For its commitment to providing a bicycle-friendly atmosphere, Ocean City was listed as one of 10 notable communities surveyed for New Jersey’s Bicycle Benchmarking Report released Wednesday, June 3 by the New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center, a state bicycle advocacy organization.

The report – the first of its kind for the state – provides a summary of the bicycle environment at the municipal level in 2013-14, using data from 60 municipalities, including five in Cape May County.

“I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s a statement on how biking as transportation is not just growing, but it’s exploding,” Bike OCNJ co-chairman Drew Fasy said of the report.

He said bicycling is especially important in Ocean City.

“It’s a mode of transportation, but in our little world it’s a lot more than that. On a barrier island, especially in Ocean City, it’s a pastime, it’s leisure, it’s exercise, it’s touring, it’s so much more in Ocean City. It’s kind of part of our culture.”

In the report, Ocean City was highlighted as “a model shore town for its investment in bicycle infrastructure, such as one of the only bicycle boulevards in New Jersey,” which Fasy said was thanks to the efforts of many, including the city administration.

“I think this city has done a great job over the past – I don’t know how many years – that as they’re making improvements, they’re implementing Complete Streets into the roadways,” he said. “It’s not just the biking; it’s the pedestrian crossings and better access for handicapped users and all those things. I just think they’re doing a great job.”

Fasy, along with co-chairman Tom Heist, head up the Bike OCNJ organization, a local bicycle advocacy group which helped the city obtain its bronze level “Bicycle Friendly Community” designation by the League of American Bicyclists. That designation was part of the criteria that allowed Ocean City to be selected for the survey.

In addition to Ocean City, also included in the survey were West Cape May, Wildwood Crest, Wildwood and Lower Township. The municipalities were surveyed on their bicycle-related spending and policies, and their implementation of programs such as Safe Routes to Schools and Complete Streets, police training, crash statistics and more.

Ocean City was noted in the report for having 14.55 miles of signed bicycle routes and 3.16 miles of sharrows, as well as 3.25 miles of “bicycle boulevard,” a low-speed lane to be shared between bicyclists and automobiles. Of all the municipalities in the survey, Ocean City had the sixth most miles of bicycle route infrastructure at 31; Lower Township had 7 miles, Wildwood Crest 4 and West Cape May 1.

Investment in Ocean City’s bicycle infrastructure continues. Cape May County recently completed a project creating bicycle lanes with a buffer along West Avenue from 34th Street south, and the city is currently creating a bicycle path that connects the north end at Battersea Road with the Ocean City-Longport bridge.

These ideas, Fasy said, were generated from a study by the state Department of Transportation completed in 2011. Now, there are only two blocks left to connect one end of the island to the other with bicycle trails, he said.

“So really, in terms of big projects, the last piece is between Sixth and Eighth streets,” he said, adding that does not include improvements to or creation of east-west travel lanes. “But in terms of bridge-to-bridge, they’ve done it. They’ve filled it in.”

Last summer, Ocean City installed a HAWK signal at Aldrich Avenue on Ninth Street, which serves as the main entrance to town. The user-activated traffic signal is designed to provide a safe crossing for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Fasy said the idea for the HAWK signal, and other improvements, developed out of the desire to connect Ocean City and Atlantic County via the new Route 52 bridge and causeway, which has its own bicycle lane and links up to the bicycle path in Somers Point.

 “We had a means to come off the bridge and head south on Haven Avenue. What we didn’t have was a means to go north and that’s what the HAWK signal brought,” he said.

Fasy said there has been talk of a similar signal at 34th Street, which is also a heavily used roadway, but he doesn’t know of any plans.

“There’s a need there,” he said. “And the same with 55th Street. And the same with Battersea Road.”

Despite the city’s investments, the report found a huge potential for improvement statewide, even among notable towns like Ocean City.

“Innovative bicycle infrastructure, such as green bicycle lanes, advanced stop lines, and protected bicycle lanes are still rare in New Jersey, and many municipalities have no dedicated bicycle infrastructure at all,” a synopsis from the Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center states.

Building out that infrastructure may increase bicycle commuting, the report finds, especially in areas with a high percentage of citizens who work locally like West Cape May at 50 percent and Lower Township at 45.9 percent. Of the towns surveyed, the highest percentage of bicycle-riding commuters can be found in Wildwood and West Cape May at 14.4 percent and 11.2 percent, respectively (although this data includes summer residents). In fourth was Wildwood Crest at 8.2 percent. Ocean City has 3.6 percent and Lower Township 1.9 percent.

“Meanwhile, the shore communities have the highest rates of bicycle ridership in the state, but aside from Ocean City, typically lack significant bicycle investment. With more investment, use of the bicycle in those communities could increase,” the report concludes.

The report was prepared by the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers’ Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and was submitted to the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

The full report can be viewed at http://njbikeped.org/portfolio/new-jersey-bicycling-benchmarking-report-2013-2014/

Staff writer and editor for The Ocean City Gazette, published weekly and online daily at www.shorenewstoday.com. Follow me on Twitter @ocgazette, Instagram @ocean_city_gazette, and Facebook www.facebook.com/oceancitygazette.