OCEAN CITY — An unintended side effect of the prohibition on smoking on the Boardwalk has moved the issue to the side streets adjacent to the promenade, but there is a plan in place to alleviate some of those concerns.
Three years ago, the town of Ocean City passed an ordinance prohibiting smoking and vaping on the Boardwalk and despite some early challenges, it appears the rule change is generally starting to achieve the desired results. However, the Boardwalk smoking ban has led to a different issue of smokers stepping off the Boardwalk near the street ends to partake, often just a few feet away from the crowded promenade.
With that new trend has come the larger issues of cigarette butt litter at street ends adjacent to the Boardwalk and cigarette and vape smoke wafting over the crowds. To that end, the Coastal Resources Legislative Committee, or Green Team, has acquired grants for cigarette butt receptacles, or so-called butt huts, to help alleviate the litter issue, but the question now is just where to install them.
During Tuesday’s work session, Public Works Director Hal Adkins and City Manager Doug Miller presented recommendations for where to install the butt huts and how best to move smoking to the west side of the Boardwalk.
“The catalyst for this discussion is we’ve been successful in getting smoking off the Boardwalk, but that has created a litter problem on our side streets,” he said. “We have grants for the butt huts, and now we’re figuring out how best to deploy them.”
Adkins agreed the litter problem sparked the discussion and presented a proposal to install the butt huts west of the Boardwalk and install signage that makes it known “smoking is prohibited beyond this point.”
“We have a litter problem at the street heads near the Boardwalk,” he said. “That led to the potential creation of designated smoking areas west of the Boardwalk. But then we thought ‘hold up, that could make our visitor walk through smoking areas on their way to the Boardwalk.’”
Adkins said he was looking for some direction from the Mayor and Council on the placement of the signage and cigarette butt receptacles.
“What is the goal?” he said. “Before we install signs and install the butt huts, I want to make sure we’re all on the same page. I think the concept is to put the butt huts near existing sign poles on both the north and south sides of the streets. The signs will say ‘no smoking or vaping beyond this point,’ and the receptacles will be depositories for cigarette butts.”
The conventional thinking all along has been to install the butt huts and designated smoking areas where Boardwalk access controls have been placed. Earlier this year, the town completed the second phase of the Boardwalk access control plan, or essentially the hardening of the Boardwalk in the interest of public safety.
As a result, decorative bollards have been installed at several streets where vehicles can access the Boardwalk. The logical location for the butt huts would be in those areas where bollards have been installed west of the Boardwalk. However, the problem is there is great disparity in the distance between the bollards and the Boardwalk. In some cases, the distance is as short as three feet, while in other areas, the distance is as far as 17 feet.
To that end, in the interest of consistency, Adkins recommended installing the butt huts and appropriate signage at the ramps on the side streets leading to the Boardwalk. Under Adkins’ recommendation, the signage would be installed at the ramps and signify “no smoking or vaping beyond this point,” and the butt huts would provide an opportunity for smokers entering the Boardwalk the put out their smokes and properly dispose of the butts. The signs would have the universal “no smoking” symbol along with language in both English and Spanish.
Councilman Matt James suggested taking a larger step and making the entire Boardwalk and beach a smoke-free zone. Council President Lloyd Martin did not disagree, but said that was a discussion for another day.
“I think that’s a bigger discussion,” he said. “That would affect a lot of people. I think we need to take these smaller steps first.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said the smoking ban on the Boardwalk was finally achieving the desired results and the logical next step was directing smokers away from the Boardwalk.
“The good news is people are getting off the Boardwalk to smoke,” he said. “They are moving off to the side streets. The message is getting out. The natural flow is taking them to the concrete portion of the Boardwalk.”
Martin said whatever recommendation was chosen, there would always be a small percentage that choose to ignore the rules.
“Around 80% to 90% of people will use them,” he said. “There will always be a small percentage that don’t care and won’t do it.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca said whatever option was chosen, something had to be done about the cigarette butt litter.
“This came out of the Adopt Your Beach program,” he said. “By far, the biggest contributor to litter are cigarette butts. It’s not even close. This gives them a place to dispose of cigarette butts, but we have to give them a place west of the Boardwalk.”
The proposal calls for signage directing smokers to areas west of the Boardwalk and at the Inlet lot near the access points to the Boardwalk. Councilman Mark Paddack said he liked the idea of signs in both English and Spanish, but felt the latter should be placed only at the Inlet lot area.
“I feel like we’re making a bigger issue out of this then we have to,” he said. “I like the idea of Spanish on the signs at the Inlet lot because that’s where the highest percentage of our Hispanic visitors go. The rest of the Boardwalk should just be in English.”
Adkins said the overall goal is to clean up the signage and make it known in no uncertain terms where smoking is allowed west of the Boardwalk, a situation he said does not currently exist.
“As it stands, there is no conformity at all,” he said. “Some streets have zero signs and some have as many as four. My goal is to make it uniform, simple and clean.”
There could be some pushback from businesses along the side streets where the signs and butt huts will be installed, but DeLuca said the town would be a good partner on the issue with the private sector.
“We’ll work with any business that has a problem with them,” he said. “We’ll work with them to find an appropriate place for the signage.”
In the end, the council voted unanimously to install the signage and butt huts at the ramps along the side streets leading to the Boardwalk on both the north and south sides. In addition, signage would be placed on the east side of the sign poles directing smokers to the butt huts and acceptable areas for smoking.