By Tim Kelly
Imagine being able to ride your bike easily and safely between Ocean City and Somers Point or Marmora in either direction.
You and your friends could take a long ride, stop at a restaurant and head south, deep into Cape May County.
Another day you might want to head in the opposite direction and connect with the mainland bike path that runs from Somers Point all the way to Egg Harbor Township.
It is unlikely that many bike riders are aware that dedicated bike lanes and ramps already exist for this purpose, and all that is needed for a regional “super bikeway” are some connectors to area roads.
“We have that ball at the two-yard line,” said Ocean City resident Drew Fasy, co-chair along with Tom Heist of the bicycle advocacy group Bike OCNJ. “We need to punch it into the end zone.”
An informational meeting for this purpose will take place Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Somers Point City Hall, 1 West New Jersey Avenue.
Fasy’s group, Somers Point officials, representatives of the New Jersey Department of Transportation and tourism boosters have issued a call to arms to area bike riders and advocates to have their voices heard on the issue.
At present, riding a bike between Ocean City and Somers Point or Upper Township in either direction can be dicey, particularly in the summer months. However, having dedicated bike lanes would improve safety, provide a viable alternative to vehicular transportation and become a major draw for local and visiting bike riders of all abilities, bike advocates say.
Fasy said the cost for completing the project is minimal, compared to what NJDOT has already invested in the lanes and ramps so far. Additionally, the economic benefits of such a bikeway would essentially pay for it, he said.
“At this point, it makes no sense not to finish the job,” he said. “On the other hand, there is much to be gained (by doing so).”
New Jersey DOT has essentially stopped work on the project, observers said, leaving area riders and advocates to fend for themselves. Some speculate the project has stalled due to politics, with Gov. Phil Murphy’s new administration and changeovers in NJDOT personnel resulting in the delay.
Ocean City has already been named one of the most bike-able cities in the nation and is known for installing bike racks all over town and at many entrances to the beach. There are also dedicated bike lanes in town. However, riders who wish to leave town for longer rides face significant challenges to do so.
At the meeting Thursday, officials will outline the project and accept public feedback. Headed south, it is to connect Ocean City with the Marmora section of Upper Township via Route 9 and the new Garden State Parkway bridge to County Road 559 (Mays Landing Road). Northbound, it is to provide access with the streets of Somers Point.
Presently, bike riders going south in the dedicated lanes are to be deposited at Route 9 and Harbor Road in Beesley’s Point, a two-lane road leading to the Tuckahoe Inn and a beach used mostly for jet skiers but not much else. Those trying to use the new Parkway bridge are greeted by a sign stating “Walkway Closed During Construction” and locked gates.
An access point for the bikeway is also gated off at the terminus in Somers Point and the one at Beesley’s Point.
Thus, there is no safe or legal way to currently travel south on a bike into Upper Township. Going north, there are legal ways, but the safety is questionable.
At the meeting, Fasy said an overview would be given on the state’s current, if uncompleted vision for the bikeway, as well as an alternative path from interests in Somers Point.
Current status of the project will be discussed, exhibits of conceptual design plans will be reviewed and attendees will be encouraged to ask questions and exchange ideas.
Fasy believes bike riders, those concerned about excessive vehicular traffic and businesses benefiting from tourism – on both sides of the Causeway – should become advocates of the project.
“This can become a regional hub for riders who use their bikes for recreation or transportation. It can encourage visitors who ride bikes with another reason to vacation in the area,” he said.