The city’s ‘traffic is extremely dangerous’ Advocates urge city to take steps to improve safety for walkers, bicyclists

OCEAN CITY — In the wake of recent pedestrian fatalities and accidents involving automobiles and bicycles, the public called upon the city to increase traffic safety measures.

At City Council’s July 11 meeting, resident Susan Cracovaner noted that automobiles on Asbury and West avenues regularly exceed the speed limit, traveling at 35 to 40 mph on 25-mph streets.

“My concern is that if one of them runs into the street at 35 to 40 miles an hour in a 25 mile and hour speed zone, somebody’s going to get hurt, somebody’s going to get killed,” Cracovaner said.

She said she spoke to police in the offseason about traffic. Police responded by parking an unmanned cruiser along the street as a deterrent to speeders, she said.

“They (traffic) just blow past those cars. We need to do something about that,” Cracovaner said.

She said she has witnessed vehicles making U-turns in the middle of intersections without regarding pedestrians or bicyclists.

“I know it’s a legal thing to do, but with the limited sights of some of these intersections it’s extremely difficult and dangerous when people are making U-turns and there’s pedestrians crossing as well as bikers crossing,” Cracovaner said.

She said she also has seen motorists looking at their cellphones and wearing headphones.

“My concern would be that they can’t hear ambulances or firetrucks coming up behind them. I suspect that’s not a legal thing to do,” Cracovaner said.

She added it’s not just motorists who are distracted. Bikers are riding down the street with headphones on, riding two or three abreast on the street and talking selfies as they bike.

“They’re not following the rules of the road which causes all kinds of problems,” Cracovaner said.

Pedestrians crossing the street are also looking at their cellphones and not watching their surroundings, she said.

“My issue with pedestrians is we have signs that are on cones in streets that say it’s state law to yield to pedestrians within the crosswalk. Past 34th Street there’s a big flashing police sign that says state law says you have to stop for pedestrians at a crosswalk,” Cracovaner said. “‘At’ and ‘within’ are two different things and I think we need to be consistent as a city. It’s either within or at.”

Cracovaner proposed better enforcement of the speed limits and slowing down traffic. She also suggested a police bike patrol to ticket any bicyclists talking on their cellphones while riding, taking selfies or engaging in distracted behavior.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to help educate people as to what they should do and what they shouldn’t do, especially as it comes to bikers. There’s a lot of people who come here, they’re on bikes once a year, when they come to Ocean City. We need to start helping them understand what is right and what is wrong to do,” Cracovaner said.

Ocean City Police Lt. Brian Hopely of the Traffic Safety Division, in an interview with the Ocean City Sentinel in June, said it’s important for pedestrians and drivers to make eye contact.

“Eye contact I think is probably one of the most important and underutilized things that happen when a pedestrian makes the effort to cross a street,” Hopely said. “They really shouldn’t ever assume the driver of the car sees them or is going to stop for them as they make their way across the street. They should absolutely look both ways and make eye contact with that driver to see if that driver recognizes that they’re there. … Without the eye contact that equation isn’t completed.”

Hopely also warned of the dangers distracted driving poses to both pedestrians and motorists.

“People are constantly distracted whether they’re walking, on a bicycle or driving a car,” Hopely said. “Pedestrians see the light turn green for them, they enter the crosswalk and they’re literally crossing the street while looking at their cellphone. It couldn’t be more dangerous.”

Ocean City has a public education campaign for traffic safety that includes public announcements and trailers with traffic safety information parked in prominent locations.The city’s website contains tips for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.

Motorists should “stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, obey speed limits, wear a seatbelt, avoid using your cell phone while driving and always make eye contact with pedestrians and bicyclists,” according to information on the city’s website.

Pedestrians should use crosswalks at intersections, obey signs and signals while crossing streets and wear brightly colored clothing and make eye contact with bicyclists and motorists.

Ocean City High School students in the TV media program worked with the Ocean City Police Department’s Traffic Safety Unit and produced public service announcement videos on bicycle safety.

The videos can be viewed on the city’s website, ocnj.us/bikesafety, and at 7 a.m., noon and 7 p.m. on OCTV-97 (Channel 97 on local Comcast).

But these safety initiatives and measures aren’t enough, according to Dr. John Albert of Fort Meyers Beach, Fla., who owns property in Ocean City.

Albert’s stepson, Tom Gibbons Jr. of Landsdale, Pa., was crossing Eighth Street and Bay Avenue with his wife, Stephanie, on May 25 when a motorist struck both of them. Stephanie was injured and recovered but Tom was killed.

Gibbons was the second pedestrian fatality this year in Ocean City. In January, an 82-year-old Seaville woman died after she was hit by a car crossing Eighth Street by a 26-year-old driver from Sweetwater.

Gibbons’ death prompted Albert to attend the June 27 council meeting and implore the city administration for additional safety measures for pedestrians and bicyclists. Albert said he’s heard from city solicitor Dorothy McCrosson, who directed him to call county officials, since that stretch of Bay Avenue is a county road.

Albert said the only thing the city did was park an unattended police cruiser near the intersection to deter speeding.

“They’re telling me the corner is under county supervision. They’re concerned about litigation and they’re waiting to hear from the county,” Albert said. “My focus right here is on this corner because that’s where my stepson died.”

Albert said he doesn’t walk along the streets with his family anymore during peak traffic times.

On a recent trip to the beach, Albert said he saw two accidents; one involving multiple vehicles and another involving a pedestrian.

“For a community this size, there’s a real pervasive problem with the dangers of walking the streets,” Albert said.

He said accidents abound in the city, with motorists hitting pedestrians and cyclists.

“There’s so many accidents within the city,” Albert said. “It’s an epidemic here.”

Albert noted the traffic patterns on the island haven’t changed since the 1940s, but the volume of vehicles and types of vehicles have. He said more development brings more vehicles and increases traffic on the roadways, especially in the summer months.

“If you just had a more sensible traffic pattern where it slowed things down and gave people less options for turning, I think you’d cut down on a lot of the risks,” Albert said, adding cities have installed one-way streets that cut down confusion at intersections and reduce the number of possible turns. “There are a lot of things that could be done to change the traffic patterns from an archaic type pattern that’s been here forever to a more updated, pedestrian-friendly pattern.”

Albert suggested lowering the speed limit, creating one-way streets and using signalized intersections for enhancing pedestrian safety.

“I’m not trying to beat up Ocean City by no means,” Albert said. “There’s some very nice things about Ocean City. The traffic is not one of them. The traffic is extremely dangerous.”

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