Plan for south end bike path would run along West Ave., or railroad bed
Written by ANN RICHARDSON
Thursday, 15 April 2010 20:01
OCEAN CITY – A group of bicyclists behind the Haven Avenue bike path will go to the public next week with a proposal to extend that bike path from 35th Street to 51st Street either on a reconfigured West Avenue or the old Seashore Line railroad bed in the marshes.
The proposal is part of a plan to create an island-wide bike path that would allow bicyclists to ride from Corson’s Inlet on the southern end of the island to the Ocean City-Longport Bridge in the north, head out over the multi-use pathway to Somers Point on the new Route 52 causeway or ride downtown and to the Boardwalk.
Tom Heist IV, who leads the group of cycling enthusiasts, said he knows aspects of the plan will be controversial, especially the potential use of the railroad bed parallel to West Avenue. He said the public meeting is scheduled to get public input on the matter.
“There is no hidden agenda, there is no back door deal on this,” Heist said. “We are vetting this concept in a civilized way. We are saying to the public, would you rather see West Avenue reconfigured or would you rather we expend the energy necessary to rebuild that railroad bed? There is a lot of support for that option so we are going to explore it.”
The group plans to meet at the Ocean City Free Public Library on Monday, April 19 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. to discuss the 35th Street to 51st Street project.
The Haven Avenue bike path runs from Ninth to 35th streets. Heist said it is critical that the existing “spine” be continued on to 51st Street.
“We really need to do 35th Street to 51st Street,” he said. “It’s a 16-block critical gap. West Avenue as it is now configured is not a safe road to ride bikes.”
Heist said four lanes of traffic on West Avenue are currently bordered on each side by four-foot bike lanes, which is dangerous because drivers open their car doors into the lanes. (WBJ Note: the minimum standard for bike lanes next to parking is at least 5 feet)
“That’s the most dangerous thing for a bike, the car door,” he said. “It’s much better to have the car door open on the passenger side; there is much less a chance of hitting a biker on that side.”
Cape May County officials are willing to re-stripe West Avenue so that both four-foot bike lanes are together on the west, or bay side, of West Avenue, Heist said. The bike lane would be near the curb to avoid driver’s side doors and the parked cars would serve as a barrier between traffic and cyclists.
“Bikes could safely ride by the curb,” Heist said. “We have evaluated the safest places to put bike lanes, and it is in a separated lane, not in traffic. The county is prepared to re-stripe it so that is an option. It would provide an added level of safety.”
Heist said a number of people have approached his group about the old railroad bed in the marshes and whether it could be utilized. The option will be vetted at the public meeting, he said.
The question is whether to restripe West Avenue or use the railroad bed, said Heist.
“We are presenting our ideas to the public,” he said. “We have invited lots of public officials; we want to see the community come out as well. We want to get the pulse. We want a civilized public discussion. We want to get everyone out riding bikes, from small children and older children who want to follow their parents on bikes to our senior citizens who might be less stable as they get older. Everyone has a right to be able to safely enjoy bike riding in Ocean City.”
There are also plans to connect the Gardens section to the Haven Avenue bike path and the multi-use pathway coming over the new Route 52 Causeway. Bike paths could run from the bridge to the Boardwalk, said Heist.
Heist said his group has received an engineering report by the firm Orth-Rodgers concerning a plan to connect the 10-foot wide multi-use pathway from the Route 52 Causeway with both the bike path on Haven Avenue beginning at Ninth Street and the Boardwalk.
“It just arrived, it’s not ready to be presented as yet,” he said. “We are going to present the recommendations with a transportation subcommittee for review. It can’t be rushed. We do not want to present bits and pieces, it must be presented professionally.”
The study looked at adding a bike path to Sixth, Seventh, Eighth or 10th streets by taking out parking on one side of the roadway and continuing two lanes of traffic flowing east and west. The study also looked at the possibility of reducing Ninth Street from four lanes to two lanes from West Avenue to the ocean, with a bike path on the south side of the road.
“We need a safe way to allow people to pedal off of Ninth Street,” Heist said. “We want to connect the Boardwalk through the downtown, to allow people coming over on their bikes from Linwood to stop and shop.”
“We want to provide for bicyclists the safest route possible,” he added. “Do we just continue to put bikes out in the street and say good luck? We can’t continue to do this.”
Heist said there is pent-up demand to ride bikes in town but the existing infrastructure cannot support it. People ride for recreation, to get to summer jobs, or, like his mother, to go shopping, Heist said.
“She’s an adamant bike rider,” said Heist. “She scares me to death. I worry, the streets are not designed for bikes. I’m not willing to take this risk. It’s unfair to ask us to put our lives in jeopardy.”
Heist said members of his group travel around the country exploring bicycle-friendly communities, discovering what’s new and exciting, what’s working and how it could be incorporated in Ocean City. They’ve imported concepts like traffic calming devices in the form of artwork in busy intersections to remind motorists to slow down and watch for cyclists.
The group presented the idea for a street mural to the Community Art Project last year and a mural at 20th Street and Haven Avenue intersection was the result.
Ann Richardson can be e-mailed at email@example.com or you can comment on this story by calling 624-8900, ext. 223.