OCEAN CITY — A change in the Boardwalk tram route has prompted a code change to prevent street performers at the end of 3rd Street.
Two years ago, the resort completed construction on a new public works facility along St. Louis Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets that now hosts the Boardwalk tram operation. The trams are being stored and maintained at the St. Louis Avenue facility, and when they are in operation, they will cross Philadelphia and Baltimore avenues and access the Boardwalk at the ramp at 3rd Street before starting their daily runs from the Inlet to 27th Street.
For years, the tram operation was housed at the town’s Whiteside facility in the south end of Ocean City and the trams entered and exited the Boardwalk at South 1st Street. The procedure has now changed with completion of the new facility at St. Louis Avenue.
The tram service did not operate last year because of COVID restrictions, making this the first year for the new set-up. The trams are set to start running on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. In addition, the traffic signals at 5th Street and 2nd Street have been synchronized to allow free passage for the trams to cross the roadways and access the Boardwalk.
However, making 3rd Street the new entry and exit point for the trams requires a code amendment altering the language regarding street performers.
Over the last couple of years, street performers have successfully challenged the town’s old designated spaces program and lottery system on First Amendment grounds and freedom of expression. As a result, street performers have had unfettered access to the street ends on the Boardwalk from South 1st Street to 9th Street with a couple of exceptions. North Division Street and Dorchester Street have remained off limits to performers because they are important Boardwalk access points for law enforcement, fire, ambulance and other emergency services, and the Beach Patrol, for example.
Now, with the changes to the tram access route, the code will be changed to add 3rd Street to that list. Public Works Director Hal Adkins on Tuesday explained the reasoning for the change.
“With the relocation of the entire tram operation to 3rd Street and St. Louis Avenue, the daily access point to the Boardwalk for daily tram needs is at 3rd Street,” he said. “Therefore, to ensure safe, unobstructed ingress and egress to and from the Boardwalk with the trams, this location needs to be kept free of performers or vendors during all times in which the trams are in seasonal operation.”
Adkins said a code amendment was needed to close off 3rd Street to street performers and vendors.
“With the construction of the public works facility at 2nd Street, we will deploy the trams on the Boardwalk at 3rd Street,” he said. “We need to pass legislation that provides for ingress and egress at 3rd Street in the interest of public safety and tram maneuverability.”
The section of the town’s code dealing with Boardwalk access and street performers will be amended to affect the change. Adkins said the impact on performers should be minimal.
“We’ve been working through the code,” he said. “There have not been substantial changes to this chapter, we’re just codifying some of these things. It’s potentially displacing one performer.”
The only alternative would be to drive the trams from the St. Louis Avenue facility at 3rd Street through crowded, congested downtown streets to reach the original access point at South 1st Street. Councilman Mark Paddack questioned if moving the tram access point to 3rd Street and potentially displacing one street performer location would run afoul of the federal court opinions in the busker suits.
“South 1st Street is where the tram used to access the Boardwalk,” he said. “After the federal court cases, we never had South 1st Street as a performer location. In that federal court opinion, the judge did authorize us to close off South 1st Street. Now, we’re going to close off 3rd Street.”
Adkins said 3rd Street was the only logical access point for the trams.
“We need access to 3rd Street,” he said. “We need to cross the entire wooden portion of the Boardwalk to reach the concrete portion.”
The council ultimately voted 6-0 to send the code amendment to first reading.
“The 3rd Street route is the most logical, efficient, shortest and safest for the tram to enter the Boardwalk,” the new code language reads. “Additionally, 3rd Street is the only other street besides Dorchester Street that has an automatic gate. Thus, for expediency in an emergency, emergency responders and law enforcement on the Boardwalk use 3rd Street to enter and exit the Boardwalk. Therefore, from May 1 to Oct. 15, the town needs to exclude performers and vendors from the 3rd Street, street end to safely operate its public transportation system, to allow law enforcement and emergency responders safe and easy access on and off the Boardwalk, and to not endanger performers, vendors or visitors.”