(May 17, 2019) Ocean City Councilman Tony DeLuca, on behalf of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, is leading an effort to provide safety lights to J-1 students who bike to work.
DeLuca, an avid bicycle rider, said he came up with the idea a few years ago while working with the city’s Green Team.
“The reason why I came up with it was, while riding at night in summer, there’s so many bikes out there and [the riders] have on jeans and black shirts, and they use this Walmart reflector that you can hardly see,” he said. “It’s like they’re invisible.
“I thought, if we could get lights on these bikes at night it would really be safe,” he continued. “When I’m riding at night and I see people with lights on the bikes, it just makes me smile. I just think the safety aspect is huge, and we have so many J-1 students in the summer riding bikes.”
According to DeLuca, 4,300 students on J-1 visas will be living and working in the resort this season into fall.
“Seventy-five percent of them ride bikes, so that’s 3,000 bikes that are out there,” he said.
During a similar effort last year, bike lights were offered for free at every fire and police station in town, and every other Wednesday DeLuca and others would hand out free lights at City Hall. In total, about 2,000 lights were distributed last year.
“We didn’t care who it was, we just kept handing them out,” he said. “And we just kept supplying the police department because, to me, the biggest idea is at night the police are out there and see people without them … and it’s low-hanging fruit.
“They’re stopping the people and, instead of giving them a ticket or a fine, they’re putting a light on the bike,” he added.
This year, DeLuca decided to target local businesses – mainly restaurants and hotels – that employ J-1 students.
“They need to step up – and I’ll help them,” he said. “We’ll give them two or three places that can buy them. They’re $6.50 roughly for a set. They need to step up and buy lights and put them on the employees’ bikes that [ride] at night. If they do that, we’ll really have hit a homerun.”
DeLuca recalled that a J-1 student from Slovokia was riding a bicycle in town when she struck and killed by a motorist three years ago.
“She got off work. She had all black on [and] was driving southbound on Philadelphia Avenue, around 2nd Street,” he said. “That’s terrible, but that’s not the reason we did this – that’s a reason, but it’s not the reason. It’s just dangerous out there. And when you add families out there at night, it’s [even more] dangerous.”
Donations to the program can be dropped off during normal business hours at City Hall on 301 Baltimore Avenue. Checks can be made out to The Town of Ocean City, with “BIKELT” in the memo field.
Also aiding the effort to keep J-1 cyclists safe are members of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, and the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association.
Chamber Executive Director Melanie Pursel, during a Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Committee meeting last Wednesday, said the issue recently came up with the Seasonal Workforce Committee. That group is made up of employers, J-1 sponsors, outreach organizations, and representatives from the chamber and HMRA, she said.
“They’re the ones who are responsible for the health, safety and well-being of the students … so they have a vested interest of making sure these students have a great experience, and so they love this program,” she said.
“Several committed to supplying funds for the program, while one organization committed to providing lights with their branding on it,” Pursel continued. “I don’t know exactly how many [they’re sending], but we told them we need 4,000. How cool would that be?
“Basically, at this point, we’re securing funds,” she added.
Pursel said the chamber would also use an overage from fees collected during a recent conference, about $1,000, toward the program.
“Last year, [the State Highway Administration] provided lights to the chamber and we installed them on bikes throughout the summer at various events, such as church dinners, safety nights, a weekly time at City Hall etc. However, this year they are not, so we wanted to find a way to secure lights. Our committee was raising funds to purchase a bulk order,” Pursel said after the meeting.
“It’s been somewhat of a multi-pronged effort, all with the same goal of getting lights on every worker’s bike that rides at night,” she added.
For more information on how to assist the chamber effort, visit https://emailstyles.com/occhamber/member-elerts/pdfs/2019-0503/OC-Bike-Lights-flyer.pdf.