Sidewalk Issue Worries Residents; Mayor Proposes Warning Signs To Heighten Safety

Sidewalk Issue Worries Residents; Mayor Proposes Warning Signs To Heighten Safety

BERLIN – The Town of Berlin regulates signs on sidewalks. It ensures local businesses meet accessibility requirements. The town even played a role in the effort to bring a crosswalk to Route 113.

So why, some residents want to know, are town officials ignoring what they consider a growing safety issue on William Street?

Tracy and David Albrecht live directly across the street from Venable’s Cleaners. Every day, they watch as pedestrians, many of them children, walk out into busy William Street to get around a vehicle parked in the space on the sidewalk in front of the dry cleaners. They believe that unless parking in the space is prohibited, there’s eventually going to be a mishap.

“The town pushes sidewalk safety in the rest of town,” Tracy Albrecht said, “but here you’re putting the needs of a business owner ahead of the needs of the citizens.”

Berlin Mayor Gee Williams says there’s always been parking in front of Venable’s and it’s never caused a problem.

“I respect their concern but I believe their remedy is gross overkill in reaction to this potential possibility of a mishap,” Williams said.

The Albrechts say they don’t understand why people dropping off clothes at the dry cleaners need to park on the sidewalk in front of the store when there’s an adjacent parking lot. The couple says they’ve watched the problem grow since they moved to Berlin in 2003. As the town has gotten busier, attracting both more residents and more shoppers, traffic on William Street has increased. Every day, but particularly on Thursday evenings, Tracy Albrecht sees cars pull onto the depressed area of the sidewalk. Because of the brick wall bordering the front of Venable’s, pedestrians walking down the sidewalk are forced into the street.

“I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve watched kids almost get hit,” Tracy Albrecht said.

She and her husband brought their concerns to Williams and the Berlin Town Council in 2013 but were rebuffed. Their neighbor, though she shared their worries, wouldn’t even go with them because she’s become disillusioned with the town’s response to citizen concerns.

Albrecht called the whole situation disappointing.

“It seems like either you’re in the clique or you’re not,” she said. “It shouldn’t be that way.”

Albrecht and her husband maintain that it’s illegal to park on the sidewalk. She pointed out that it can’t be done anywhere else in town.

“I’d love to pull up to Rayne’s [Reef] and run in and get a shake,” Albrecht said.

Though it does not specifically refer to vehicles, Berlin’s town code does prohibit sidewalk obstructions.

“The mayor and council shall not permit any articles, chattels, tables and chairs or merchandise of any type to be placed on a sidewalk unless said obstructing items comply with and meet the minimum sidewalk accessibility standards contained in the Maryland State Highway Administration’s Accessibility Policy and Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities Along State Highways, June 2010 Edition,” it reads.

According to that State Highway Administration (SHA) policy, sidewalks are required to meet certain technical specifications and are designed to provide a smooth and predictable access route.

“Sudden changes in grade or direction, steep cross slopes, unexpected obstacles, drop-offs, narrow pathways and close traffic are all potential hazards,” it states.

When contacted Wednesday, SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar, said that when the sidewalk in front of Venable’s was replaced two years ago the parking area was left as it had been in the past.

“We worked really closely with the town leaders,” he said. “The result was a new sidewalk but maintaining what was there prior.”

Janet Evans, who has worked at Venable’s Cleaners in Berlin for 28 years, says customers have been parking in front of the store since the 1950s. She says the practice has never created a problem. After the Albrechts raised concerns in 2013, staff at Venable’s collected nearly 200 signatures on a petition in support of the front parking spaces.

“We’ve had the pull-off since the early 1950s,” Evans said. “We’ve never had a problem. The people that park there, they’re in for a minute and then they leave.”

Williams doesn’t remember a time when there wasn’t parking in front of the shop. He also doesn’t remember an accident ever occurring there. Berlin Police Chief Arnold Downing said the area was not one that caused concern for the police department. While there are issues with kids being in the street on occasion, he says that occurs throughout town.

“That’s always going to be a problem,” he said.

Williams said that with the volume of pedestrian and bicycle traffic in Berlin, there was potential for an accident anywhere in town.

“I believe you can stand anywhere in town and see an almost accident,” he said.

He said he respected the concerns of residents in the vicinity of Venable’s but did not see the need for a change in the parking situation.

“Apparently it must be causing emotional distress for someone but worrying about all the ‘what ifs’ could drive anyone crazy,” he said. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

He believes the key to maintaining a safe environment is educating drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Williams said he was going to speak to town councilmembers about the possibility of putting up signs in the area of the dry cleaners to encourage caution.

“What I’m going to do is talk to the council and see if we can put a couple warning signs up,” he said.