‘Walk Smart Berlin’ Campaign Launched; Route 113 Speed Study Underway

‘Walk Smart Berlin’ Campaign Launched; Route 113 Speed Study Underway

BERLIN — Incoming safety improvements to US Route 113 were outlined this week following a meeting between the Berlin Pedestrian Safety Committee and the State Highway Administration (SHA).
The committee is riding the tide of community demand for changes to the road following the death of one teenager and injury of another in a vehicle and pedestrian collision in November.
“We’ve had a whirlwind month,” Patricia Dufendach, committee chair, told the Berlin Town Council Monday. “So much has happened in this last month. A tragic accident and a community response to that accident that has been overwhelmingly positive because we want to make changes in our community that are meaningful and increase safety and reduce the chance of death on a highway that dissects our community.”
The two teens involved in the accident, Tymeir Dennis and Tyheym Bowen, were brothers. They were struck by Maryland State Trooper Nicholas Hager as they attempted to cross Route 113 one evening in early November. It has been a wakeup call for the community, said Dufendach. Since the accident, the committee has been working to develop a list of improvements to the entire Route 113 corridor as it crosses Berlin that members feel are vital. The group was able to collect 1,032 signatures calling for crosswalks and a lower speed limit as the highway runs through town.
“With this information, with this support, we got a response from the State Highway Administration,” said Dufendach. “We got a chance to meet with them.”
Lowering the speed limit and installing countdown crosswalks at intersections were the two major requests that the committee submitted to SHA, but far from the only ones. Visibility is another big concern because there are no streetlights along Route 113.
There are also three schools in proximity to the highway, including Berlin Intermediate School (BIS) directly adjacent and Worcester Prepatory School and Buckingham Elementary School within walking distance and near the intersection with South Main Street/Germantown Road along Route 113. The committee has the support of the Worcester County Board of Education in seeking a school zone notification for Route 113 by BIS.
Overall, Dufendach reported to the council this week that SHA had an encouraging response to the committee’s requests.
“They’re listening to us. They’re moving forward quickly,” she said. “They know this is a situation which we are desperate to have taken care of and they want to satisfy.”
A speed study for the corridor is already underway. Additionally, Dufendach revealed Monday that improvements on Bay Street should begin by late January 2014. The committee hopes to see countdown crosswalks at the Bay Street and Old Ocean City Boulevard intersections. Likewise, a study to determine the need for a traffic light at the Germantown Road/South Main Street intersection is proposed for June 2014.
A custom “Walk Smart Berlin” campaign has also begun and will likely mimic some of the efforts already made by Ocean City in their pedestrian safety outreach. Buttons from that campaign reading, “Slow Down In Our Town,” have already been created. Other educational efforts are planned to get information into the community about being attentive while on the highway, both for pedestrians and motorists.
Everything considered it’s an incredible amount of work in just a few short weeks, according to Mayor Gee Williams.
“You’ve accomplished a great deal and not only in the number of things that you’ve done but in the number of things that you’ve gotten started,” he told Dufendach, passing on praise to the entire committee.
It’s past time to change the attitude around Route 113, replied Dufendach, altering the troubled road from a “bad child into a good child.” The corridor has seen 63 accidents since 2000.
“I’m sorry that it took this much attention for it to finally catch the eye of the state administration,” she continued. “But now that we’ve caught their eye they’re certainly responding and I’m grateful for that.”
While safety on Route 113 has taken the spotlight since the accident, there has also been much discussion on how the highway bisects the town. Specifically, several residents and Dufendach have commented on how the road has a reputation for cutting Berlin in half along racial boundaries. It’s time to create a new reputation, asserted Mayor Gee Williams.
“One of the many names, at least one of the names that can be spoken in the public forum in a polite way is that it’s called ‘The Berlin Wall.’ And I think that, what we need to do here as a community, regardless of age, regardless of where we live, regardless of where we came from, is to turn that wall into ‘The Berlin Backbone,’” Williams said.