BERLIN — It’s been three months since a tragic accident on US Route 113 left one teen injured and took the life of another, but community uproar sparked by the accident has resulted in major changes to pedestrian safety, including a crosswalk and lower speed limit, along the highway as it passes the town of Berlin.
“If it hadn’t been for the whole town coming together, nothing would have happened,” said Patricia Dufendach, chair of the Pedestrian Safety Committee, at Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting. “That, I’ve discovered, is the key to any endeavor: to be united, be clear in what you want and you can get things done because I have some very good news for you tonight.”
Residents and town leadership in Berlin were crystal clear with what they wanted — stoplights, crosswalks and lower speed limits along Route 113. The State Highway Administration (SHA) will not be granting all of the safety committee’s requests, but Dufendach confirmed Monday that a crosswalk at the intersection of Bay Street and Route 113 should be in place by mid-March as well as an extended sidewalk.
“This is just a big step for Berlin,” said Dufendach. “We’re on our way to countdown crosswalks. I’m just very happy and proud that the state sees that we need that.”
The crosswalks will also be audible, allowing for safer use for disabled pedestrians. However, the crosswalk will not have pedestrian initiation when it is first installed. A “push to walk” button will be added about nine months after the crosswalk goes in, according to Dufendach.
Another big win for the safety committee was convincing SHA to lower the speed limit on Route 113 as it goes through Berlin.
“We asked for them to change it to 35 mph,” Dufendach reminded the Town Council. “We didn’t get that but we did get a 45 mph speed limit granted.”
The speed limit will be reduced to 45 mph on Route 113 from a half mile north of Route 346 (Old Ocean City Blvd.) to a half a mile south of Route 818 (Main Street). A new sign will be added to the highway as well to alert motorists to the drop in speed.
“We’ll have one of those fabulous signs like they have outside of Easton,” said Dufendach, “which is going to have flashing lights.”
That “Hazard Identification Beacon” will be installed in the next 12 to 18 months. A variable message sign will be placed up before that to warn drivers about the speed change until the beacon can be built and installed. Going hand-in-hand with the speed reduction will be the addition of bicycle lane pavement markings and signage in that section of the Route 113 corridor. It’s a state requirement to have bike lane markings at 45 mph.
There will be a few other minor intersection improvements planned, but the safety committee wasn’t able to have all of its requests met.
SHA did not declare a school zone along Route 113 in front of Berlin Intermediate School (BIS), which the committee had sought. This is because the state’s policy is to only declare school zones along roads that the school faces and BIS fronts Franklin Avenue, not Route 113.
At this time, SHA is also not willing to install a stoplight at the intersection of Route 113 and German Town Road. That intersection did not meet the requirements that the state examines when considering a light.
“They did a study for that intersection to see if it qualified due to volume and other parameters that are important for the state roads to establish whether they have a stoplight,” Dufendach said.
Though SHA does not plan on installing the light right now, Dufendach added officials “have not closed the door on us getting that in the future.” With all things considered, she told the council that SHA has been incredibly accommodating and easy to work with.
Dufendach also thanked the dozens of Berlin residents who signed petitions, sent letters or attended safety committee meetings as it was their reaction to the tragic accident in November that grabbed SHA’s attention.
“So they have all of this in mind for us where they didn’t have anything on the radar before,” she said. “Now they have great plans for Berlin.”
While the town waits for the crosswalk and other changes, the Pedestrian Safety Committee will be doubling down on education and outreach. It will be partnering with WalkSmart, a popular pedestrian safety program that made strides in Ocean City this year. SHA will be providing 10 vinyl WalkSmart banners for the town.
The committee will also be reaching out during festivals and special events in Berlin to spread awareness among motorists and pedestrians about the need to share the road and always be alert. Students and youth will also be targeted in an attempt to instill good habits at a young age.
The council was impressed by the results a community group like the safety committee was able to achieve in a few short months. Mayor Gee Williams also thanked Dufendach and her team for not resting on their laurels once they got the crosswalk and the new speed limit but instead pushing the educational component which “is critical, we can’t skip over it,” according to the mayor.