Upon Further Review: Has Route 113 Crosswalk Accomplished Much?

Upon Further Review: Has Route 113 Crosswalk Accomplished Much?

OCEAN CITY – Bobby Lee Johnson has been crossing Route 113 from his residence on Flower Street in Berlin almost every day for the past 56 years.

He says even with the new crosswalk at the intersection of Bay Street and Assateague Road that was installed after one teenager was killed and another critically injured after being struck by a passing police cruiser roughly two years ago, crossing that highway is a daunting task.

“It’s still as dangerous at is it ever was,” said Johnson. “You better know what you are doing and get yourself moving when that light turns green because you don’t have a lot of time.”

To truly understand what Johnson means, it helps to take the walk across the busy highway which has not only been deemed one of the most dangerous in our region, but also has historically divided the east side of Berlin, which is predominantly inhabited by African-American residents and the west side of Berlin, which is mostly made up of Caucasian residents.

“When you stand on this corner and press the button, you can feel the trucks fly by and sometimes it almost knocks you off balance,” said Johnson. “This is a highway and it gets so loud it’s hard to hear the person next to you talking sometimes.”

It takes approximately 44 steps to get from one side of the highway to the other, and when the “little walking man” on the sign becomes illuminated, he only lasts for eight seconds, before a blinking red hand starts a 30-second countdown. Essentially, you have 38 seconds to make it, and Johnson says that can be a tough task for kids, the elderly or even overweight residents.

“It’s busy in the morning, and it’s busy at night,” he said. “There is no safe time to cross this highway, even with the crosswalk. People still fly through here even after the reduced the speed limit, and it needs to be patrolled better. We are glad it’s here, though. It’s definitely better than nothing.”

The Berlin Wall

Some locals, especially those who have lived here for a substantial number of years, have often referred to Route 113 as “The Berlin Wall”, according to Berlin Mayor Gee Williams.

“Back in 1957 when that original dual lane was constructed, Berlin was a much different town than what it is now, culturally, politically and economically,” Williams told this reporter on the former public radio show “Coastal Connection” in 2013, “Berlin had much more in common with the deep south than it did with the rest of Maryland, so no one thought much of the divide the road created at the time.”

Williams believes the crosswalk has helped bridge the gap between the two sides of the community, but it is not the “be-all-end-all” solution.

“In hindsight, the integration of any community takes time,” said Williams this week. “Looking back over the past half century, I think the highway has not only artificially divided our community, but it has also exaggerated that divide. The actual mobility for people to easily go from one neighborhood to the other was impeded by a highway that was gaining traffic volume literally every year. Now, as we grow, we have that in mind and are taking steps to improve that historical divide.”

Williams says Berlin is working with the State Highway Administration to eventually add more crosswalks that would link the two sides of Berlin more safely, especially for pedestrians. He says the first one of list, as far as new crosswalks go, is the intersection of Old Ocean City Blvd and 113, which perhaps more commonly known as the “Food Lion intersection.”

“We are trying to do many things right now as far as roadway improvements because we are definitely going through a period of growth”, said Williams. “As we increase our revenues through commercial and modest residential growth, we are investing in our town roads and our sidewalks so we can grow in a smart and managed way. We don’t want to lose the small town feel or be choked off by traffic in Berlin as we grow. I can’t tell you the exact timeline, but I believe there will be a crosswalk at the Food Lion intersection sometime in the next five years.”

Tragedy Brings Change

Almost 50 people have been killed in pedestrian accidents on the local stretch of Route 113 dating back to 1980, including seven in the past 15 years.

The most recent was 16-year-old Tymeir Dennis, who was struck by a police cruiser along with his brother Tyheym Brown in November of 2013. The tragedy rocked the community, and sparked a petition campaign that eventually led to the installation of the crosswalk.

A sign was also erected in remembrance of the boys just about 50 feet from the traffic box where Bobby Lee Johnson and others wait to cross the highway each day.

The sign says “The Brothers: T.D.M.D and T.D.M.B.

Johnson says many parents on the east side of Berlin are terrified of the highway, even with the crosswalk, and don’t cross over onto the other side of town as a result.

“For some folks, they don’t have a way to get over there, so they don’t go,” he said, “and to be honest, some folks don’t go across because they feel like there is nothing for them on the other side of town. Our community has changed in a lot of ways for the better, but it hasn’t changed all the way. Just last week, there were two boys in a pickup truck driving down Flower Street with a Confederate Flag waving out the back screaming the n-word at people. So, we still have a ways to go.”

Williams believes the crosswalk has made things safer for pedestrians and it’s helping to make people, at the very least, more aware of the metaphorical divisions in Berlin.

“I believe the terrible tragedy of that accident has helped bring together some of the things that have historically been divided here for decades, and while it always takes time,” said the mayor. “I think we are headed in the right direction for a safer and more accessible town for all of our residents in Berlin.”

About The Author: Bryan Russo

Bryan Russo returned to The Dispatch in 2015 to serve as News Editor after working as a staff writer from 2007-2010 covering the Ocean City news beat. In between, Russo worked as the Coastal Reporter for NPR-member station WAMU 88.5FM in Washington DC and WRAU 88.3 FM on the Delmarva Peninsula. He was the host of a weekly multi-award winning public affairs show “Coastal Connection.” During his five years in public radio, Russo’s work won 19 Associated Press Awards and 2 Edward R. Murrow Awards and was heard on various national programs like NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, APM’s Marketplace and the BBC. Russo also worked for the Associated Press (Philadelphia Bureau) covering the NHL and the NBA and is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter and composer.