ATLANTIC CITY — Cyclists riding down Pacific or Atlantic avenues might feel the rush of wind on their backs as trucks, cars and jitneys stream past them.
“It gets real dicey,” said Mary Cieslak, 36, who bikes from her shore house in Ventnor on the border of the city. “I’ve actually had little girls that I nanny down here, and they’re on the back (of the bike). And then I really get scared.”
Some riders might be tempted to hop the curb and join pedestrians on the sidewalk to avoid a sideswipe.
Who could blame them? For a seaside resort, and a city with a poverty rate significantly higher than those of neighboring municipalities, Atlantic City’s streets do not exactly welcome the comparatively cheap form of getting around.
“They haven’t been putting in the infrastructure that’s sort of known to save lives,” said James Sinclair, research coordinator for the New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center at Rutgers University.
Bike lanes were proposed for Atlantic and Pacific avenues and other corridors in a comprehensive bike and pedestrian safety plan that was released in 2013 but never gained traction.
The report, compiled by a Virginia company for the city and the New Jersey Department of Transportation, also recommends traffic-calming measures in high pedestrian areas like center median islands and curb extensions, and increased Boardwalk hours for bikers, which, in peak season, are only allowed on the boards from 6 a.m. to noon.
There is one bike route in Atlantic City, according to Director of Planning Barbara Woolley-Dillon. It starts in Gardner’s Basin and runs to South New Jersey Avenue and the Boardwalk, but does not include dedicated lanes, only chevrons and “Bike Route” signs.
City Engineer John Mele said another bike route will be put in place later this year that will run on Atlantic Avenue from Jackson Avenue to Albany Avenue, and then on Ohio Avenue between Atlantic and Riverside avenues in Venice Park, skipping over the most heavily traveled portion of Atlantic Avenue. If the timing is right, it could be introduced to the city around the same time as a new bikeshare program, which Woolley-Dillon said is forthcoming.
To some residents, Atlantic City still has a ways to go.
“I have (ridden) around this town — the entire town — on my bike at different times,” said Geoff Rosenberger, a member of the 1st Ward Civic Association and a South Inlet resident. “It is very difficult to ride a bike on any of our main thoroughfares because of traffic patterns and because of width.”
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While it’s safe to bike the neighborhoods, Rosenberger said he wouldn’t recommend cross-town travel for a kid.
“What you can’t do is traverse the city end to end easily as a child on a bike,” Rosenberger said. “It’s just not safe.”
That assessment is alarming considering Atlantic City is an urban center with a 40% poverty rate, meaning fewer households own cars.
According to an analysis of Census Bureau data by datausa.io, the average household in Atlantic City owns one car, compared with two cars statewide.
A quick look at other shore towns reveals the safety and convenience that could have been made available for cyclists in the resort if the city followed through with the 2013 recommendations.
Ocean City is a great example of a town that puts an emphasis on bikeability, Sinclair said.
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Much of the progress there is thanks to activists like Tom Heist, 55, who says the town has become much more bike-friendly in the past 12 to 15 years. It took consistent pressure from hobbyists and activists to gain the ground they did.
Heist is a co-chairman of Bike OCNJ — once a city subcommittee that promoted physical fitness, now a group of volunteers — which lobbies the city for amenities to make it safer and easier to bike there, including bike lanes, reduced speed limits, more stop signs and places to put air in tires.
Bike racks were installed outside restaurants and other points of interest, and kids returning from school can now bike on the Boardwalk after noon, the cutoff for riders.
People have been biking in Ocean City for decades, Heist said. “But early on, it was kind of like take your life into your own hands.”
That has changed, Heist said, and more people are biking.
Perhaps the biggest improvement has been the implementation of a safe biking corridor, which links a number of streets that run from the Ocean Cit y-Longport bridge to Corsons Inlet.
It allows cars, Heist said, but encourages bikers to take the route and discourages drivers from using it, using “sharrows” or chevrons and bike icons painted on the road, and “HAWK signals” or buttons that stop traffic for cyclists and pedestrians to cross.
Sinclair said bike infrastructure in Ocean City is added while roads are repaved, which means the added cost is minimal.
Back in Atlantic City, while stopped at Delaware and Pacific avenues, Pete Burke, 46, and Stacy Kunze, 44, of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, took a breather after hours of riding bikes. They didn’t find it too tough, and said drivers gave them the right of way in tight spots.
“It wouldn’t hurt to have a bike lane,” Burke said. “But we still get by.”
Rosenberger said the city’s flat terrain makes it perfect for biking. He suggested diagonal parking on Atlantic Avenue and opening up a lane for bikes only.
“(The city) never considers anything outside of the box,” he said. “There’s never foresight into the future.”
It could take a push from residents similar to the one in Ocean City to get officials to consider biking more than just a side issue, as residents’ needs should be weighed alongside tourists’ needs.
“Biking isn’t just about leisure,” Heist said. “It’s about transportation.”
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