OCEAN CITY – For the past three seasons, an animated crab dressed as a lifeguard has been the proverbial face of Ocean City’s award-winning pedestrian safety campaign known as “Walk Smart,” but this year, it’s finally getting a name.
During a rainy press conference on Tuesday morning under a tent on the parking lot of Jolly Roger Amusement Park on 30th Street, State Highway Administration (SHA) officials unveiled an online contest that aims to name the popular mascot by Labor Day weekend.
Voters can choose between four pre-selected semi-finalist names which include KC or Casey, Cheswick, C.W., or Captain Crosswalk.
The name “Cheswick” was nominated as a name for the crab in honor of Matthew Cheswick, the 22-year-old who was tragically killed on Coastal Highway by a drunk driver in 2012, while waiting for a city bus.
People can vote on the city’s social media platforms each day until Labor Day, but as SHA District 1 Engineer Donnie Drewer explained, the fun of the contest does not take away from the importance of the message.
“Even at the beach, there is no break from the rules of the road,” said Drewer. “Sadly, prior to the 2016 summer kickoff, Ocean City experienced a [pedestrian] fatality and a serious injury. We need to continue to work hard and underscore the importance of travelling safety around Ocean City, whether it’s on foot, car, or bike.”
In the Walk Smart campaign’s first three seasons, Ocean City had zero pedestrian fatalities, but the death of a 67-year-old Pennsylvania man on May 4 who was struck by a police vehicle while crossing against the signal at 94th Street and the critical injury of a 19-year-old New Jersey woman reaffirmed the need to send the message of public safety on Ocean City’s main traffic artery clearly and as often as possible this season.
Mayor Rick Meehan has spent much of his press tours in Baltimore and Washington, DC in recent weeks talking about the Walk Smart Campaign and the town’s commitment to public safety.
“Pedestrian safety is one of the top priorities of our entire community,” said Meehan. “We invite millions of people to Ocean City each year, and we want everyone to arrive safely, be safe while you are here, and leave safely. This isn’t a message that you can just say one time. It’s a message that you have to constantly repeat and I think this campaign has done that very well.”
Still, Meehan admits that not everyone will take the common sense message of using the crosswalks to cross Coastal Highway to heart.
“Just today, I saw a young mother and her children running across Coastal Highway merely 50-feet from a crosswalk,” said Meehan. “Sometimes you just have to walk a few extra steps to be truly safe on that highway.”
In addition to promoting the safety messages via the Walk Smart Campaign, SHA’s Deputy Administrator Greg Slater outlined the organization’s recent resurfacing project on almost five miles of Coastal Highway, and spoke about the dune-style median fence that will be installed on Coastal Highway in late fall of 2016.
“That fence is in the design phase, and it will help deter some of those pedestrians from crossing the highway at places other than the crosswalk, while still keeping the look and feel of this great community as a beach community,” said Slater.
The repaving project, which may have been an eyesore or an inconvenience to local motorists, saw 90,000 linear feet of new striping, 8,350 square feet of new stenciling and added signage and countdown signals added throughout the resort in hopes of increasing the visibility and the impact of the Walk Smart campaign message.
Also new this year to the campaign is the outreach to the resort’s Recreation and Parks facilities and an expansion of business partnerships, such as Jolly Roger Amusement Park.
Yet, on the cusp of one of the busiest weekends of the summer season, Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro took his turn at the podium to stress the fact that officers will be watching and enforcing the city’s pedestrian laws during the 4th of July weekend.
“Every time the rules of the road are followed, another tragedy is prevented,” said Buzzuro. “We continue to focus on walking, biking and driving safety education and we remain poised to enforce as needed. We urge pedestrians to use the crosswalks and wait for the walk signal at all times.”
Slater added the fact that the crab lifeguard mascot has become an Ocean City “icon” of sorts through a plastering of branding initiatives throughout the campaign on everything from coasters to roadside billboards.
“The campaign has won national awards and is providing a model for local pedestrian safety efforts,” said Slater, “not just in Maryland but across the country.
A recent recall survey found that the campaign has had over 15 million impressions and more than 70% of people surveyed were familiar with both the campaign’s message and the crab mascot.
“We hope people will go onto the websites and help us finally give the crab a name,” said Drewer.