Ocean City, Maryland, is a small island community where the population swells from nearly 7,100 off-season residents to 400,000 people each week in the summer. The beach community hosts more than 8 million visitors each year. The number of cars, walkers and cyclists can be overwhelming for the space. In 2012, the city began to see a drastic increase in the number of pedestrian crashes.
To combat this problem, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) spearheaded the Walk Smart program, a collaborative approach to reducing the number of pedestrian crashes. This program was created in partnership with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration's Highway Safety Office and the Maryland State Highway Administration and led by a multi-disciplinary task force made up of Town of Ocean City officials, fire department representatives, local businesses and other stakeholders.
Engineering countermeasures included evaluating traffic patterns and enhancing safety at key intersections, changing bus stop locations, installing center median dividers and pedestrian bump outs and placing curb stencils and signals in high pedestrian volume areas to direct people to crosswalks.
Because the town’s population changes every week, there is no opportunity to build on a safety message over time. Pedestrian safety messaging featuring the iconic Maryland crab dressed as a lifeguard was placed on Ocean City transit, airplane banners, boat billboard messages, roadside billboards, television and radio public service announcements, bar coasters, social media channels and gas pump toppers. Grassroots outreach included highly visible street teams distributing safety information and encouraging pedestrians to use the crosswalks. Toolkits were developed for churches, hotels and condo rentals; walk Smart T-shirts were distributed to Ocean City employees; fire stations displayed banners with pedestrian safety messages outside and the regional trauma center distributed safety materials to personnel and visitors.
A special challenge in Ocean City is an influx of thousands of high school graduates for a week of fun each June--fun that can include underage drinking, illicit drugs and impaired driving. Teens attending that town’s alcohol-free events received a bus bracelet with pedestrian safety messaging that allowed them to ride the transit bus for free for a week. The bracelets also served to put more teens on the bus so they were not driving or walking if impaired.
On the enforcement side, OCPD officers and troopers from the Maryland State Police aggressively enforced pedestrian safety laws. Drivers were issued citations and pedestrians were issued educational violations. Officers found that it was ineffective to try and stop and cite each violator and instead would stop and speak to groups after they had crossed the roadway. They focused on parents with small children and groups of young people, educated them on Ocean City laws and encouraged them to use crosswalks. Each pedestrian was given a brochure, and the officers tracked the number of people they educated on each shift.
In the first year of the program’s implementation, Ocean City saw a 52 percent reduction in total pedestrian crashes and a 73 percent reduction in pedestrian crashes on state roads. To date, Ocean City has experienced a 100 percent reduction in fatal pedestrian crashes since Walk Smart began.