OCEAN CITY – A proposal to offer horse and carriage rides downtown during the summer fizzled out this week as the operator and the city disagreed on the proposed route.
In March, Randy Davis of R and B Ranch located in Salisbury, which currently provides the service during the off-season along the Boardwalk, requested the Police Commission’s permission to provide a horse and carriage ride service in downtown Ocean City during the summer season.
The proposed route started on 2nd Street and the Boardwalk between the Plim Plaza and Ocean Gallery, the carriage would then head west crossing Baltimore and Philadelphia avenues at traffic lights toward Chicago Ave., take Chicago Ave. along the bayside north to 4th Street, turn right on 4th Street, and turn right again on St. Louis Ave. to go south, and cross again at 2nd Street to return to the starting point on the Boardwalk.
Davis asked to use a maximum of three carriages when needed and to operate the service from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. to capture the sunset over the bay, during the week with Fridays and Saturdays off.
Davis explained the carriages used are standard carriages wrapped in Christmas lights and are equipped with the standard orange caution signage and four-way flashing lights, and he has been providing the same horse and carriage rides in downtown Berlin for the past five years without problems.
Davis furthered when he first started providing horse and carriage rides in Ocean City it was not his intention to provide the service during the summer but he has received an abundance of requests for the service during the summer.
In September of 2012, Davis was approved to provide horse and carriage rides in the downtown area during the off-season and has done so since without any issues, primarily on the weekends.
At that time, Councilman Dennis Dare asserted eventually the town will have to conduct a Request for Proposal [RFP] to have different horse and carriage ride services bid on the operation conducted in Ocean City.
In March, after hearing the in-season pitch, the commission decided to have the police department review statistical information on past collisions involved with the proposed route.
“To me it is easier to navigate the traffic than it is the people on the Boardwalk because they are going to do what they are supposed to do when they are driving a car,” Davis said on Monday when he returned to the commission for further discussion.
Since the commission last met, the Mayor and City Council approved two tall ships coming to Ocean City to be berthed at the bayside boardwalk between 3rd and 4th streets during the entire month of August. Mayor Rick Meehan pointed out Chicago Ave. between 3rd and 4th streets will be closed to traffic during that time.
According to Ocean City Police Department Lt. Scott Harner, there were over 1,500 collisions in Ocean City last year, most of them being minor. The department conducted a study on the intersections included in the proposed route based on an eight-year period. The intersection at 2nd Street and Baltimore Ave. and 2nd Street and Philadelphia Ave. over the eight-year period had at least 50 crashes each, averaging out to six crashes a year.
“That is without the introduction of a horse and carriage,” Commission Chair Councilman Doug Cymek said. “As I said to you Mr. Davis, I am also concerned about your safety as well. The car will survive. It is also about the pedestrians on the street that would become involved in an accident … and you and the horse and carriage can also suffer damage.”
Mayor Rick Meehan supported the request if it is concluded to be feasible and safe.
“It is another attraction, and something that the tourists and citizens enjoy. Carriage rides is one of those things you may never do in your hometown but when you get away and come to the beach that is one of the things that is special to do,” he said. “We do have to take into consideration all of the people that are here driving are not paying 100 percent attention.”
Police Chief Ross Buzzuro said the department’s concerns were with the traffic analysis alone.
“Some of those streets in the route are problematic, and that is the bottom line,” he said, recommending Davis come up with an alternative route. “Until then I don’t think with this route we can give our blessing.”
Davis responded the proposed route was chosen based on the picturesque view of the sunset over the bay as well as having two traffic lights to cross the highways in the downtown area.
“There may be some feeling of exacerbation of activity from local residents,” City Manager David Recor said, pointing out there is already ongoing issues from residents in that area with the increase in activity in the neighborhood. “That has in impact on the residents that are accustomed to a quiet surrounding.”
Davis suggested trying the route on a trial basis, as was done with the horse and carriage ride on the Boardwalk during the off-season that turned out to be a success.
“If you came to me saying it wasn’t working, I wouldn’t have a problem walking away,” he said. “I have a lot of people asking for this.
Meehan made a motion to allow a trial operation of horse and carriage rides on the proposed route from 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday from Memorial Day weekend through the end of July.
The mayor added the service will have to be up to date with paying Ocean City’s amusement tax as well as be prepared if proven successful that the city will bid out the service by RFP. The motion died due to lack of a second.
“I just don’t like the route. We sit here and we look at these statistics, and June [collisions] is 50 percent higher than any other month,” Dare said.
Dare added, while the operation has proven successful in Berlin during the summer season, the roadways are not the same, especially with high-volume roads involved with the proposed route in Ocean City.
“It sounds like there are some things that need to be addressed. We suggest that you pursue an alternative route,” Cymek said.