OCEAN CITY – Officials are looking to the downtown area of St. Louis Avenue as the site for the first phase of dedicated bike routes in Ocean City.
For the past several months, the Transportation Committee has been exploring the idea of implementing bike routes in Ocean City to help enhance bicycle safety in the resort by offering an alternate route besides Coastal Highway.
In May, Ocean City GIS Coordinator Karen Zera presented preliminary maps starting with the Downtown Circuit, which is a loop from Somerset Street to 17th Street, using an alley way on the east side of Coastal Highway and St. Louis Avenue.
The Midtown Connector is from 15th Street to 35th Street following mostly along the Boardwalk.
The Midtown Route is from 34th Street to 92nd Street on the east side of Coastal Highway using alley ways on the east side of Coastal Highway and cut through on private property where available. This segment is lined with towering condominium buildings with most of their parking lots fenced off to the public.
The Northend Bikeway is from 118th Street to 146th Street that takes Assawoman Drive, which runs parallel with Coastal Highway, on the eastside until 130th Street where bicycles can cross Coastal Highway and ride along Sinepuxent Avenue, which also runs parallel to Coastal Highway on the west side practically to the Delaware line.
On Tuesday morning, the committee reconvened to further discuss the project.
Grant Coordinator Wayne Evans presented the potential funding mechanism of the Maryland Department of Transportation’s Bikeways Program that offers $2.5 million a year to support the provision and upgrade of bicycle facilities throughout the state.
“The good news is the program is there, and putting bike routes into Ocean City fits right into the criteria,” Evans said. “The bad news is the funding period just ended on June 30, so we will have to wait a year to apply, and then the allocation won’t come for another seven to eight months, so we are looking at a year and half before we can do this.”
Evans pointed out Ocean City’s neighbor to the west, Salisbury, has taken advantage of the program being the only city on the Eastern Shore to receive funding from the program over the past three years.
“Salisbury has been very successful at putting together a bike program,” Evans said. “Their primary focus there is they are getting workers downtown … we have many foreign workers that bike throughout town.”
However, to apply for funding for all of Ocean City’s 10-mile stretch is big bite to start off with, Evans stated.
“I would look at doing three phases like what Salisbury has done, and I would go for the low hanging fruit early … like downtown and St. Louis Ave. where everything is already in place, as well as where we know there is a heavy concentration of foreign workers in West Ocean City and in downtown Ocean City. We could present it as a three-year program and work our way up the beach,” Evans said. “In the meantime, we also need to be thinking about what we need to ask for, and what that money would be used for in a detailed budget.”
Evans recommended the town partner with State Highway Administration (SHA), which initiated the Walk Smart campaign in Ocean City to enhance pedestrian safety on Coastal Highway. With the campaign in its second year, a focus is on bicycle safety this summer season. SHA has also been making an effort in enhancing bicycle safety in West Ocean City along Route 50.
“SHA is looking to improve both pedestrian and bike accidents in West Ocean City, so it ties in. We can pick it up with a partnership starting at the foot of the [Route 50] bridge and take it as far north as we can in the first leg,” Mayor Rick Meehan said.
In mapping out potential routes, the committee has recognized a couple blockages on the ocean side and sought City Solicitor Guy Ayres’ advice.
According to Ayres, when it comes to condominiums, such as the blockage at The Meridian on 60th Street, the building’s board of directors does not have the power to grant an easement for public purpose. Another known blockage is at the Econo Lodge hotel on 29th Street.
“By legislation the boards have the power to grant easements for utilities but the purpose serves the condominium,” Ayres said. “It does not give the board power to grant an easement on the property to give the public access.”
Ocean City’s Code of Ordinances states, “The Mayor and City Council may waiver or otherwise modify any requirement or standard of this division when deemed necessary for the provision of public services or utilities or private properties such as, but not limited to, garbage collection, recycling containers, bus shelters and essential services.”
“I don’t see any harm in trying to get the property owners to give you an easement,” Ayres said. “They are going to say yes or no.”
According to Councilman Dennis Dare, receiving easements is quite the undertaking.
“When we started beach replenishment, we had to receive easements from all the oceanfront properties, and we had state employees working on that for several years to be able to do that,” he said.
In moving forward, the Planning and Zoning Commission should start asking developing/redeveloping property owners for bicycle easements as part of site plan approvals, Meehan said, for example as the commission has been doing in requesting widening sidewalks to eight feet to enhance pedestrian safety.
“Concurrently with the grant funding being a year out we can start working on these easements to at least see if it is an issue,” Councilman Tony DeLuca said.
Going with a three-phase concept, the committee was in consensus to start with the downtown. City Engineer Terry McGean and Public Works Director Hal Adkins had already met with the Ocean City Development Corporation (OCDC) to discuss the downtown route.
“They [OCDC] liked St. Louis Avenue that gets a lot of use and they are supportive of doing some additional things there, such as bike racks, signage and striping. They also liked the Edgewater Avenue detour and same thing there,” McGean said. “They did not like, and honestly I am not in favor of it either, in creating the alley route downtown. The feeling was we already have a very viable safe route on St. Louis Ave … those alleys are very heavily used, so we would prefer not to pursue those at this time.”
As far as the second phase, McGean pointed out Sinexpuxent Avenue, which is located on the bayside of Coastal Highway from the Montego Bay Shopping Center in front of 130th Street to the most northern point of Ocean City, mimics St. Louis Avenue’s right-of-way.
Adkins added in the last couple years the town installed a curb cut behind the Montego Bay Shopping Center, connecting Sinepuxent Avenue to Northside Park, which takes a bicyclist as far 123rd Street without using Coastal Highway with permission from the commercial property.
The committee agreed the next steps would be for McGean and Evans to form a downtown plan and detailed budget as the first phase to prepare for an application for state funding next year and for Ayres to prepare proposed easements for properties blocking a bike route on the Oceanside to consider.
“If you can get us an example of an easement and what the dialogue would be, we could attempt to begin that project,” Meehan said to Ayres.