By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Normally, it’s bad news when a cop stops you and hands you a piece of paper.
Lt. William Mammele and Officer Juan Mendez of the Sea Isle City Police Department were doing just that Saturday to dozens of bicyclists riding on the oceanfront Promenade.
But it wasn’t tickets that Mammele and Mendez were giving to the bikers. Instead, they were handing out educational pamphlets that are part of the police department’s bicycle safety program this summer.
“We are letting them know about some of the rules that are supposed to be followed,” said Mammele, who oversees the program.
Mammele stressed that bicyclists are required to follow the same traffic laws as motorists when riding on the road. Bikers could be ticketed for breaking traffic laws, but the police department has avoided cracking down in favor of the educational program. The program also includes a social media campaign.
Like other shore communities, Sea Isle teems with bikers during the summer season. Over the years, Sea Isle has had crashes between bikes and cars, although most of them have been relatively minor. There have been no deaths.
“We’ve been pretty lucky. There’s been nothing serious,” Mammele said.
Each summer, scores of cyclists descend on the beach town to take advantage of the gorgeous weather when they are on vacation.
Mammele said biking seems to be growing in popularity, possibly because more people are health conscious.
The combination of the coronavirus pandemic and shelter-in-place orders that kept cars and trucks off the roads earlier in the year have also added to the popularity of biking nationwide, according to media reports.
In Sea Isle, Pleasure Avenue, a one-way street with a 15 mph speed limit, sometimes seems to have as many bikes on it as cars. It is especially popular with beachgoers on bikes because of its location skirting the ocean.
Pleasure, though, also has a lot of bikes traveling the wrong way. It is on Pleasure that police are concentrating their efforts to distribute safety pamphlets to bikers.
Mammele noted that police would rather keep bicyclists on Pleasure because of the slow speed limit and one-way direction. Sea Isle’s other main streets, Landis Avenue and Central Avenue, are much more crowded with motor vehicle traffic and have higher speed limits.
In addition to the roads, Sea Isle’s Promenade is another popular route for bikers. They are permitted on the Promenade on weekdays from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 5 a.m. to noon.
Police are looking into the possibility of adding new bike lanes in town, including on the Promenade, Police Chief Tom McQuillen said in June.
Bike lanes would mean that the city would have to balance the rights of bikers with the rights of motorists while trying to achieve the ultimate goal of improving safety, McQuillen pointed out.
In the meantime, police are trying to avoid conflicts between bikers and motorists through their educational campaign. Sea Isle has also launched a similar campaign that focuses on pedestrian safety.
Steve Silcott, a vacationer who was riding his bike with his family on the Promenade on Saturday, was struck by a car in Franklinville, Gloucester County, in December 2018 when he was out walking.
“I got hit and went up in the air, but I don’t remember anything else,” Silcott said, noting that he was knocked unconscious.
He was rushed to the hospital. His right leg bears the scars of the accident and three surgeries.
Silcott and his wife, Kristy, emphasize biking and pedestrian safety to their children, Logan, 10, Chase, 8, and Payton, 7.
“We always wear a helmet,” Kristy said, nodding toward the head gear on each of her children. “We also walk our bikes across the streets.”
Kristy looked at Logan and asked him to repeat some of the bicycle safety tips he has learned from his parents.
“We never go in the street when it’s busy,” Logan said.
It’s not just young bicyclists who have to be safety conscious while out on the road. Ernie Marcacci, who is 90 years old, has had some close calls during the 50 years he has been riding his bike in Sea Isle.
Marcacci said motorists generally seem to be respectful of bikers. The problems he has encountered have involved other bikers who wanted to hog the road.
“They seem to want to take over the whole street,” he said.
Marcacci had some simple words of advice to avoid conflicts on the road and keep everyone safe – bikers and motorists alike.
“If everybody kept to the right, it would always be peaceful,” he said.