By Bruce Cohen - November 20, 2014
This summer the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore awarded Bike Maryland a grant to hold three workshops on the Lower Eastern Shore, one in Wicomico, another in Worcester, and finally one for Somerset. For our Wicomico workshop we partnered with Bike Salisbury to hold a Bicycle Friendly Business workshop. In Worcester we are planning something more-extensive, a multi-day visit where we will partner with local government, business, environmentalists, and cyclists to provide a whole suite of advice and assistance. To prep for this larger visit, I drove out to Worcester County for a Tuesday meeting with the Lower Shore Land Trust who has been spearheading trail efforts in the area.
Since I was making the trip, I decided to meet with West Ocean City cyclists Monday evening, coordinated by Eastern Shore IMBA. The original intent was to motivate local cyclists to contact their local legislators and elected officials to keep the “Bicycling is Important” narrative coming to officials from across the state. Quickly, however, it became apparent that these cyclists wanted actual action and to organize into their own voice to bring bicycling and walking to the forefront. West Ocean City, for those unfamiliar with the area, is the built up area just before the bridge that takes you onto the island of Ocean City.
A major problem with Western Ocean City and many other neighborhoods on the lower Eastern Shore is the huge highways that separate neighborhoods from destinations, and a severe lack of pedestrian and bicycle accommodation over and around them. Crossing Route 50 is a chore, and along the highway there is only a sporadic sidewalk, unconnected and effectively useless for pedestrians. From my hotel down the street from the West-O Bottle Shop, where we met, it was intimidating looking at google maps and realizing that there was no convenient crossing. The shop assured me that since traffic was low it’d be easy enough to make a u-turn along 50, but at night and in the rain I decided to just drive… and I’m a dedicated cyclist. Across from my hotel was the outlet mall, and it’s silly that there is no way for guests at the hotel to safely cross 50 to shop.
South of West Ocean City, the town of Berlin is making significant strides in bike-ability. They have conducted focus groups with community members and local cyclists, the Atlantic Hotel is experiencing sold out weekends of cycling clubs coming into town, and the “Coolest Small Town in America” is looking to build a trail between the town and Assateague Island. Spearheading that charge is Kate Patton at the Lower Shore Land Trust, a land conservation group that focuses on protecting and conserving land for environmental and scenic value. It was fantastic meeting her and seeing the vision that she and others have for the town of Berlin: a greenway around the town, a trail connecting Berlin to Assateague, and hopefully an off-road connection between Ocean Pines and Snow Hill, running through Berlin. The Eastern Shore could easily become a major cycling destination, extending the tourist season into the cooler months when cyclists prefer to ride.
Of course, while tourism is a great industry for cycling destinations, these trails and infrastructure are not only there for the tourists, they also provide safe connections for the residents who live there year round, allowing families to have safe recreation and safe transportation as they use the trails for their own intrinsic value or use them to move around town.
Stay tuned for details as they come in about Cycle Week on the Lower Eastern Shore in May!