OCEAN CITY – On the heels of a firestorm of controversy over dedicated bike lanes and wider sidewalks in the conceptual plans for a major overhaul of the St. Louis Avenue corridor, resort officials this week got a look at a revised plan that should be able to accomplish both.
Last month, the Ocean City Mayor and Council got a look at conceptual plans for the complete reconstruction of the St. Louis Ave. corridor including a round-about at the dysfunctional 1st Street intersection, improved traffic patterns, increased lighting and landscaping and better draining. While they were generally pleased with the plan’s components, there was considerable debate about the need for a dedicated bike lane at the expense of wider sidewalks.
The conceptual plan called for a single lane in each direction for vehicular traffic along with a separate lane in each direction dedicated to bicycle traffic. However, under that plan, the sidewalks on either side of the street would come in at just five feet wide, or considerably less than what the city has adopted as the new standard for sidewalks in the downtown area.
Under the conceptual plan, the vehicle lanes would be about 12 feet wide with the bike lane five feet wide. The alternative is to have a shared vehicle and bicycle lane in both directions at about 15 feet wide, which would allow the sidewalks on both sides to be expanded to as much as eight feet in most areas.
While citizen surveys favored keeping the dedicated and clearly marked bicycle lane on St. Louis Avenue, the council favored the alternative. After considerable debate, the council voted 4-3 to approve the shared vehicle and bike traffic lane at 15 feet wide in order to accomplish wider sidewalks along the corridor, which has been a priority for the elected officials in recent months.
However, the decision touched off public outcry from citizens concerned about losing the bike lane as council members were flooded with calls and emails and confronted with a spirited letter to the editor campaign in local newspapers.
City Engineer Terry McGean went back to the drawing board with the project consultants and came up with a compromise of sorts that should accomplish both objectives. The roadway’s current configuration includes sidewalks at 5’6”, a parking lane at 8’6”, the 5-foot dedicated bike lane and the 11-foot travel lane in each direction.
However, McGean on Tuesday showed the council a revised plan that includes shrinking the parking lane by a foot to 7’6”, which meets the code and is as wide or wider than many street-side parking areas in the downtown area. The additional one-foot would be added to the sidewalks, making them 6’6” wide and allow the 5-foot dedicated bike lane to remain in the plan.
The council unanimously approved the compromise plan, which Council President Joe Mitrecic said should satisfy both the wider sidewalk camp and the dedicated bike lane contingent.
“This is going to make a lot of people very happy,” he said. “We’ve been getting bombarded with calls about that bike lane. It just goes to show what a couple of minds looking at things a different way can accomplish.”
For his part, McGean said he was satisfied with the compromise and only wished he could have come up with it sooner.
“I’m sorry the bike lane became the controversy it did,” he said. “I wish I could have resolved it when it was presented the first time.”