Committee, State Tour West OC To Discuss Bike, Pedestrian Safety

WEST OCEAN CITY — Determined to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety in the increasingly dense West Ocean City, leaders of a grassroots citizens group this week toured the known trouble spots with a state transportation official to begin exploring potential projects.

Formed this spring, the West Ocean City Pedal and Pedestrian Committee has met on several occasions to explore public safety improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists in the rapidly developing West Ocean City area, but there is also a recreational element.

Group leaders envision a kinder, gentler environment in West Ocean City for bikers and pedestrians with links to a broader network of trails being developed in the north end of the county from Assateague to Berlin. In the short term, however, the committee is focusing its efforts on much needed pedestrian and bicycle-friendly upgrades in the area, but thus far the effort has been long on problems and short on solutions.

Committee leaders Michael Maykrantz, an Ocean City firefighter and paramedic, and Tres Denk, president of the Eastern Shore Mountain Biking Association, on Tuesday met with the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Director of Bicycle and Pedestrian Access Michael Jackson for a tour of West Ocean City.

“The whole area is a combination of state and county roads, and there is a lack of funding for both,” he said. “The roads are narrow with no shoulders in a lot of places, dark with inadequate lighting and generally not safe for pedestrians or bicyclists.”

The main problem is the often narrow, dark roads in West Ocean City were designed and laid out several years ago before the big development explosion in the area. Now, with an abundance of shopping centers, outlets, restaurants, hotels and motels and other businesses, the high volume of traffic along the corridors is mingling with an equally high volume of pedestrian and bicycle traffic, often with dangerous and sometimes deadly results. As a paramedic, Maykrantz said he has seen more than his fair share of serious injuries to bikers and walkers in West Ocean City and even a few fatalities over the years.

“The big problem is, these roads were laid out and designed decades ago when West Ocean City was basically out in the country,” he said. “With all of the residential and commercial development, it’s become pretty dense and urban in recent years, but the roads were never built to take the high volume of pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The whole area exploded, but the roads are basically the same as they were in the 1950s and 1960s.”

While change is slow in coming, there have been some changes implemented recently, especially along the Route 50 corridor with the implementation of crosswalks and pedestrian signals at some of the major intersections. There has also been a piecemeal development of sidewalks along the north side of Route 50 although there are still some gaps.

“There has been some progress with sidewalks along the north side of Route 50 from the bridge to Route 611,” said Maykrantz. “The only area that lacks a sidewalk along there now is the stretch in front of Hooper’s. We’re hoping to eventually have sidewalks all the way to Herring Creek, which is sort of the limit of West Ocean City.”

Maykrantz said the committee realizes funding and other issues, including the procurement of easements, is stifling progress to a large degree, and that projects will have to be done in phases. Thus far, the committee has focused a lot of its efforts on the densely developed north side of Route 50.

“Our main focus has been the corridors along Golf Course Rd. to Center Drive over to Keyser Point Rd. although we’re looking at the entire West Ocean City area,” he said. “That’s one of the densest areas in West Ocean City, but the roads are narrow and dark. The county’s Comprehensive Plan identified Golf Course and Keyser Point as areas with a lot of traffic flow feeding Route 50 and an area that needs improvements, but we haven’t seen any real progress.”

The committee is beginning to work with its state and county partners to affect some changes to make the area safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. Already the committee is finding out there are significant barriers to overcome.

“We’re learning there is a ton of issues to overcome from easements to property rights and, of course, funding,” he said. “Our hope is to get some of these projects to shovel ready status with pre-planning and engineering so they can be accomplished when funds become available.”

The committee, which now numbers about 12-15 individuals, can be found on Facebook and is always looking for new members and fresh ideas.

“The state does have a plan to make improvements, but you don’t hear much about them,” he said. “We’re trying to educate ourselves on what plans are already on the books and have a plan in place to expedite some of these projects.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.