WEST OCEAN CITY — Ground was broken Tuesday morning on a new pedestrian and bicycle-friendly shared path between Route 611 and the Route 50 bridge in West Ocean City, the latest link in the resort area’s aggressive Walk Smart program chain.
After a rash of fatal pedestrian collisions about six years ago, Ocean City and the Maryland Department of Transportation-State Highway Administration (MDOT-SHA) embarked on an aggressive campaign to reverse the trend. The ensuing Walk Smart program has included several major physical changes, including more marked crosswalks in Ocean City, increased signage, road marking and the fence down the center median of Coastal Highway in an area that historically has seen the most pedestrian-vehicle collisions.
The Walk Smart program has included an aggressive awareness campaign aimed at urging pedestrians to use the designated crosswalks while urging motorists to increase their awareness of pedestrian traffic. As a result, the iconic Walk Smart cartoon crab has been plastered on signs, buses, drink coasters and hotel room placards urging visitors to follow the rules of the road.
Thus far, the Walk Smart program has focused much of its efforts in Ocean City and rightfully so. However, a growth spurt in West Ocean City along the Route 50 corridor, including several new hotels, restaurants and shopping centers, along with more and more seasonal workers finding housing outside of town, has resulted in a significant increase in pedestrian and bicycle traffic along with corridor. Pedestrians and bicyclists increasingly intermingle with heavy vehicle traffic along both sides of the Route 50 corridor and the approach to Ocean City.
To that end, after months of planning and design work, ground was broken on Tuesday morning for a new shared pedestrian and bicycle path along the south side of Route 50 between Route 611 and the Harry Kelley Memorial Bridge. The 10-foot wide path will run along the south side of Route 50 and will include a combination of asphalt, concrete and, in some areas, boardwalks, to provide a safe conduit for bicycle and pedestrian traffic.
The bike-pedestrian path will cover roughly three-quarters-of-a-mile and will be ADA compliant. The project also includes the installation of new marked crosswalks and audible countdown pedestrian signals. The project is expected to cost around $1.8 million with an official start date this week and an estimated completion date in the fall.
State and local dignitaries along with MDOT-SHA officials and the contractors gathered at the Francis Scott Key Family Resort on Route 50 on Tuesday morning to officially break ground on the project. SHA District Engineer Jay Meredith said with the high volume of traffic entering Ocean City along the Route 50 corridor during the summer months intermingling with the increased bicycle and pedestrian traffic, the time was right to move forward with the shared path.
“It’s no surprise Ocean City is the second largest city in Maryland during the summer months,” he said. “During the prime time for beach traffic, there is an associated increase in bicycle and pedestrian traffic throughout the area. Today, we have exciting news with the start of this project. Safety remains our number-one priority.”
MDOT-SHA Administrator Greg Slater agreed, pointing out 33,000 vehicles cross over the Route 50 Bridge each day during the summer and that vehicle traffic is intermingling with bicycle and pedestrian traffic.
“One of the best ways to enjoy Ocean City is by foot and bicycle, and this project will enable pedestrians and bicyclists to travel safely between the downtown and West Ocean City areas,” he said. “We want to use every tool in our toolbox to make travel safe for all roadway users.”
Slater said the increased bike and pedestrian traffic forced MDOT-SHA to take a closer look at how to improve safety along the corridor.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth in West Ocean City and our most vulnerable travelers are bicyclists and pedestrians,” he said. “We recognize that and it has caused a shift in our thinking about how they can safely travel. This will make major strides in mobility for everyone, but it’s only part of the solution. Nobody can let their guard down and everybody has to do their part.”
State Senator Mary Beth Carozza said the project demonstrates the state and local partnership to make the busy corridor safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
“We are putting safety first,” she said. “We know that this will improve safety in this area. We want to make sure we keep all of our visitors safe.”
Delegate Wayne Hartman said the project meets a clearly stated community need.
“This is a great example of how government should work,” he said. “The community asked for this and needs this. West Ocean City has become more popular for seasonal workers. This provides another safe means of travel if they want to walk or bike.”
Mayor Rick Meehan pointed to the successes of the Walk Smart program and said the project on which ground was broken on Tuesday was a logical continuation of that.
“The Walk Smart initiatives started six years ago and we’ve come a long way,” he said. “It’s really made a difference, but it’s not something we can stop. We have to continue and this project does that.”
Meehan pointed out the sheer volume of visitors to the resort area and the importance of keeping all of them safe regardless of how they choose to travel.
“Ocean City entertains eight million visitors a year and have of them come between Memorial Day and Labor Day,” he said. “Our goal is to have them arrive safe, be safe while they are here and return home safely.”
Maryland State Police-Berlin Barrack Commander Lieutenant Earl Starner said law enforcement will do its part to ensure safe travel for all along the busy corridor.
“Ocean City is a beautiful, wonderful place to live and visit and we want to make sure all of our visitors enjoy safe travel,” he said. “A prime tenet of the Walk Smart campaign is enforcement and safety is a two-way street. For motorists, when you see pedestrians and bicyclists, slow down and give them plenty of space. For walkers and bicyclists, adhere to the rules of the road, use the designated paths and use the marked crosswalks.”