Fatality Raises Questions About Highway Safety

WEST OCEAN CITY – Last weekend’s tragic accident involving a local teen hit by a car and killed while attempting to cross Route 50 has highlighted to need to follow through with a comprehensive transportation plan for the densely populated and heavily traveled corridor including the need for more sidewalks, crosswalks and other safety measures.

Now, there is no direct correlation between last Saturday’s fatal accident and the overall lack of pedestrian safety features along Route 50 corridor in West Ocean City, and it remains uncertain if it could have been prevented even if more safety measures were in place. However, the tragedy might serve as a catalyst to revisit some of the ideas proposed over the years that have not come to fruition.

Several transportation studies over the years have called for more sidewalks along Route 50 and throughout West Ocean City as the area has expanded and the volume of pedestrian and bicycle traffic increasingly intermingles with the heavy volume of traffic heading to the resort. The studies also called for marked crosswalks and timed pedestrian signals in the corridor, but for a variety of reasons, they have not been added.

There is a pedestrian signal at the light at Inlet Isle Lane near the entrance to the driveway for Hooper’s, but the crosswalks were not marked last weekend because of the ongoing repaving project on Route 50. However, there are no pedestrian crossing signals at the other busiest intersections along the section of the corridor including Golf Course Rd., Route 611 and Keyser Point Rd., for example.

Similarly, there is a section of sidewalk from roughly Golf Course Rd. to the western entrance to the White Marlin Mall near the Wendy’s, but there are no sidewalks anywhere on the south side of Route 50 despite the high volume of pedestrian traffic in the area.

Adding crosswalks, pedestrian signals and sidewalks falls largely under the purview of the State Highway Administration (SHA).

SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer said this week there is already a pedestrian crossing signal at Inlet Isle Lane, although it wasn’t in operation last weekend because of the ongoing repaving project in the area. Drewer said it would be up and running when the project was completed, likely before this holiday weekend.

“The first thing we do when we finish a project is to put back everything that was there before we started,” he said. “Then we look at the need for other safety measures as we become aware of potential problems.”

Drewer said the need for pedestrian signals would come from studies and traffic counts conducted in the area.

“If we have an area where there is one pedestrian crossing in a week, then we don’t need one there,” he said. “Now if there are over 10 in an hour, obviously we need to look at adding some controls there.”

Again, there is no rational nexus between last weekend’s tragic accident and the lack of crosswalks and pedestrian signals in the area. In addition, history shows there is no guarantee pedestrians would use the crosswalks and signals even if they were available nearby as evidenced by the sheer volume of pedestrians dashing across Coastal Highway in the summer despite a marked crosswalk at every intersection.

Worcester officials have long pushed for improved safety measures in the growing West Ocean City area and the county’s corridor plan and comprehensive plan call for more sidewalks and pedestrian friendly features in the area.

County Commission President Louise Gulyas said on Wednesday she wasn’t certain why they have not been added as planned.

“I’ve been after them for years to get sidewalks and crosswalks in that area,” she said. “I was hoping there would have been sidewalks along the south side of Route 50 in that area by now. There was a plan to do it at one point, but I don’t know what happened to it.”

Gulyas related a story from earlier in the day when an individual suddenly stepped out between the bushes in the median across from Starbucks and nearly stepped in front of her vehicle before he stopped.

“You see it all the time in that area,” she said. “Luckily, he popped out and saw the oncoming traffic before crossing the highway, but it could have been a different story if he hadn’t been paying attention, and that was in the middle of day. It’s much worse at night because you don’t always see them.”

Of course, last week’s fatal accident on Route 50 hit especially hard on the Stephen Decatur High School family where the victim was a 10th grader.

Principal Lou Taylor said on Wednesday it isn’t certain if the tragedy could have been avoided even if there were increased safety features in place along the busy stretch of highway, but he urged local and state officials to take a closer look at the area.

“Hopefully, everything will be taken into consideration to make the area as safe as possible,” he said. “As that area grows, particularly in the summer months, there is a tremendous number of people walking around there, people on bikes, all interacting with what is usually a very high volume of vehicle traffic.”