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SHA conducts hand-count of cars, pedestrians for road study

(July 19, 2013) If readers were wondering what the groups of men in orange vests, sitting in lawn chairs at intersections in mid-town Ocean City last weekend, were doing, here’s the answer: They were counting the cars.

You thought your job was tedious.

From midnight on the evening of Friday, June 12, through 2 a.m. on June 14, shifts of contractors for the Maryland State Highway Administration gathered data on vehicles and pedestrians on Coastal Highway as part of a study to help determine the feasibility of some of the major safety changes proposed last year.

“It’s what we call a road safety audit,” said David Buck of the SHA’s Baltimore headquarters. “We really have never had the kind of data that we’re collecting here before…not only the number of vehicles, but the number of pedestrians, the number of transit buses, and the number of pedestrians crossing mid-block.”

The data will be used to help determine how certain changes to the resort’s major thoroughfare, proposed to help improve pedestrian safety, would affect traffic.

The summer 2012 season was, by all accounts, the worst in recent memory for pedestrian-vehicle crashes and, in two cases, deaths on Coastal Highway. The subsequent scramble by government agencies to curb the problem resulted in a number of solutions. Some, such as the SHA’s massive publicity for the “Walk Smart” campaign, do not require any major physical changes.

Others, however, would be major capital projects. One proposal was a median barrier that would physically prevent pedestrians from crossing outside of the crosswalks. The barrier would likely run from 41st to 59th Streets, given the resort’s layout and that this would cover the area where a large number of major nightlife attractions are located. The barrier could consist of traditional iron fencing, aluminum paneling with a baked finish, or possibly vegetation that would be very dense and difficult to traverse.

The other possibly major change to the thoroughfare would be what the SHA refers to as a ‘road diet,’ which would eliminate one car lane from the highway on each side, and use the additional space to install a dedicated bicycle lane and widen the sidewalks.

“We’re going to be coming up with a simulation model and plugging in all these numbers…the bottom line is that we want to come back to the folks in Ocean City with some ideas as to what’s do-able,” Buck said.

“I’m hoping we’ll have a report back in the fall to see where we’re going with the road diet, median barriers, whatever ends up on the table,” said Ken Cimino, Assistant District Engineer for SHA District 1, which covers the lower shore.

Data-gatherers this past weekend were stationed at 22 intersections between the convention center and the Route 90 Bridge, with four people to an intersection.

“It was a massive undertaking,” Buck said. “You’re talking about almost 90 people at any one time doing data collection over 26 hours.”

The stretch of Coastal Highway between Convention Center Drive and 62nd Street has been identified as the SHA’s primary target for safety improvements. From January of 2008 to August of 2012, the 1.3-mile corridor saw 41 pedestrian accidents, including one fatality. Of the total number of incidents, 22 involved alcohol, 27 were at night and 11 involved bicycles. From January through August of 2012 alone, there were 12 crashes, nine of which involved alcohol.

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