Council Okays Lane Closure For Annual Parade

OCEAN CITY – Discussion over the traffic route of the annual Ocean City Christmas Parade arose at Monday night’s Mayor and Council meeting, resulting in the decision to use all four lanes of Coastal Highway for the parade.

The Christmas Parade has been a part of Ocean City’s holiday season for over 20 years, parading local children and floats along Coastal Highway. For years the parade occupied all four lanes of traffic on Coastal Highway for about an hour and a half, causing traffic delays and the use of northbound lanes only for drivers. Last year the parade route changed, traveling in only two southbound lanes with a buffer lane between the parade and southbound traffic. The result was an unhappy Board of Education and a decrease in parade participation.

This year, due to concerns for the safety of the children in the parade, the Gold Coast Mall, organizer of the parade, requested that the parade revert to its traditional route and use all four lanes. The mall maintained that the disapproval voiced by the Board of Education would eventually result in a decrease in school participation.

At a meeting on Sept. 27 between the Gold Coast Mall representatives, the Police Department, Public Works and Recreation and Parks, police officials voiced concerns for the four-lane traffic route. The police maintained that the two-lane route with a buffer was more than safe. They also pointed out several negative impacts of having all four lanes shut down for the parade.

Ocean City Police Captain Michael Colbert relayed these concerns to the Mayor and Council Monday night. One concern is that moving all traffic to the northbound lane would be dangerous for drivers. Colbert also pointed out that traffic slows significantly while traveling southbound with the parade, causing little threat, but that traffic would most likely increase if it were diverted to the other side of the median, resulting in the potential for accidents and cars “jumping” the median.

Colbert also explained the difficulty of the “merging taper”, or traffic flow, that would be used to counter flow the traffic into the northbound lanes at any given intersection.

Other concerns noted were the difficulty for drivers to exit communities at streets without stoplights, the delays that would be caused by vehicles attempting to turn west into communities and streets, and the potential delay of emergency vehicles trying to maneuver through the delayed traffic.

Colbert maintained that the two-lane route with a buffer lane would be safer and more effective.

“We would like to stay with what we did last year and what was done with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” Colbert told the Mayor and Council.  “Last year worked out with very few traffic problems.”

Jim Whittemore spoke on behalf of the parade and the Gold Coast Mall. “Our only concern is for the safety of the kids,” Whittemore said.

According to Whittemore, the Board of Education was not pleased with last year’s traffic setup. He noted that due to the two-lane route, only Stephen Decatur High School’s marching band would be participating this year. He also pointed out that both Snow Hill and Pocomoke chose not to allow their ROTC programs to participate. Whittemore attributed the drop off in participation to concerns for participant’s safety.

“I think it boils down to trying to keep this parade going,” Whittemore said, arguing that if they do not improve on safety, the schools would keep pulling out.

Whittemore also argued that the four-lane route worked well for over 20 years.

“I think that eventually we are going to lose the elementary schools, too,” Council President Joe Mitrecic said, agreeing that the Board of Education is not happy with the two-lane set-up.

Colbert pointed out that Berlin only uses a 22-foot area for their parade, while Ocean City would be using a 25-foot area, 35 feet including the buffer lane. Whittemore argued that Berlin shuts down all of Main Street, eliminating any risk of children darting out in front of traffic.

Councilman Jay Hancock said he felt confident that moving all traffic into the northbound lanes would not be an impossible feat for the police. 

“I think the parade is important and I think that is the right spot to have the parade,” said Mayor Rick Meehan, noting his support to close off all four lanes.

“Twenty-six police officers, that’s more than the Macy’s parade,” Meehan joked, noting that the police would be able to handle the traffic issues.

The council voted six in favor with Councilman Jim Hall in opposition to close all four lanes of southbound traffic for the parade.

The parade will be held on Saturday, Dec. 1, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“We certainly will make this work,” said Colbert, assuring the Mayor and Council that despite the decision, police would make sure the traffic situation runs smoothly.