By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
As the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association continues the work necessary to utilize a $500,000 state grant it proposes as a fitness trail along the oceanfront, others have raised concerns about whether such a project – especially as it is being designed – is the best use for the money in a community where the beachfront owned by a private entity has many needs.
While engineering and design work continues, the primary question for both the camp meeting association and the Ocean Grove Homeowners Association is safety both on Ocean Avenue and the boardwalk. While the Camp Meeting Association calls the project “a fitness path or trail,” the property owners use “bike path” as a project reference.
Camp Meeting Association President Michael Badger has explained that part of the inspiration for seeking the money for the path is to make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists and skateboarders and motorists to co-exist in that space. He has acknowledged to Richard Williams, homeowners association president, and Barbara Burns, past president, that ideally removing cyclists from the boardwalk onto this path is the path’s primary purpose.
But the Camp Meeting Association also acknowledges trying to keep cyclists off the boardwalk is an ongoing problem. And if the cyclists currently leave the boardwalk, they must cycle on Ocean Avenue which is congested and whose design has long posed a predicament for oceanfront communities trying to ferry pedestrians safely from the ocean to westward destinations.
Neptune Township does not have an obligation to patrol the boardwalk, Burns noted. “That is really a difficult task,” Burns said. “If I am a police officer standing on the boardwalk and a bicyclist comes by, what am I going to do? Go after him? It is difficult.”
But if keeping already prohibited cyclists off the boardwalk remains a challenge, how will Ocean Grove be able to get cyclists to use the new path, Burns asks, paraphrasing concerns of property owners.
“Everyone agrees bikes on the boardwalk is a safety concern,” Burns said.
“There are rules about having bikes on the boardwalk. These rules have not been enforced. There are questions about whether a little more enforcement” would mitigate the need for a bike path. Further, Burns said, “if you can’t get bikes off the boardwalk, how will you get them on to the bike path?” Signage warning of the bike prohibition was not installed this summer, she said.
She wonders if interim measures might be taken so that the need for a fitness path is reduced and the $500,000 could be used for other boardwalk needs, such as enhancing handicapped access or producing more modern bathroom facilities. The $500,000 is from the budgetary funds of the state Department of Community Affairs and appears in the budget line item as “beach maintenance.” So could other uses warrant the money more? Burns notes “no one is suggesting” community uses for the boardwalk.
But beyond that is the overarching concern: cyclists prefer the boardwalk and why not? A cyclist can use the boards to ride from Asbury Park to Belmar which is a more pleasant journey than Ocean Avenue, with its exhaust fumes and traffic.
The bike path “does not continue thru Asbury Park or Bradley Beach,” said Burns “and from what we’ve been able to determine, there are no plans to do that.” Further, there are 10 beach access points along the area in Ocean Grove marked for the bike path which the homeowners worry means the bike path may be reduced or the number of access points be sacrificed so the path is uninterrupted.
The issue – as adjacent Asbury Park found when it accepted state money to redo its central business corridor- is that such projects often result in a loss of trees and other greenery. Asbury is now in the process of replanting trees it had to remove. Badger told group members that it seems likely that some of the boardwalk greenery also will have to go. The path likely will need to be rerouted around the flag pole and some waterfront garden areas.
“There is much more that needs to be addressed before we have an understanding of where the bike path is going to go,” Burns said.
Burns notes these are “early days” and many of these concerns and questions likely will be addressed by a willing Camp Meeting administration.
Badger in July “has indicated he is willing to talk to us and we are very appreciative of that offer,” Burns said.
Sen. Vin Gopal secured the state budget appropriation for the fitness path which will provide a safer environment for runners, cyclists and others, officials said when the grant was announced.
“By clearly designating lanes to separate people taking a bike ride or a run from cars, Ocean Grove will make the streets safer for everyone,” Gopal said then.