By Donald Wittkowski
Sgt. Brian Hopely, of the Ocean City Police Department’s Traffic Safety Unit, recalled pulling a man over this summer who had blown through two stop signs while traveling down Haven Avenue.
“He looked at me like I had two heads,” Hopely said of the man’s incredulous reaction to being stopped by police.
It was not a motorist, but a bicyclist in his 60s, who had ignored the stop signs. Hopely let him off with a warning after reminding him of the rules of the road.
Hopely’s story underscored the fact that bikers must obey the same traffic laws as motorists – and risk getting slapped with tickets if they don’t. The need for more bicycle safety was the dominant theme Wednesday night during the 10th annual meeting of Bike OCNJ, a coalition of local bikers.
Bike OCNJ hopes to make bike travel safer at the same time it is looking to transform Ocean City into one of the most bicycle-friendly destinations in the country.
“I think we can do a lot more to make this place like the Disneyland for bikers,” said Tom Heist, a local insurance broker who serves as co-chairman of Bike OCNJ.
About 30 people – including City Council members Keith Hartzell, Antwan McClellan and Michael DeVlieger – attended the 75-minute forum at the Stainton Senior Center. Heist and Bike OCNJ member Mark Reimet, the owner of Ocean City Financial Group, described a series of bicycling initiatives planned by the city in 2018 and also listened to suggestions from the audience for better bike safety.
“The attitude is, we want to make Ocean City safer. We want to make it more enjoyable,” Heist said.
Ocean City becomes a bicycling haven, particularly during the summer tourism season, when throngs of bikers hit the Boardwalk and local streets to enjoy the warm weather. The mixing of so many bikes with regular motor vehicle traffic presents inevitable dangers.
In 2016, Ocean City was recognized by the state as the best city in New Jersey for implementing bike-related initiatives, including safety measures and steps to improve the biking experience, Heist noted.
In addition, the town has been annually awarded a bronze prize from 2012 to 2017 in a ranking of bike-friendly communities. Mayor Jay Gillian has made it clear he wants Ocean City to eventually attain gold status in those rankings, Heist said.
Bike initiatives coming up in 2018 include more bike racks scattered throughout the city, resurfacing projects that will make the roads smoother for bicyclists, new bike lanes and more directional arrows painted on the streets to guide bikers around town.
A Cape May County grant will allow the city to add new bike racks, known as “corrals,” at 43 locations throughout town, including 33 street ends at the beach, Heist announced.
“To me, this is huge because everybody goes to the beach,” he said.
The 10 other new bike corrals will be strategically located to give riders convenient access to local businesses. Heist said the corrals are a way to stimulate business because bikers will be able to pull right up to shops, restaurants and other establishments.
On the construction front, the city is planning a number of road projects in 2018 that will give bikers a smoother ride. They include resurfacing the bike path on Haven Avenue between Fifth and Eighth streets behind the Ocean City Primary School, creating new bike lanes between 29th and 33rd streets and adding new directional arrows for bikers on 10th Street from Haven Avenue to the Boardwalk, Heist said.
While members of the audience generally seemed pleased with the initiatives, they also made their own suggestions for improving bike safety. Suggestions included keeping bikes off the sidewalks, distributing stickers and brochures around town to remind bikers to follow all traffic rules and making sure children always wear a bike helmet.
Audience members also said they want to see the city create a bike path extending from the base of the Route 52 Causeway bridge to the Boardwalk.
Another suggestion was for the city to install a new, user-activated red light, known as a HAWK signal, to protect bikers entering the south end of town on 34th Street. A HAWK signal, short for high-intensity activated crosswalk, was placed on the Ninth Street corridor in 2014 to make it safer for bikers and pedestrians to cross the busy gateway.
In response to some of the suggestions, Heist said Bike OCNJ is planning to produce a series of new videos and a fact sheet later this year focusing on bicycling safety. The videos will stress the need for bikers to obey the same traffic laws as motorists, he said.
Below is the PowerPoint Presentation from the event: