By Donald Wittkowski
The last piece of Ocean City’s bike route stretching from the northern tip of town to the south end is expected to be finished this year, bicycling enthusiasts announced Wednesday during their annual community forum.
“That is a big accomplishment,” said Drew Fasy, co-chairman of Bike OCNJ, a coalition of local riders.
When it is completed, it will fill in the final piece of the North-South bike route running the entire length of the island from the Ocean City-Longport Bridge to the Corsons Inlet Bridge, Fasy noted.
The last bit of work includes repaving some bumpy roads in the north end of town to create a far smoother ride for bikers.
The bike-route roads that will be repaved include Haven Avenue between Sixth and Eighth streets, Simpson Avenue between Fifth Street and Battersea Road and a short stretch behind the Ocean City Primary School from Fifth Street to Sixth Street, Fasy said.
The repaving work is part of an ongoing $7.9 million drainage and road project that will protect flood-prone neighborhoods between Second and Eighth streets, from West Avenue to the bay. Construction is scheduled to be completed by year’s end, Fasy said.
Fasy’s announcement was the highlight of Bike OCNJ’s 11th annual community meeting. About 20 people – including City Council members Antwan McClellan and Michael DeVlieger – attended the 75-minute forum at the Stainton Senior Center.
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. However, the mixing of so many bikes with regular motor vehicle traffic presents inevitable dangers.
Bike OCNJ serves as a liaison between the bike community and the city government for safety-related measures. Tom Heist, the group’s other co-chairman, said Bike OCNJ has established a strong partnership with Mayor Jay Gillian, City Council, the Ocean City business community and the Cape May County Board of Freeholders.
“Our mayor and Council have been very, very supportive of the bike initiatives over the years,” Heist said. “The Ocean City Police Department has been a backbone of the support.”
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.
Ocean City was recognized by the state in 2016 as the best city in New Jersey for implementing bike-related initiatives, including safety measures and steps to improve the biking experience. The town has also been annually awarded a bronze prize in a ranking of bike-friendly communities, Heist said.
In addition to the repaving projects this year that will make the roads smoother for bicyclists, initiatives coming up in 2018 include more bike racks scattered throughout the city and more directional arrows painted on the streets to guide bikers around town.
Altogether, about 40 new bike racks are planned, including 25 to 30 along the beachfront and 10 to 15 on the streets, Heist and Fasy said.
Bike racks will be strategically located to give riders convenient access to the beach and local businesses. Heist said the racks are a way to stimulate business because bikers will be able to pull right up to shops, restaurants and other establishments.
While members of the audience generally seemed pleased with the initiatives that were announced during the community forum, they also made their own suggestions for improving bike safety.
Some of them proposed having Bike OCNJ work with local realtors to distribute bicycle-safety literature to vacationers when they arrive at their rental properties. Others suggested having the realtors establish a link that will direct vacationers to Bike OCNJ’s website and safety tips.
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 along Ninth Street.
Fasy and Heist said they hope that a “safe corridor” is established along Ninth Street or on Fifth Street between Haven and Simpson avenues to funnel bike traffic to the Boardwalk.
In another matter at the community forum, one biking enthusiast questioned why the police department has been temporarily shutting down a special HAWK signal that was placed on the Ninth Street corridor in 2014 to make it easier for bikers and pedestrians to cross the busy gateway.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” said Ocean City resident Mary Agnes McPeak, who regularly rides her bike to the Farmers Market when it is held each Wednesday during the summer season.
HAWK stands for “high-intensity activated crosswalk.” It allows bikers and pedestrians to activate a red light to stop motor vehicle traffic, giving them plenty of time to safely cross Ninth Street at the intersection of Aldrich Road.
However, traffic gets backed up when motorists have to wait for the HAWK signal. Police have been turning off the HAWK signal during peak travel times on weekends and other days to smooth the flow of traffic entering town on Ninth Street off the Route 52 Causeway bridge.
Police Lt. Brian Hopely explained that whenever the HAWK signal is temporarily deactivated, highly visible signs are placed nearby alerting bikers and pedestrians to cross Ninth Street at either West Avenue or Bay Avenue. Both of those intersections have traffic signals to give bikers and pedestrians safe access across Ninth Street.
Hopely pledged that police won’t let bikers or pedestrians be “left out to dry.” He noted that once motor vehicle traffic is “flushed” along the Ninth Street corridor, the HAWK signal is turned on again.