OCEAN CITY – As City Council members raised their hands unanimously in hopes to increase a Boardwalk amenity, they also seemingly raised some concerns about the overall safety on the Boardwalk itself.
The council voted 6-0, with President Joe Mitrecic absent, to extend the hours that bike riders can be on the Boardwalk in the summer season to 11 a.m., but also opted for the tram to continue its current start-time of 10 a.m.
Mayor Rick Meehan, who is an avid Boardwalk biker, cautioned the council not to create added congestion on the Boardwalk, especially in July and August, and was visibly displeased with the council’s decision after their votes were tabulated.
“Honestly, I think the topic needs much more discussion”, said Meehan. “We beat up the calendar of events for the town for the better part of an hour and we made a decision on this in about 10 minutes.”
Meehan, who says he rides on the boardwalk five days a week in the summer, agrees with the idea brought forward by Don Enste, owner of Dandy Don’s bike rental, to extend the hours riders are allowed on the Boardwalk, but has safety concerns about the decision not to push back the tram service to 11 a.m. as well.
“When two trams go past each other, it chokes off all traffic on the Boardwalk, and if you add a bunch of bike traffic to that equation, we could have a real problem, as the bikers have nowhere to go,” said Meehan.
Meehan believes the council has “all the right intentions,” but thought that the “decision was rushed a bit,” perhaps due to the issue coming up at the end of an almost four-hour work session on Tuesday.
Enste admitted that the idea was in hopes to increase his business, but added that there would be benefits to all Boardwalk businesses by the change, noting the most feedback he’s received from his customers over the years was simply “more time.”
“People have enjoyed riding bikes up and down the Boardwalk for generations with their families, and over the last several years, our customers have expressed overwhelmingly that a little more time to ride bikes on the Boardwalk would be great,” said Enste.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, who owns a shop on the Boardwalk, seemed to think that the extension of hours would pose few problems.
“Bikers are here to stay on the Boardwalk,” said Pillas. “If you come at 9 a.m. now, there is a crowd because people are trying to get their ride in the last hour, so this might stretch it out and disperse the traffic.”
Councilman Jim Hall thought that giving the idea a try for a summer would be a good move and disagreed with the mayor’s idea to just extend the hours to the weekdays.
“How can you let someone ride all week until 11 and then give them a ticket on the weekend for riding after 10 a.m.?” queried Hall.
The safety concern that was created by the vote to continue the tram operation at 10 a.m. was more than likely an inadvertent mishap by the council in efforts to keep the revenue from the trams during the first hour of the day. According a graph charting revenue by hour brought in over 126 days last year (May 17-Sept. 13), the tram brings in on average $1,980 on Saturdays and Sundays between 10-11 a.m.
Over the course of 18 weeks, if the service were to be eliminated to create more space for the bike riders from 10-11 a.m., the town would lose approximately $35,640 in revenue.
It should be noted that the first-hour tram revenue during the week is rather small, with the highest revenue on average during the week being on Wednesday at $420, but with the town trying to balance a budget under tough conditions, the council appears to be trying to keep the revenue but also add a service for the visitors.
Enste said that his chief concern as a bike shop owner is always safety and that education on the “pedestrian has the right of way” is his greatest talking point. He also noted that Wildwood, N.J. allows bikers on their Boardwalk until 11 a.m. as well.
The change will now move to ordinance form and will be further discussed during the two required readings before the change becomes law.
Councilman Jim Hall said in the days that followed the meeting that a few changes will more than likely be made before or during the readings.
“It won’t hurt my feelings if we stop the tram until 11 a.m.,” said Hall. “After the meeting, a few people brought up some serious concerns, but the important thing is we moved it forward, and we’ll fine tune it later.”