve pedestrian safety in Ocean City.
“Every life lost on our roads is one too many. Because we understand that there are real people behind the statistics, SHA is relentless in trying to accomplish its vision for zero fatalities,” said Drewer. “The Walk Smart! campaign combines engineering, education and enforcement, and provides a case model on how solid partnerships in traffic safety can help prevent crashes and save lives.”
Already, SHA has changed turn sequences at three key intersections in town to eliminate pedestrian and vehicle conflicts at 28th, 94th, and 130th streets. Automatic pedestrian signal changes at 13 different intersections will “shorten the cycle length on the mainline,” thereby decreasing pedestrian wait time at those locations.
“Advanced pedestrian signals” have also been installed along the entire Coastal Highway corridor that will provide pedestrians roughly seven seconds of walk time before side road traffic is given a green light. Signage is also being upped around the resort, including portable electronic signs advising pedestrians to use crosswalks and permanent paving markings on curb tops mid-town that say “no pedestrian crossing.”
The changes have already shown some progress. When comparing January through June of last year to this year, there has been a 52-percent reduction in pedestrian accidents.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan is optimistic about what the campaign could do for the resort this summer. It has even incorporated a family-friendly mascot: a crab lifeguard that watches over the road.
“Our visitors love Ocean City because we are a safe and fun family resort and we want to keep it that way,” he said. “We are asking visitors to Walk Smart! in Ocean City by using marked crosswalks and crossing with the signal. At the same time, we’re asking drivers to do the responsible thing: never drink and drive, stay alert and travel the posted speed limit.”
The fact that drivers are the other side of the coin in the campaign is important, according to Roe. When her son, Matthew, was struck he had not been attempting to cross the road but was only waiting for a bus. It was the drunk driver that collided with him who veered into the crowd. Still, Roe encouraged pedestrians who are following the rules and using crosswalks to remain aware of the traffic around them and alert for any signs that a driver might not be in control.
“Somebody else’s wrong choice to get behind the wheel of a car drunk, more than three times the legal limit, took Matthew’s life,” she said. “Our pedestrians need to be aware that they may be innocent victims and that they need to be cognizant of everything that is going on around them and they need to be watching.”
Matthew’s father, Christopher Cheswick, stressed the same awareness and thanked everyone involved with Walk Smart! for using the tragedy that happened last summer to try to make a positive change.
“I appreciate what everyone in Ocean City is doing to attempt to spread his legacy,” said Christopher Cheswick.
Besides Walk Smart!, the family also hopes that the Matthew Cheswick Memorial Fund, which seeks to place a memorial bench in Ocean City as well as offer scholarships at Matthew’s alma mater, will remind people to stay focused when traveling, whether in a car or on foot.
Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro reminded those gathered that it takes a collaborative effort to make people understand the importance of vigilance on Coastal Highway and the need for crosswalks. He thanked town leadership, the SHA, the OCPD, the media and private citizens for coming together to support the Walk Smart! campaign.
“It’s a true example of what partnership can do for a specific cause,” he said.
There are a number of simple tips to keep in mind that could save a life, added Ross. Pedestrians should always only cross at marked crosswalks, should follow all traffic signals, should use the sidewalk when preparing to cross instead of walking along the street and should wear light-colored or reflective clothing at night to increase visibility for drivers.
For those behind the wheel, Ross asked that drivers always remember to follow state law by stopping for any pedestrian in a crosswalk. When turning, drivers should yield to pedestrians and slow down while also avoiding distractions like phones. Finally, motorists need to remember to share the road with bicycles and give cyclists three feet of space when passing.
Ocean City faces a unique challenge, said Drewer, in that its population fluctuates drastically between season and off-season and even week to week during the summer. With a little extra attention, however, he was confident that Walk Smart! can improve pedestrian safety in the resort.
“We all need to be thinking about the rules of the road,” he said.