ZACK HOOPES ¦ Staff Writer
(Sept. 28, 2012) The oft-mentioned possibility of lowering the speed limit on Coastal Highway may be close to reality, as a memo was sent this week from Ocean City Police Department Chief Bernadette DiPino to the Mayor and City Council, requesting their support to lobby the Maryland State Highway Administration to change the speed limit from 40 miles per hour to 35 mph between 33rd and 62nd Streets on Coastal Highway.
While the OCPD has not conducted a formal study of the road, DiPino stated in her Sept. 20 memo that “it is my belief that a reduction in speed through this corridor would reduce the potential severity of risk and injuries to pedestrians.”
According to national data, 85 percent of pedestrians struck by a vehicle going 40 mphwilldie,versusonlya5percentfatality rate for those struck at 20 mph, DiPino noted.
“Therefore, your endorsement is requested of the attached letter to the State Highway Administration,” DiPino wrote.
In her draft letter to SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer, DiPino notes that the speed change would match the 35 mph speed limit that the SHA granted in 2000 for the stretch of Coastal Highway between 17th and 33rd Streets.
“A reduction of the speed limit on MD 528 between 33rd and 62nd Street, similar to the reduction of the speed limit in October 2000 along MD 528 between 17th Street and 33rd Street, may decrease the number of pedestrian crashes as well as lessen the severity of such pedestrian related crashes in the overpopulated midtown area,” she wrote.
Although the SHA will not officially receive the request until approved by council, SHA Assistant District Engineer Ken Cimino said Thursday that the SHA was aware of the request and has been working with the city.
“We believe that the reduction in the speed limit, similar to the reduction of speed that took place below 33rd Street, may reduce the number of pedestrians being struck,” Ciminio said. “It may give drivers that extra split second to see someone jumping out in front of them.
Concern over pedestrian crashes arose early in the season, after Matthew Jude Cheswick, 22, a Towson University student from Cooksville, was killed May 28 while standing in the bus lane at 54th Street. He was struck by a drunk driver, Diogo Miller Facchini, who fled the scene but was later apprehended.
A week later, on June 4, Samantha Sweitzer, 15, an Allegany High School student from LaVale, was killed while attempting to cross Philadelphia Avenue at 21st Street. She reportedly was not in the crosswalk and going against traffic.
But speed in and of itself is only a small part of the potential solution.
“Speed was not a factor in the majority of accidents that took place in Ocean City this summer,” Cimino said. “But you can certainly always say that a reduction in speed may increase drivers’ reaction time to an object in the roadway.”
SHA study data for the stretch of Coastal Highway between 17th and 56th Streets shows 76 bicycle or pedestrian crashes from January 2007 to August 2012. The 2012 calendar year accounts for 11 of these.
Five of the 76 incidents resulted in a death. 42 were intersection related, and 39 were at night. While none of the 29 bicycle crashes involved alcohol, it was a factor in 25 of the 47 pedestrian collisions. In all 25 cases, the pedestrian was intoxicated. In five instances, the driver was intoxicated as well.
Cimino said that a more comprehensive study has been done by the Wallace and Montgomery engineering firm. Currently in draft form, the study will be discussed with local officials next month.