Cape May County is the most dangerous county for bicyclists per capita in South Jersey, according to data released Wednesday by the nonprofit group Tri-State Transportation campaign.
The county experienced an average of 84 bicycle-related crashes yearly between 2001 and 2010 — or more than 8 crashes for every 10,000 residents. Atlantic, Ocean and Camden counties experienced more bicycle-related crashes during that time, but show much lower crash rates due to their larger populations.
County Engineer Dale Foster noted that the county’s population swells to about 750,000 people during the summer tourist season, altering the population significantly.
“Any project we design for roadways, we always look at all users of the roads and how to make it safer for everyone,” Foster said. “A lot of our problem is that our causeways are not wide enough for bicyclists.”
Tri-State’s report attributes much of the region’s problems to road design. The bulk of area bicycle crashes happen on arterial roads — roads with two or more lanes in each direction and speeds of at least 40 miles per hour.
The report lists State Highway 47 and U.S. Route 30 as the region’s most dangerous roads for bicyclists between 2008 and 2010; U.S. Route 30 in Atlantic and Camden counties was the scene of 65 bicycle-related crashes. State Highway 47, which runs through Cape May, Cumberland and Gloucester counties, experienced 58 crashes.
In Cape May County, many of the bridges are 28 feet wide, when 30 feet is a standard used to accommodate both cars and bikes.
Some bridges along Ocean Drive, for instance, are less than 20 feet wide.
Among the county’s trouble spots, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, are County Road 621, which runs through the Wildwoods. The four-lane road in Wildwood has no room for the addition of bike lanes, Foster said, adding that parking in shore towns is also at a premium, leaving little room for bike lanes in many places.
“It’s a difficult issue to deal with,” Foster said.
He noted that a study is under way looking at transportation on the island.
County Road 619, which runs through Ocean City to North Wildwood Boulevard, was also named a trouble spot.
Foster said the county is working on road projects along JFK Boulevard in Sea Isle City and recently widened the bridge leading into Avalon on Avalon Boulevard.
Wildwood Police Capt. Robert Regalbuto said the bulk of bicycle-related accidents occurs in the summer, when the island is filled with tourists.
“We just try to improve awareness,” he said, urging bicyclists to wear helmets and reflective clothing so they can be seen. He also encouraged them to be aware of their surroundings.
“A lot of it is just awareness for both motorists and bicyclists,” he said.
The analysis by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign studied roads in the Garden State’s eight southernmost counties and compared data on bicycle-related crashes collected by the state Department of Transportation.
Matthew Norris, Tri-State’s South Jersey Advocate, said the group advocates bike lanes, better signage and wider shoulders.
“We focus on making safer conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians,” Norris said. “Bicycling is a legitimate form of transportation. It’s healthy and it’s a great alternative to driving.”
Bicyclist Abdul Brown recognizes the benefits of bicycling. The Woodbine native routinely rides along Cape May County roads. The decision is less costly than driving and provides plenty of exercise — but it has its downside, too.
“I was on my way to work one day in Court House and two cars nearly hit me,” said Brown, 21, as he stopped on his bicycle while riding through Wildwood.
Brown, who has ridden from North Wildwood to Cape May Court House, Rio Grande and back in a day, said he would like to see bike lanes and more sidewalks, particularly along Route 9.
“Sometimes it’s a little scary. I like it. But some people would think it’s scary,” Brown said.
Contact Trudi Gilfillian: