OCEAN CITY — Finding a solution to a break in the bike route along the midtown section of Coastal Highway continues to be challenging, but one possible remedy got a lot of play this month.
Under current conditions, the bike route shares the bus lane along both sides of Coastal Highway and for years has worked successfully for the most part. However, a problem arises in the section of Coastal Highway from roughly 60th Street to 64th Street where lane reconfigurations to accommodate the entry of Route 90 into town causes the bike route to essentially disappear in that area.
The disappearance of the bike and bus lane in that area creates a no man’s land of sorts for bicyclists uncertain of whether to continue in the traffic lanes, ride on the sidewalk or dismount and walk their bikes through that area.
Over the last few years, the town and its subcommittees have worked diligently to create a seamless bike route from one end of the resort to the other, but that section from 60th to 64th streets continues to create headaches.
The issue was brought up again on Tuesday during the Mayor and Council’s fall update meeting with State Highway Administration (SHA) officials. SHA officials told the council there was little desire on the state’s part to reconfigure the lanes in that section of Coastal Highway. SHA officials also pointed out a state ordinance prohibits riding bicycles on the sidewalk along state highways.
Councilman Tony DeLuca, who chairs the Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Committee and who has been a stanch advocate for improving bike routes throughout town, said Ocean City could craft its own ordinance to allow riding bicycles on sidewalks in that section of the highway.
“I would like to proceed right now to amend the ordinance to allow bikes on sidewalks in that area from 60th Street to 64th Street,” he said. “If the state isn’t on board with this, we can do it on our own as a town with our ordinance.”
However, SHA District Engineer Jay Meredith said the department sought an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office and said there could be liability issues.
“We have found that people who get injured tend to come after the state and the town,” he said. “The recommendation we got from the Attorney General’s Office was not to allow bikes on sidewalks.”
Meredith said there could be some creative remedy such as moving the curbs in those areas, for example. He also suggested the utility poles could be taken out of the sidewalks in those areas.
“One option could be moving the curb,” he said. “That would solve the problem, but there is no point in doing that if we couldn’t do the whole section. Maybe you can work it out with the utility companies to move the poles out of the median.”
DeLuca said those solutions would likely be cost-prohibitive and suggested signage that instructed bicyclists to walk their bikes through that area.
“Short of that, can we get some signage telling them to dismount and walk their bikes through that four-block section?” he said.
Councilman John Gehrig dismissed the notion bicyclists were simply going to adhere to signs and walk their bikes through that four-block area.
“Do we want a sign that says get off your bike and walk it?” he said. “Do we really want that? I think we need to discuss that more.”
Councilman Mark Paddack drew from his experiences as a police officer.
“The signage is a concern for me,” he said. “At that location at 59th Street, the transportation article instructs bicyclists to ride in lane three and observe the rules of the road. I don’t ever recall us issuing even one citation for someone riding a bike in that area. I think common sense says leave that the way it is.”
The issue was broached again a day later, last Wednesday, Nov. 14, before the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. While the committee agreed the town should not override state ordinances that prohibit bicycles on sidewalks, the members did agree to the use of signage and sidewalk markings that would instruct bicyclists to dismount and walk their bikes through that section of the bike route.
The committee also agreed to re-evaluate the road markings at the end of the bike route at 61st Street. DeLuca told the members the committee could work directly with the public works department to get the signage installed without the approval of the full council, but advised against going that route.
“I’ll take it the city council,” he said. “They might say they want to vote on it. That’s their prerogative. We can do it without the city council’s approval, but we don’t want to do that.”
Engineering Manager and committee president Paul Mauser applauded the effort to find a plausible solution.
“I think we finally found a resolution to this concern,” he said.
DeLuca agreed, but cautioned against a possible negative vote from the council. Just a day earlier, some on the council rebuffed the signage concept.
“Unless the city council votes against it,” he said.