NEW FOR WEDNESDAY: Median Barrier, Lower Speed Limit Pitched To Heighten OC Pedestrian Safety

NEW FOR WEDNESDAY: Median Barrier, Lower Speed Limit Pitched To Heighten OC Pedestrian Safety
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OCEAN CITY – Coming off a summer with numerous pedestrian accidents, city officials sat down this week with state authorities to come up with solutions.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Mayor and City Council met with the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) for their annual fall meeting.

SHA Assistant District Engineer Ken Cimino said the SHA hired a consulting engineering firm to do a pedestrian safety study on MD 528, or Coastal Highway, between 62nd Street and Convention Center Dr. The Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) played a vital role in the study providing real time information, according to Cimino.

Cimino said on Coastal Highway between Convention Center Drive and the Route 90 bridge includes a corridor that the SHA has identified as a high-pedestrian active location. In this corridor, police reports show 41 pedestrian related crashes and one pedestrian fatality from Jan. 1, 2008 to Aug. 20, 2012. Located along this corridor are large restaurants and bar establishments that generate significant amount of pedestrian traffic at night. Within the 41 pedestrian-related crashes, 22 involved alcohol, 27 occurred at night and 11 involved bicycles.

Cimino started off saying one of the concerns that came up immediately following the fatal collision in May was existing lighting along Coastal Highway, which provides corridor lighting via cobra head fixtures mounted on utility poles that are owned and maintained by Ocean City.

Existing light levels were evaluated to determine if proper light levels are provided for pedestrians along the study corridor. Field measurements were found to be fairly consistent, but several areas were found to have light measurements below the standards, northbound 41st Street, 42nd Street and southbound 45th Street and 46th Street.

Next, Cimino discussed potential safety strategies identified in recent pedestrian safety studies that may be implemented. First is to increase the SHA’s public/media outreach.

“We are currently working with our customer relations to receive information to craft a message, identify the markets we need to reach, and get that implemented,” he said.

The SHA is also currently working with the OCPD, State Police, and the Maryland Highway Safety Office to procure additional grant money that can be used to target Ocean City’s corridor for education and enforcement.

Along with that, Cimino said there are some more obvious changes to the highway being considered.

“There are several possible engineering solutions,” Cimino furthered. “One of them would be to place a physical barrier along the median.”

A physical barrier along the center median on Coastal Highway within the study area could come in several different ways, such as a decorative rod iron fence, an aluminum fence, low level shrubbery or a combination of both.

“We would like to move forward with a conceptual plan for a physical barrier in the median to develop several concepts to bring to the council for further discussion and possibly approval,” Cimino stated.

Councilman Dennis Dare, formerly the town’s city manager for 21 years and city engineer for eight years before that, recalled when a barrier was placed in the median on Coastal Highway from 9th to 15th streets during the last phase of the median’s construction.

“I have noticed over the years that the pedestrian issue has not been between 9th Street and 15th Street,” he said. “If you look at it, it is continuous landscaping … so I don’t think people are doing a lot of jaywalking there because of that, because it is a physical barrier like a fence … so I think your last design has been effective from a pedestrian safety stand point.”

Dare added that lighting has also been a concern regarding pedestrian safety along Coastal Highway.

“Most of the instances have been at night and it is extremely hard to see anybody on that highway,” he said.

Mayor Rick Meehan agreed the barrier from 9th to 15th streets could be an option for the study area.

“But that area is completely different then the area from Convention Center Dr. to 62nd Street,” the mayor said. “It is basically just residential areas … whereas the area they are referring to are destinations where people are trying to get to from each side of the highway.”

Another safety strategy being reviewed are signal timing changes for both pedestrians and vehicular traffic.

Ocean City contains four different signal timing systems along Coastal Highway. Within the study corridor, there is two separate systems. One is system B, which runs from Convention Center Drive to 56th Street, and the other system C, which runs from 56th to 62nd streets

The SHA is currently reviewing the timing of these two signal systems to determine the effects on traffic. If the SHA were to reduce the amount of green time on Coastal Highway, it would give more time to the side street movement, which in effect would give more time to pedestrians if they push the buttons to cross the street.

The SHA is also taking into consideration extending pedestrian crossing time during the summer while there are more heads crossing the highway. The signal timing study is in progress at this time and results will be reported at a later date.

The next safety strategy presented was a “road diet”. Currently, Coastal Highway has three lanes of traffic and a bus lane on each side of the highway. The diet would eliminate travel lanes on each side between 41st and 59th streets to allow for wider sidewalks, a dedicated bike lane and a dedicated bus lane along the corridor.

“We think it is a really good opportunity to incorporate the ‘road diet’ with the street scape project and give a lot more pedestrian accessibility,” Cimino said.

Dare added another option would be to keep all three lanes of traffic but eliminate the bus lane and have the buses use the right-hand slow lane instead.

Cimino explained currently the distance between the traffic signal at 52nd and 56th streets is the longest distance between traffic signals in Ocean City. As part of the study, a pedestrian signal location analysis was included and there is significant pedestrian activity in that area to warrant additional pedestrian signals at three key locations.

Cimino said he is also currently working with Ocean City Public Works Department in the idea of relocating bus stops in regards to pedestrian safety.

There had been a thought to reduce the speed limit on coastal highway from 62nd to 33rd streets to 35 mph in the past and Cimino brought it back up to the Mayor and City Council’s attention. In 2000, the speed limit was reduced to 35 mph from 33rd to 17th streets.

“As all of you know, we have seen a huge increase in building and activity in mid-town Ocean City … so we feel that while we didn’t do a traffic engineer study to reduce speed limit we feel that it would be a logical breaking point to make the speed consistent below MD 90,” Cimino said. “We also feel that lower speeds mean a potential for the severity in accidents to drop by giving drivers more reaction time.”

Cimino said the SHA is also continuing to secure funding to remove mid-block median “cut through” locations and are looking at installing sidewalk and curb markings, where the curbs would be painted yellow and marked with “Do Not Cross.”

The final item presented was the concept to install pedestrian bump outs on MD 378, also known as Baltimore Avenue, between 9th and 15th streets.

Last year the SHA conducted a Road Safety Audit on MD 378, and one of the results was a suggestion to construct pedestrian bump outs from 9th to 15th streets. They are similar to what has already been constructed on Philadelphia Avenue to 9th Street and Ocean City Engineer Terry McGean has concurred.

The council voted unanimously to have the SHA move forward in developing conceptual plans to create a median barrier along Coastal Highway from Convention Center Dr. to 62nd Street, as well as develop a “Road Diet”, and to construct pedestrian bump outs from 9th to 15th streets.

The council also voted unanimously to approve the installation of three additional pedestrian signals between 52nd and 62nd streets before March 15, and to reduce the speed limit from 62nd to 33rd streets to 35 mph. The SHA and council were in consensus to implement the speed limit reduction closer to next summer, by May 1, and an announcement will be made.

“Thank you for being so proactive,” Council President Lloyd Martin said. “Pedestrian safety is number one for us.”

Cimino concluded that the Ocean City Pedestrian Safety Committee has been formed and members include, the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, Worcester County Board of License Commissioners, Ocean City Development Corporation, Macky’s, Seacrets, Maryland Highway Safety Office, OCPD, Public Works, City Engineer, Communications and many more.

“It was communicated that the goal of this committee should be to identify and implement pedestrian safety solutions over the following time frame,” Cimino said. “We are looking for an immediate safety strategy solution to be in place by March 15, 2013.”

Cimino added that there is also a goal to have a mid-range safety strategy solution to have in place within three years, and a long-range vision safety strategy solution that would come in the form of a capital improvement project to be in place within six years.