OC Bike Path Issues Debated

OCEAN CITY — In the ongoing effort of making Ocean City more bicycle-friendly and getting more bikes off Coastal Highway and onto alternative routes, resort transportation officials this week heard an update on the progress of gaining easements from private property owners for bike paths.

Ocean City officials have been exploring ways to enhance alternative means of transportation in the resort with conceptual plans for new bike route alignments. One of the major goals is to minimize the need for bicycles to co-mingle and interact with cars, buses and trucks on the resort’s major roadways including Coastal Highway and Philadelphia and Baltimore avenues, for example.

Longtime locals know there are several ways to travel from one end of the resort to the other on bicycle by avoiding the major roadways for the most part, from side streets to alleys to private property parking lots, but resort officials are seeking ways to enhance and improve those unofficial bicycle routes. In order to avoid breaks in the unofficial bike path chain, Public Works Director Hal Adkins has been working with 15 private property owners seeking easements to allow bicyclists to cut through the properties to avoid Coastal Highway.

Adkins told the Transportation Committee on Tuesday he had sent out 15 location requests and had tentatively positive responses from 11. However, it remains to be seen what the end project would look like. Adkins said some property owners expressed concern consenting to the easements would mean the city would come on their properties and actually paint bike path routes on their parking lots, which was never the intent.

“I never envisioned going on a private property and striping a bike path,” he said. “I think I would get a bunch of no’s if we did that. Instead, I think we can just have some signage and let logic dictate where the bikes would go.”

After some debate, it was agreed the mission could be accomplished with some appropriate signage, either posted or stenciled onto the city roadways with arrows.

Another major concern is the semantics behind the easements. While the city has no intention of taking possession of private property and merely wants permission from property owners to allow some bicyclists to cut through their parking lots, for example, the mere word “easement” could make it tough sell for some condominiums and hotel owners.

“We knew going in this was going to be a tall order,” said Councilman Tony DeLuca. “At our condo, for example, 100 percent of the owners would have to approve an easement. To think 15 condos are going to have to have 100 percent compliance is not going to happen.”

City Engineer Terry McGean said the town should explore verbiage other than “easement” to accomplish the bike path goals.

“If there a different legal instrument other than an easement, it might be easier to sell,” he said. “It might be as simple as asking for permission or a right-of-entry.”

Adkins said he would meet with City Solicitor Guy Ayres to come up with some alternatives to present to the property owners.

“A right-of-entry is far less formal and that might be the way to go,” he said. “We need to reach out to Guy and see of right-of-entry or something similar is feasible.”

McGean said a right-of-entry approach or something similar would likely make gaining approval from the property owners easier.

“We need to find something that doesn’t turn over property rights to the city and maybe just allow informal access,” he said. “It would be easier to pitch to 12 board members and not 300 owners.”