Traffic Points System Proposed In OC

OCEAN CITY — In response to recent concerns raised about speeding along some main streets in north Ocean City, a point-based rating system has been developed to identify resort streets in need of traffic-calming.

Earlier this month, City Engineer Terry McGean outlined for the Mayor and Council some short-term and long-term solutions for an ongoing problem of speeding and reckless driving on some of the main streets in the Caine Woods community, including 142nd Street and 139th Street in particular. There are varying degrees of traffic-calming, including non-physical changes such as increased enforcement, public outreach and more signage.

There are also rather passive traffic-calming measures available such as speed humps, curb bump-outs and rumble strips, for example. Finally, there are more active, and likely far more expensive, traffic-calming measures such as traffic circles, roundabouts, raised crosswalks, and even, in some cases rerouting traffic or making certain streets one-way, for example.

“The traffic-calming policy came out of the Caine Woods discussion,” he said. “We want to come up with a formal way to evaluate the streets, determine if there is a problem and, ultimately, fixing the problem.”

McGean said he researched what other communities around the state and region were doing in terms of evaluating streets for traffic-calming measures and found two basic approaches.

One is a strict “yes or no” approach in which a particular street is evaluated and a determination is made as to whether traffic-calming is warranted. The other approach is a point-based system in which a street is given points on various prevailing traffic issues and the level of traffic-calming needed is commensurate with the number of points scored. McGean said after conducting his research, his recommendation was establishing a point-based system on which to base the need for traffic-calming on particular resort streets.

“I’m recommending a point-based system,” he said. “It creates more flexibility to evaluate each street on its merits. The type of calming measure solution warranted for a given street is based on the points awarded, which also establishes the priority of the street in relation to others.”

Points would be assigned to a street based on a variety of factors, including the 85th percentile average speed. For example, if the average speed recorded above the posted speed limit was in the five- to seven-range, the street would be assigned five points. If the average recorded speed above the posted speed limit was 15 mph over the speed limit, the street would be assigned 25 points and so forth.

Other factors for which points could be assigned, and traffic-calming measures would be recommended, include average daily traffic volume, the frequency of accidents along a given stretch and whether or not the street is used by non-local traffic as a cut-through to other major arteries, for example.

McGean also outlined how the various traffic-calming measures would be implemented. Most major changes would fall under the purview of the Mayor and Council, but only after significant opportunities for the public to weigh in.

“It would ultimately be decided by the Mayor and Council,” he said. “I would recommend having a public hearing, gaining approval from the various community association boards in affected areas and approval from 75% of the residents in the areas where possible, especially on physical, active measures.”

After some debate, the council decided the 75% goal was probable too high given the town’s seasonal resort nature and said about two-thirds was likely more realistic. Even that level of community participation in the decision-making process could be too lofty, according to Council President Matt James.

“I’m concerned about reaching those quotas with so many non-resident property owners,” he said. “They might see a piece of mail and not respond, and then there’s a problem when they come back and see the changes to their street.”

Complicating the evaluation process further are certain streets designated as primary response routes for emergency services, fire and police, for example. Many of the streets in Ocean City would qualify as primary response routes where significant traffic-calming measures could affect safety and response times. Councilman Mark Paddack said the list of primary response routes provided by Ocean City Fire Chief Richie Bowers was extensive.

“When you look at this list, it has pretty much wiped out the entire town,” he said. “Most streets would qualify as primary response routes.”

McGean said anything further than very passive traffic-calming measures wouldn’t be allowed on the primary response routes.

“Active measures would be eliminated on primary response routes,” he said. “Anything that can physically slow an emergency vehicle down wouldn’t be allowed.”

For his part, Bowers said traffic alterations can cause significant problems for emergency responders.

“Traffic-calming devices do work, but they can cause injuries to firefighters and paramedics and damage equipment,” he said. “You don’t always see them or know that they are there, and they can also increase response times.”

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.