Resort Committee Eyes ‘Walk Smart’ Campaign Funding

OCEAN CITY – Efforts to revive a Walk Smart pedestrian safety campaign highlighted discussions at a resort committee meeting this week.

On Wednesday, members of the Ocean City Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee met with Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) representative Christa Vinci to discuss plans for reviving a Walk Smart pedestrian safety campaign ahead of the summer season.

Council Secretary Tony DeLuca, committee liaison, said town officials were seeking grant funds to promote safe walking, biking and driving in Ocean City.

“We’re trying to resurrect it, piece by piece,” he said.

In 2013, following a rash of fatal pedestrian collisions, MDOT SHA, the Town of Ocean City and other local agencies launched an aggressive Walk Smart campaign aimed at reducing the number of pedestrian-involved incidents.

Using Cheswick the Crab as the campaign’s official mascot, messaging was plastered on signs, buses, drink coasters, hotel room placards and more, urging visitors to follow the rules of the road.

In recent years, however, the campaign has stalled. DeLuca told committee members this week he was hoping to revive the program.

“I want grant money for Walk Smart,” he said. “I want these signs in your face by spring.”

In an update this week, Vinci told committee members that MDOT SHA had lost its safety campaign funding during the pandemic.

She noted, however, that the town could seek funding through the Maryland Highway Safety Office (MHSO).

“What the Maryland Highway Safety Office does do is administer grant-funded programs that address priority areas such as impaired driving prevention, distracted driving prevention, speeding, aggressive driving prevention, occupant protection, and safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, young and older drivers,” she explained. “Sometimes when you get in with the right person, at the right time, at the right place, you get just what you are looking for.”

Vinci noted, for example, that a MHSO grant for $39,000 was recently awarded to the Ocean City Police Department.

When asked if that funding was still available, Lt. Allen Hawk, committee member, said it had already been allocated.

“The monetary figure that was given to us was for enforcement action,” he explained.

Vinci told committee members the town could seek additional funding to revive the Walk Smart program. City Engineer Paul Mauser, however, argued that MDOT SHA should be running the campaign.

“SHA originally headed up the whole pedestrian, Walk Smart campaign because it was a Coastal Highway problem,” he said. “Deaths are occurring on Coastal Highway, a state right-of-way. What we were looking for was for State Highway to run this program.”

DeLuca, however, acknowledged that MDOT SHA would not provide the town with funding to conduct a Walk Smart campaign.

To that end, he proposed the town seek grant funds to relaunch the campaign itself.

“What can we do? What grant money can we get?” he said. “We want to do in-your-face kind of things.”

In 2022, the police department has reported 13 bicycle collisions, 24 pedestrian collisions and two pedestrian fatalities. Law enforcement officials told committee members this week that most pedestrian collisions did not result in serious injury.

“All things considered, with the population that came into town this summer, I think we did very well with just having 24 collisions,” Hawk said. “Historically, we have averaged 24 a year since 2015.”

DeLuca, however, said several serious pedestrian incidents along Coastal Highway over the last two years highlighted the need for a Walk Smart campaign.

“Last year, there were three or four that were just awful …,” he recalled. “I said let’s do something about it.”

DeLuca told committee members he was hoping to see Walk Smart messaging on the town’s municipal bus fleet, on airplane banners and on a Route 50 billboard.

“Those three things I just gave you are really not that much money,” he said.

Vinci said that while MHSO has grant funding opportunities, the agency had received no inquires from Ocean City about a Walk Smart campaign. She encouraged officials to apply for an upcoming grant.

“Ocean City has not asked MHSO for a dime,” she said.

Hawk told committee members this week the town could work with other agencies to seek grant funding and relaunch the Walk Smart program.

“I think it would behoove everybody to get the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, the tourism board, Worcester County and Ocean City, plus the health department, all on board somehow to form a combined front …,” he said. “It might be helpful to have an inquiry meeting to get all organizations on the same page.”

DeLuca added that he would also reach out to Wayne Pryor, the town’s grants coordinator.

“I’ll talk to Wayne, see how much money we need and get these projects done,” he said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.