A cyclist had to quickly maneuver to the right for an ice cream-wielding mom — and her stroller.
Next, came a pair of joggers wearing headphones who quickly dodged the six-person bike that was making its way past the pizzeria.
Then, there were four more close calls, one near-miss and a dropped pretzel. And that was just in the span of five minutes.
Phew, Jersey Shore boardwalks can be chaotic.
Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron said that while hectic, there’s a rhythm to the 2.5-mile wooden planked walkway in his city and — if everyone is safe — plenty to enjoy too.
“The truly terrific vibe of the boardwalk is back, and you can tell by all the people, the smells of pizza and cotton candy, the sounds of the hawkers, the kids playing their games … and then you look up and you see these beautiful piers overlooking the beach,” Byron said.
The coronavirus pandemic quieted the usually bustling atmosphere of Wildwood like it did many Shore towns across New Jersey last summer. But COVID-19 didn’t just bring restrictions last year, the mayor said.
With more people staying home and an increase in demand, the Shore town extended the time bike riders could be on the boardwalk from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. under a trial period.
Even though the Wildwood boardwalk is nearly back to normal, those extended biking times are still in effect. And they are working out, with minimal enforcement needed, the mayor said.
That was evident in a recent weekday — with only a few stragglers still riding on the boardwalk as of 12:45 p.m. When 1 p.m. struck, a police patrol cart could be seen signaling to the few cyclists remaining that their time was up.
“We were just talking about this. About the later time, that it’s a great idea,” said Brian Kilcoyne, 25 of Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania, while taking a break from riding with his friends. “It’s nice to be able to sleep in a bit and then head out. You don’t have to be out here super early.”
Kilcoyne has never been in a collision on the boardwalk (“let me knock on wood”) and hopes the town keeps to the 1 p.m. schedule.
In addition to the time change — which runs from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day — the current rule allows bikes to be on the boardwalk 24/7 until mid-June. Byron said that this fall, the city expects to push that back to May 15 due to the high-volume of people heading to the beach earlier in the year.
“It gets too crowded in my opinion. I don’t know 11 (a.m.) may be a better way to go. Sometimes you have to be really careful,” said Bob Van Blunk, 63, a retired tugboat captain from Cape May County.
Blunk, who stood in front of a Wildwood arcade safeguarding his family’s bikes, said he was relishing a break from “the chaos.”
“I certainly see a slight decline at one o’clock, but it used to be much earlier so we prefer this,” said Larry Zitto, whose family has owned Crest Bike Rentals since the 1950s.
Prior to the schedule change, the bike rental shop on East Heather Road used to consistently see lines at 9 a.m. People would clamor get a decent ride in before the 11 a.m. cut-off, Zitto said.
“The later time means it’s spread out more,” he said. “We also see it’s less congested up there (on the boardwalk) and there are way less accidents.”
Jen Eaton, 33, of Syracuse, New York, said she wasn’t aware of the boardwalk schedule change.
“I’ve been coming to Wildwood for years, it’s a tradition for the family. It’s about being safe even if they’re allowing bikes on the boardwalk later,” she said. “But no, I don’t think it’s too late.”
Eaton admitted she didn’t have to worry much about her 1-year-old, who she pulled in a red cart.
For older kids, Ventnor City police Chief Doug Biagi says there’s plenty to be mindful of when on the boardwalk.
“For example if you bring your kids onto the boardwalk with training wheels. That can be a recipe for disaster. It’s not illegal … but when you’re training to get your driver’s license, they don’t take you onto the expressway the first day,” said Biagi.
He also noted the risks of taking a dog onto the boardwalk, as they can become irritated by loud noises or suddenly escape their leash.
“I’m not saying don’t do it. Just be very wary of everything that can go wrong,” Biagi said.
Whether its Wildwood or any other of New Jersey’s boardwalks, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Bicycle & Pedestrian Resource Center says it encourages riders to keep in mind a few tips: wear a helmet (required for those under 17), always lock your bikes, ride single file on the right side of the boardwalk, look out for the designated lanes which vary by town, use hand signals, ring your bell and call out when passing other boardwalk users.
Based on the trends evident on the Wildwood boardwalk, it would be wise to add don’t become too distracted by your phone, be mindful of your surroundings while your headphones are in and note that the tram car comes online at 11 a.m. (“Watch the tram car please!”).
For anyone heading to the boardwalk, cyclists and other riders are allowed across various Jersey Shore towns at the following times:
- Ventnor City: 6 a.m. to noon, except from July 1 to Labor Day on Saturday and Sunday
- Ocean City: 5 a.m. to noon during the summer
- Atlantic City: 6 a.m. to noon from May 15 to Sept. 15
- Belmar: 6 to 9 a.m. between May 1 and Sept. 30
- Seaside Heights: 6 to 1 p.m. from June 15 to Labor Day
- Point Pleasant: 5 to 9 a.m. from May 1 to Sept. 30
- Lavallette: 5 to 8 p.m. during the summer
- Seaside Park: 6 to 9 a.m. from May 15 to Sept. 15
- Spring Lake: No bicycles allowed on the boardwalk
- Avon-by-the-Sea: Midnight to 9 a.m.
- Ocean City: Dawn to noon
- Bradley Beach: Midnight to 10 a.m. from May 15 to Sept. 15
- Long Branch: No bikes allowed on the boardwalk
- Asbury Park: Midnight to 10 a.m. year-round
- North Wildwood: No bikes on the boardwalk from June 15 to Sept. 14
- Sea Girt: 5 to 10 a.m. from May 15 to Sept. 15
- Allenhurst: No bikes on the borough’s short boardwalk
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Steven Rodas may be reached at [email protected].