Improving safety a priority

Improving safety a priority

(May 16, 2014) Despite the speedy connotation of the word “highway,” the State Highway Administration’s annual spring meeting with the city this week continued to grind away on a number of slow-moving initiatives.

In the short-term, locals may notice the closure of roughly half of the fence openings on the Route 50 Bridge sidewalk, in response to concerns about fishermen crossing the road.

The state will also be re-paving the north end of Coastal Highway over the 2014-2015 off-season.

In the long-term, ongoing improvements for pedestrian safety – including a potential major reconfiguration of Coastal Highway – and the integration of LED lighting will likely have a larger impact on the resort area.

Councilman Brent Ashley had suggested some weeks ago that changes be made to the fencing on the bridge to better direct fishermen, who often cross en masse with the tide.

“I know I’ve had some close calls, especially at night,” Ashley said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

However, Ashley and Mayor Rick Meehan seemed to disagree on whether the magnitude of the problem would actually be reduced.

“The only thing is if they want to cross, they’re going to have to walk further,” Meehan said. “I don’t think you’re going to reduce the number of people crossing, you’re just going to make it harder for them.”

But the closings, Ashley argued, will still reduce the number of points at which a motorist would have to be extra alert to avoid a collision with a wayward fisherman.

Three of the six openings on each side are slated to be fenced off, according to SHA District Engineer Donnie Drewer.

Drewer also reviewed a number of continued pedestrian safety improvements on Coastal Highway. Removal of the mid-block crossing depressions and wooden posts is nearly complete, he noted, and the new light and pedestrian crossing at 54th Street has been operating well for several weeks.

The SHA has also started a long-term concept study for the renovation of Coastal Highway’s median, which could include additional landscaping and possibly fencing.

“I’d suggest that we go with the landscaping unless there’s an area where it’s not effective, and a fence is needed, then we could go with that when the time comes,” said Coucilman Dennis Dare.

Assistant District Engineer Dallas Baker also told the council that a traffic study for the proposed “road diet” on Coastal Highway had come back with generally favorable results. If implemented, the program would reduce Coastal Highway by one lane and provide for wider sidewalks and a bike lane.

The most likely accommodation would be to eliminate the dedicated bus lane, allowing for car traffic in the rightmost lane.

“My vision was never to have a dedicated bus lane at the expense of reducing thru-traffic,” Dare said. “However it happens, I would like to see it more bicycle-friendly.”

The meeting also touched on the double-edged sword of LED lighting, which Drewer said the SHA is phasing in on all of its new projects.

“The old lights used to keep enough heat on the lens to keep the snow off,” Drewer said. “It was agreed that we would get somebody in here as quick as we could after we get our snow removal duties done.”

The city has pushed to get LEDs installed for street lights on Coastal Highway for some time, given that they are both energy-friendly and brighter than incandescents for safety purposes.

However, the city does not own the overhead lights on the highway, but rather rents them from Delmarva Power and Light. DP&L currently does not offer LEDs, and thus the city would have to purchase and install its own fixtures.

This may still work out in the city’s favor, since it currently pays over $250,000 annually in fees to DP&L to light the highway – another bone of contention, given that the city is paying to light a state road.

Maryland appears to have no set policy on the matter, but many municipalities do not pay to light state roads that pass through their jurisdiction.

“I think we can lower that quarter-million dollars considerably with LEDs, and then fight over who pays the bill,” Dare said.

The SHA-sponsored traffic safety and education campaign, which was effective last year in reducing pedestrian accidents after a rash of incidents in 2012, will continue.

The cartoon crab lifeguard campaign is now being utilized in other areas around the state, Baker noted, after it became the pedestrian safety mascot for Ocean City last year.

“You have to keep pressing the campaign,” Meehan said. “You can’t think you’re getting ahead of it, because you never really do.”

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