OCEAN CITY – The State Highway Administration’s (SHA) spring update before the Mayor and City Council last Tuesday afternoon centered mostly on ongoing pedestrian safety efforts.
SHA Assistant District Engineer Dallas Baker started by announcing the new pedestrian crossing signal installed at 54th Street, similar to the pedestrian signal on 49th Street, became active on March 21.
“We have had a good response so far,” he said.
Currently, SHA is conducting median modifications on Coastal Highway starting with closing the non-signalized pedestrian depressions.
“The depressions encourage pedestrians to cross at the side streets. They are in the process of finishing that work off. All of the concrete work will be done before Memorial Day. On the lower end, we are going to have to come back and do some plantings probably after Memorial Day,” Baker said.
The council questioned if installing additional landscaping or fencing during the median modification project would better deter pedestrians from crossing mid-block in between the traffic lights.
“That is something that we are investigating by starting up a concept study for that this summer, as far as whether we should increase landscaping or fence or a combination in different sections to discourage pedestrians from mid-block crossings,” Baker said.
SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer added the project includes a “freshening” of the brick work in the medians and in discussion with City Engineer Terry McGean the thought was brought up to replace the brick work with landscaping like what is done between 9th and 26th streets.
According to Drewer, SHA’s landscaping department is on board and the project concept is to transfer the medians from 26th Street to the Delaware line with landscaping by completing about 20 blocks a year, as was done when the median was first constructed in the 80’s.
“While we are doing this, we can look at the other issue of whether we should put a fence up in some areas, or certain landscaping, such as thorny bushes, to stop pedestrians from crossing,” Drewer said.
Councilman Dennis Dare agreed there are additional actions that can be done on top of the public safety campaign, “Walk Smart”, that has been proven successful.
“What is between 9th and 26th streets is a good example of how that can happen,” Dare said. “I suggest we go with the landscaping with the idea that where there is areas that prove not to be effective and a fence is needed that that is Plan B at that time, and we move forward instead of studying it anymore.”
In the past, Dare has brought up including lighting conduits in the reconstruction efforts of the medians, so if it was decided to add lighting to the median the fixture is already in place.
“SHA took out the old lights on the Route 50 Bridge and put LED lighting, and it is literally the difference of night and day. We were concerned about the fishermen that are darting across the road and you couldn’t see them,” Dare said. “The issue becomes more of proper lighting and with LED the price goes down considerably but the benefit goes up exponentially, and when you redo the medians … it is also an opportunity to solve street lighting in the median that provides good traffic and pedestrian safety throughout the town.”
Baker furthered SHA is looking to extend the bump-outs on Baltimore Ave., which are the spots between 9th and 14th streets where there is on-street parking.
“So pedestrians can get out to the edge of road, see traffic coming, be seen by traffic, and also shorten the length they have to travel from one side of the road to the other,” Baker said.
The design is underway and should be completed by the summer and construction will take place after Labor Day.
For years, the SHA and the town have been deliberating a “road diet” concept on Coastal Hwy. SHA has received a report on their preliminary investigation of the concept.
Currently, Coastal Highway is eight lanes wide with three mixed-use lanes and a bus/bike lane on each rightmost side. The road diet concept proposes to change to three lanes with the third lane being mixed-use for buses and cars and use the 14-foot existing bus lane to become a general purpose lane for bus stops, a right-turn lane and bicycle lane, as well as widening sidewalks from five feet to eight to 10 feet.
“In a nut shell, it was favorable,” Baker said.
Dare encouraged the SHA to return to present the findings of the preliminary report.
“My vision was never to have a dedicated bus lane at the expense of reducing thru traffic from three to two lanes. I think that would be pretty difficult to enforce. I would like to see it more bicycle-friendly,” Dare said.
During a previous meeting, Councilman Brent Ashley asked SHA to consider limiting the fence openings that separates the sidewalk from the roadway on the Route 50 Bridge due to people crossing the bridge at night and not being seen. On Tuesday, Drewer stated SHA will start with closing every other opening.
“Whatever you do it goes a long way towards pedestrian safety. Coming across there at night, lights or no lights, it is very difficult to see the people darting from one side to another. Any improvement is great,” Ashley said.
The Maryland State Police (MSP) and SHA are teaming up to form a pedestrian safety committee for West Ocean City similar to what is in Ocean City. An initial meeting will be held June 17 at 1:30 p.m. at the MSP barracks in Berlin.
As far as engineering improvements along the Route 50 corridor in West Ocean City, concepts are underway for a hiker/biker path that would be from Route 611 to the drawbridge on the south side, installing a pedestrian signal at Route 50 and Elm St. to make it easier for pedestrians to cross to the White Marlin Mall, installing crosswalks on the east leg of the intersection of Routes 50 and 611 and a study to add a crosswalk at Keyser Point Road as well.