West OC Bike Path Review Raises Bridge Questions

OCEAN CITY- A review of the proposed bike-friendly trail along the Route 50 corridor from Route 611 into Ocean City raised some eyebrows this month for its apparent design flaw that has it crossing the busy highway.

During last Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting, Councilman Tony DeLuca briefed his colleagues on some of the highlights from a recent Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee including an update on a proposed bicycle and pedestrian-friendly trail along the Route 50 corridor in West Ocean City. Bicycle traffic along the section of Route 50 from Route 611 to the bridge has created challenges for years, but the issue has exacerbated recently with the proliferation of new hotels and shopping in West Ocean City.

Perhaps more importantly, more and more J-1 visa summer workers are living in West Ocean City where housing is often more available and more affordable and are commuting to jobs on the island on foot and on bicycles. To that end, the State Highway Administration (SHA) has been developing plans for a bicycle and pedestrian-friendly path along the Route 50 corridor in West Ocean City. There is some existing bike-friendly infrastructure along that section of highway, particularly in front of the outlets on the north side, but SHA is planning on tying the existing paths together with a more comprehensive system.

Ocean City’s bike and pedestrian advisory committee has been privy to the plans and got a review during a meeting this month. As chairman of the committee, DeLuca updated the Mayor and Council on the proposed plans during last week’s regular meeting.

“From Route 611 to a block before the bridge, the bike lane will be on the south side of Route 50,” he said. “It’s going to be in the ditch or grassy area off the roadway. It will then cross at the light at Hooper’s and will continue in the grassy area along the north side until you get to the bridge. In both situations, it will be in the grassy area.”

However, Councilman Matt James questioned the wisdom of having the bike-friendly trail along the south side of Route 50 and then crossing over to the north side just before the bridge, pointing out the north side of the Route 50 bridge has steps going down to the street level while the south side has an existing bike and pedestrian-friendly ramp.

“So, when they come across the bridge, they will have to go down the steps on the north side rather than the ramp on the south side?” he said. “Does that make sense?”

DeLuca said the same thought occurred to him, but that proposal was not included in SHA’s update on the project.

“I hear what you’re saying, but that didn’t come up at the meeting,” he said. “This is going to take a year to complete, so now is the time to ask these questions.”

James continued to emphasize the importance of directing bicycle traffic to the south side of the bridge.

“It’s really none of our business, but I would think with the infrastructure already in place along the outlets on the north side of Route 50, it would be easier to add the bike lane there in the grassy area and switch over to the south side of Route 50,” he said. “If a bicycle is coming into town, they would have the ramp to walk down instead of steep stairs.”

DeLuca agreed and said he would emphasize that scenario in future discussions with SHA on the proposed West Ocean City bike-friendly path. In either case, DeLuca said bicyclists would be encouraged to dismount and walk their bikes over the bridge. There is existing signage encouraging bikers to do that, but at certain times of day or at certain times of year, many bicyclists continue to ride across in the travel lanes.

“I thought of that too when I was reviewing the notes, but it never came up at the meeting,” he said. “Let me find out the reason why. Regardless of the reason why, we know a bicyclist is always going to continue along the south side or they can dismount and walk across.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight said she hoped any solution would include requiring bicyclists to dismount and walk their bikes across the bridge.

“I hope we stress to people to please not ride their bike across the bridge,” she said. “A lot of the J-1 students do that in the morning and it stops traffic. It is very, very unsafe.”

It’s no secret dismounting and walking a bicycle across the Route 50 Bridge creates challenges. There is almost always an in-kind amount of pedestrian traffic, not to mention numerous fishermen on both sides of the span depending on the tides. While many will continue to ride bikes across the bridge in the travel lanes to avoid the morass of pedestrians and anglers along with other obstacles including trash cans, DeLuca said the committee would continue to push for requiring bikers to dismount and walk across.

“The easiest and safest thing to do is dismount and walk your bike across the bridge whether it is north or south,” he said. “We will emphasize that regardless of what the final configuration is.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.