Boardwalk blues: The hazards of walking in Ocean City

Think the traffic on Ocean City streets is bad? Try navigating that crowded Boardwalk

May 14, 2011|By Austin Gisriel

Memorial Day is fast approaching, and for thousands of Baltimoreans, that day marks the beginning of the summer sojourns in Ocean City. The famous boardwalk will be reconstructed come fall, and the town council considered using a variety of materials, finally deciding to continue using wood.

May I humbly suggest pouring asphalt instead? That way, all those Baltimore-area tourists will feel right at home. After all, they tend to navigate the Boardwalk in the same finger-raising manner that they navigate the Beltway.

For example, these Beltway Boardwalkers think nothing of swerving across several lanes of human traffic because their Candy Kitchen exit has suddenly appeared. My wife and I were walking serenely along, heading north on the outer loop of the Boardwalk one evening, when, out of the blue, a woman with a baby carriage veered in front of us without so much as a turn signal — indeed, without a signal of any kind. No "Excuse me," no "I'm sorry," not even "I'm cutting you off, so kiss my @#$!" (This last signal would at least have been recognition that we, her fellow pedestrians, existed.)

Indeed, it is amazing that so many people commute up and down the Boardwalk with thousands of others and yet seem to have no awareness whatsoever that anyone else is sharing the road with them. These are the people who often are walking along at the socially accepted speed limit — until, suddenly and for no apparent reason — they stop dead in their tracks. I saw a 14-person pileup outside the Plim Plaza Hotel because someone came to an unexpected stop in the middle of traffic. If you need to stop and contemplate whether you should go back to Fisher's and buy another bucket of popcorn, why not pull over to the side of the Boardwalk? Safety first, people!

At least the Beltway doesn't have a train running down the median — unlike the Boardwalk with its tram, the cute little would-be train that clearly confuses the meandering herd of pedestrians. We were amazed at the number of people who looked utterly surprised that they were in the way of the tram while they were walking between the white lines in the lane that is marked "Tram." The tram drivers, ever patient, pull up slowly and blow that cute little horn to warn the walkers out of harm's way. They should drive right up behind these unsuspecting human traffic delays and then let loose with a steam whistle. It's hard to block traffic when you're 30 feet in the air, your hair is standing straight up, and the only part of you left on the Boardwalk is your flip-flops.

Of course, these Beltway boors would never consider letting their young children drive on the nation's highways, but they don't seem to think twice about giving their kids a license to weave in and out of Boardwalk traffic, speed up, slow down, and make such sudden turns that their ice-cream scoops go flying off the cones in the general direction of the only pair of clean shorts that you have left.

Parents, here's a reality check: Your kids aren't nearly as cute as you think they are, and just because you now have a five-minute respite because you let them run off unsupervised down the Boardwalk doesn't mean that you can disavow knowing them.

So, what is the solution to all of this? The heavy hand of government, of course! To rectify the number of wrecks that take place on the not-so-placid planks of Ocean City, I am proposing that all tourists be required to carry a Pedestrian Boardwalk License. The town could charge, say, $25 for a license, which would help ensure a safe and pleasurable place to stroll, free from the headaches that haunt us when we're behind the wheel. The money raised could be used to help finance the Boardwalk's reconstruction.

Indeed, if the town fined everyone who violated the Boardwalk traffic laws, the new Boardwalk could be paved with gold.

Austin Gisriel is a writer living in Williamsport. His email is

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