By Maddy Vitale
In about two weeks, bicyclists will notice something in the main arteries of Ocean City — 15 signs that emphasize that they must follow the laws — just as motorists need to.
The wording on the sign says, “Bicyclists Must Follow Motor Vehicle Laws.” They will be placed in high-traffic areas, including Bay Avenue and West Avenue as well at the Ninth Street corridor.
Heading into the busiest season for the shore town, when the population swells with throngs of tourists and much more car, pedestrian and bike traffic, members of Bike OCNJ, a coalition of local riders, held their reorganization meeting Monday night.
Among those who attended the meeting, Joseph Lehman, of Ocean City, and his wife, Elizabeth, who are cyclists, support the idea of new signs to improve road safety.
“I ride my bike 365 days a year,” said Joseph Lehman, who works for the Ocean City School District in administration. “I do it out of necessity. The new signs are a great idea.”
Tom Heist and Drew Fasy, co-chairmen of Bike OCNJ, discussed plans with about 20 people in attendance for continuing to make Ocean City a bike-friendly destination. They sought the public’s input on ways to improve conditions for bikers.
“We need volunteers. We need your talents,” Heist said.
Heist and Fasy gave handouts to the audience members about what the group is striving for Ocean City to become — a premier bicycling destination.
The key is in the “5 E’s” Heist said, pointing to a handout. Engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation are the areas that together complete the model for achieving a top biking community.
So far, there are areas that need to be improved, according to www.bikeleague.org. Ocean City is a bronze designation for biking. The highest level is platinum. Bike OCNJ looked at models in locations, for example, of San Francisco, Seattle and New York City to emulate.
Both Heist and Fasy emphasized that the goal is to become a better, more bike-friendly resort.
“We have come a long way,” Heist said of the 12 years the group has been together. “We want to be a vibrant bike community.”
Fasy added that it is a bit difficult because Ocean City is already built out, where other communities can incorporate their bike paths into the infrastructure easier.
Fasy said they could not be successful without the help of the city and the police department.
The city paid for the new bicycle signs. Heist noted that Bike OCNJ meets with city officials to discuss their ideas a few times a year.
Lt. Brian Hopely, head of the Ocean City Police Department’s Traffic Safety Unit, and Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office Assistant Prosecutor Edward Simonson are members of Bike OCNJ and attended the meeting.
Hopely, who has been active with Bike OCNJ since 2011, said the police department welcomes suggestions by the group on ways to enhance the environment for the bicyclists, with safety always being paramount. He noted that Sea Isle City installed bicycle safety signs last year, and that Bike OCNJ members thought it was a fantastic idea.
During the meeting, there was a discussion about removing stop signs down Haven Avenue. The signs were installed by the city, but bicyclists say it creates an unpleasant ride.
“We just avoid that area and go around it because of the stop signs,” said Jeanette Gilchrist.
She and her husband, Jim, consider themselves casual cyclists. But they enjoy a good bike ride and hope the stop signs will be removed.
Heist and Fasy said removing the signs are something they would like to see, but officials must discuss it further with city officials and the police department.
But for now, Hopely emphasized, the law must be followed, and bicyclists must stop at each stop sign along Haven Avenue. It only takes one time, he said, for an accident to happen with a bicyclist.
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.
The organization has successfully advocated for developing an island-long bicycle corridor, the installation of a user-activated HAWK signal at Ninth Street and other bike-safety measures, officials said.
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.
For more information about Bike OCNJ or to become a member email Tom Heist, co-chair of Bike OCNJ at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.bikeocnj.org.