OVPD targets bicyclist's safety tonight

A combination of an influx of foreign students riding their bicycles to and from work daily and an inordinate amount of traffic on local roadways — primarily Route 26 — has prompted the Ocean View Police Department (OVPD) to take a pro-active stance to ensure that area roadways are safe.

And tonight, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., the OVPD, in coordination with DelDOT and the University of Delaware, will enforce a bicycle-safety checkpoint set up across from Taylor Bank and the Church of Christ, at the intersection of West Avenue and Route 26.

Then and there, riders will have their bicycles inspected for road-readiness — especially for nighttime riding — and also be issued bicycle safety and traffic safety literature, in the hope that it will curtail any unnecessary accidents.

This year, as of July 5, there have already been two accidents involving foreign students. The most recent accident, on July 3, involved a Russian student who was struck by a car as he was riding east-bound in the west-bound lane, alongside oncoming traffic around 7:50 a.m. An OVPD reports stated that the student had wavered over the line and was then struck.

Neither he nor the female student involved in an accident earlier this summer were seriously injured or required medical attention.

The OVPD implemented the checkpoint program last year with great success. Last summer, in a four-hour period, the OVPD had 136 bicyclists pass through with “98 percent” of those being foreign students, according to OVPD Chief Ken McLaughlin.

“We were shocked,” McLaughlin said. “There hadn’t been that many bikes in that time in Rehoboth and Lewes,” he added of checkpoints established in those nearby towns.

University of Delaware Bike Safety Coordinator Mike Love said he noticed an impact “almost immediately” after the checkpoints, citing better visibility of bicyclists and adherence to traffic laws.

But with a new summer comes a new crop of foreign students, so it’s up to the OVPD and a host of volunteers to make sure they’re outfitted properly so that drivers can see them. Bike safety and traffic information packets are printed in about half-dozen or so different languages, courtesy of DelDOT, to give the students a better understanding of what is being presented.

Many of the students come from cultures where the bicycle is the main mode of transportation and has priority over cars on the road. And many of them are unaware of U.S. traffic laws or of the volume of cars that share the roadways during the summer season. In many cases, they don’t have the proper safety devices, such as lights or reflectors, installed on their bicycles, according to McLaughlin and Love.

If any students aren’t equipped with the proper lights or reflectors, then they will be issued at the checkpoint and have installed whatever is needed — on the spot.

And, in the near future, the OVPD will begin an aggressive enforcement policy that will target bicyclists who don’t adhere to the traffic laws or bike safety regulations. The hope is that a ticket or two may deter the students — who are in the area to make money, not pay fines — from breaking the local traffic laws.

“We started to issue tickets toward the end of last year’s [summer] season,” McLaughlin said. “We used a lot of discretion and provided them with a lot of information. But sometimes aggressive enforcement gets the message across much better.”