OCEAN CITY — When it comes to the public safety of bikers in Ocean City, installing a light is more valuable than writing a citation.
On the heels of a heartbreaking fatality of an international student riding a bike in a Delaware beach resort who was struck by a driver who fled the scene, the Ocean City Police Department announced it has completed a grant funded initiative that put lights on 60 bicycles, largely owned by foreign students.
While the timing of the completed initiative and the unfortunate tragedy is purely coincidental, the potential impact of the initiative has town officials hoping that it will prevent similar tragedies.
“It can be nearly impossible for drivers to see cyclists that are not equipped with front and rear lights,” said OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro. “According to Maryland law, all bicyclists must have a white front light facing forward, visible from the front of the bike, and a red rear facing backward light, visible from the rear.”
While some police departments would choose to uphold the law by writing citations, in this case, a violation that levies a $90 fine, the OCPD opted for a teachable moment that it hopes will increase public safety and ultimately save lives.
“We realized that people, especially international students, were riding bikes at night without proper lighting was an issue,” said OCPD Public Information Officer Lindsay Richard. “This grant helped us crack down on the problem without writing tickets.”
The relatively small grant (just $800 that purchased 60 bike lights) was awarded by the state’s Department of Transportation Highway Safety Office to the OCPD and officers literally installed the lights on the spot for bicyclists who had been pulled over for riding without lights after dusk.
“Rather than ticketing the individuals, officers educated them on the importance of riding with bike safety lights and installed the lights on their bicycle during the stop,” said Buzzuro. “This was an extremely successful initiative.”
Bicycles and public transportation are the main modes of transportation for the vast majority of international students, and with Ocean City’s housing shortage forcing many of those students to live off the island in West Ocean City, the importance of having each of those bicycles equipped with the appropriate lighting required by law cannot be understated, according to Richard.
“The number of pedestrian collisions has dramatically decreased over the past several years,” she said, “but unfortunately bicycle collisions have not followed suit.”
According to OCPD annual reports, there have been 78 bicycle-related collisions in Ocean City since 2013, including five so far this summer.
OCPD officials are hoping the bike lights will help save the lives of international students whom, like 20-year-old Moldovan student Anastasia Ciolpan, are in this country for the summer working in the US State Department’s J-1 Visa Work and Travel Program.
Ciolpan was the victim of a hit and run in Bethany Beach on June 29th, and is reportedly the second child in her family that was killed in an accident involving a vehicle.
Her journey to this country to not only work, but to also see the landscape and sights of our nation, ended both tragically and prematurely.
“As police officers, especially those of us focused on traffic issues, it’s rare that we can correct the issue at hand right away during the traffic stop,” said Lt. Scott Harner, commander of the OCPD Traffic Safety Unit. “This program gave us the ability to do that. We are happy that we were able to help 60 people have a safe ride home for the rest of the summer.”
Richard says the department hopes to obtain similar grant funding in future years to help bring down the number of bicycle related collisions in the resort.