OCEAN CITY – In a continuing effort to make Ocean City more bicycle-friendly and create a contiguous bike route off Coastal Highway, resort officials this week reviewed options for two major thoroughfares and the various town alleys.
In recent years, the Town of Ocean City has been putting together an alternative bike route that would take bicycle traffic off Coastal Highway. The plan is to implement an unofficial bike path for the entire length of town and thus far, the effort has been somewhat successful, if not tedious.
Town staff has been working with the Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) in recent years to achieve the coveted Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) designation. In the last round of balloting, the town received only honorable mention status, which only ramped up the efforts to achieve the full designation.
With grant funding, the town contracted the services of consultant Toole Design to assist with options for the next phase of links in the chain. On Tuesday, City Engineer Paul Mauser and Toole Design’s Rob Pinckney presented options for three new significant segments, including the 94th Street corridor, 146th Street and town alleys that run parallel to Coastal Highway through much of the middle and north sections of the town.
“What would it look like to have a north-south bike lane from 27th Street to 146th Street?” Mauser said. “The alleys are low speed, low traffic. Staff is not providing a recommendation for the town alleys, just providing information to the Mayor and Council to come up with the best solution.”
The proposed options would likely be largely grant-funded, although some aspects could require supplements from the town’s general fund. Mauser and Pinckney presented the options for each of the next proposed segments on Tuesday.
Plans presented for a nearly one-mile section of 94th Street on the west side of Coastal Highway were presented. Three options were presented each with varying degrees of change from the existing configuration and varying price tags.
Option 1 would include the construction of a continuous, narrower median with a dedicated bike lane similar to the reconfiguration of St. Louis Avenue with an island. That option would retain all the existing on-street parking. It comes with an estimated cost of $410,000.
Option 2 for 94th Street would include removing the existing medians west of Chesapeake Drive and adding curb extensions. It too would retain all existing on-street parking. Option 2 comes in with a slighter lower estimated cost at around $300,000. The third, and apparently least favored option, would simply be to add crosswalks and sharrows, which are those V-shaped markings on the roadway that indicate where bicycles should most safely travel. The option comes with a price tag of just $13,000.
Council Secretary Tony DeLuca, who chairs the BPAC, suggested Option 2 be chosen.
“Staff is recommending Option 2 and the BPAC unanimously supported it,” he said. “What you’re doing with 94th Street is re-creating St. Louis Avenue. The second reason is you don’t lose any parking.”
DeLuca said the funding source for each of the proposed improvements would likely come from state and federal grants. In the meantime, he suggested choosing a preferred option and putting it in the capital improvement plan as a placeholder until grant funding is determined.
“The vote today is simply choosing the option. Forget the funding for right now. We’ll take care of that when we get the grants,” he said.
Councilman Mark Paddack said he could support Option 2 for 94th Street.
“A lot of residents in that area have dogs and they walk the dogs in the median,” he said. “I never understood why the median was so broken up. Option 2 is a much safer option than what we have up there now.”
Council President Matt James said he understood the comparison to St. Louis Avenue, but said the 94th Street corridor was uniquely different.
“I don’t know that we have a lot of kids running out in the street on St. Louis Avenue,” he said. “I think we have more families in the 94th Street corridor that walk or ride their bikes to the beach and the stores.”
Councilman John Gehrig questioned if the residents in the area should weigh in before an option was chosen for 94th Street. Paddack agreed, pointing out a similar process was followed during the recent redesign of Robin Drive.
“I agree the residents at 94th Street and Little Salisbury should weigh in on this,” he said. “This is just conceptual at this point. As we get the grants and we move forward, we can have a public hearing to get input from them.”
DeLuca said there was no harm in waiting for public input.
“There is no sense of urgency timewise,” he said. “I can change my motion to move all three options presented to a public hearing.”
After considerable debate, the council voted unanimously to move all three options to a future public hearing before deciding on one.
As for the 146th Street corridor, the challenges were similar, but the options presented differed. Option 1 would maintain parallel parking on both sides of the roadway, maintain the existing median and add a dedicated bike lane. That option comes with an estimated price tag of $50,000.
Option 2 for 146th Street, which appeared to be the most controversial based on the discussion, would maintain parallel parking on the south side of the roadway, eliminate parallel parking on the north side of the road, maintain the existing median and create a 10-foot two-way bike lane on the north side. That comes with an estimated cost of $200,000.
The third and final option is simply installing thermoplastic crosswalks and sharrows. It comes with a $36,000 estimated price tag. Mayor Rick Meehan questioned the wisdom of creating a two-way bike lane on the south side of 146th Street with considerable traffic coming from side streets.
“Doesn’t having a two-way bike route from east to west create a traffic safety issue?” he said. “People coming out of the side streets might not be used to looking in both directions. It just seems contrary to all of the rules of the road we have been taught.”
For his part, DeLuca said he shared the same concerns.
“The BPAC recommendation was for Option 2,” he said. “I was the lone no vote in a 5-1 vote. I supported Option 1. I like the bikes to be separate on opposite sides of the street. I don’t like the option of one big bike lane on the north side of the road.”
The council essentially approved the same motion as the 94th Street motion with each of the options brought to a public hearing.
Perhaps the most challenging element of strategic bicycle plan presented on Tuesday is how best to use the existing town-owned alleys from 27th Street to create a seamless bike path and take bicycle traffic off of Coastal Highway. Pinckney said there were considerable safety issues with promoting the use of the various alleys that cross side streets throughout the town.
“The challenge with the alleys is the stopping sight distance,” he said. “There are issues with braking distance for vehicles stopping when bicycles cross the streets. It’s a major challenge. The only solution is the loss of parking.”
Pinckney presented various charts and graphs illustrating sight stopping distance for the alleys and vehicles on the side streets. In the end, however, the potential loss of on-street parking sacked the alley idea.
Option 1 would be to proceed with design and construction of a bike route utilizing the town alleys. Because of sight stopping distance concerns, under the proposal, each intersection would lose as many as two- to four parking spaces, or a total of 125 on-street parking spaces. Using the town alleys would be cost-prohibitive as well. At a cost of $10,000 to $30,000 per intersection, times roughly 60 intersections, the estimated cost could run from $600,000 to $1.8 million.
James said losing 125 on-street parking options on an ocean block made that option for the alleys unpalatable.
DeLuca agreed, saying, “I’m obviously an Option 2 person for a lot of reasons. Paid parking in Ocean City is inevitable. Not in my lifetime probably, but it’s going to be a reality someday.”
Option 2 for the town alleys is to determine the parking loss and funding resources to design and construction in other areas, including 94th Street and 146th Street, for example. The council ultimately voted unanimously for that option. Paddack said that was the only way to go in terms of utilizing the town alleys for a bike path.
“I understand the concept of getting bikes off Coastal Highway,” he said. “When I ride in those alleys, I go much slower and much more tentative than Coastal Highway. There is no way the residents in that area are going to give up 125 parking spaces. It’s just not going to happen.”