Coun­cil voices Hatem bike plan con­cerns

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By CH­ERYL MATTIX

— The Ce­cil County Coun­cil voiced unan­i­mous safety con­cerns Tues­day with the Mary­land De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion’s plan to open the Thomas J. Hatem Me­mo­rial Bridge to bi­cy­clists start­ing July 1.

“It ap­pears this is go­ing to hap­pen, re­gard­less of our con­cerns or ob­jec­tions,” Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Robert Hodge told his col­leagues.

County of­fi­cials met with MDTA of­fi­cials on April 8 to get briefed on the pro­posal.

“The im­pe­tus for this idea came from bik­ing en­thu­si­asts,” Coun­cil­man Ge­orge Patchell re­ported, not­ing that he is wor­ried about the safety of any bi­cy­clist try­ing to cross the bridge due to the vol­ume of traf-

ELK­TON

cmat­tix@ce­cil­whig.com fic. “Ap­par­ently, we’re the only seg­ment be­tween Maine and Florida where a bi­cy­clist can’t get across a bridge.”

The en­tire coun­cil con­curred with Patchell’s safety con­cerns.

The ten­ta­tive plan is to al­low any bi­cy­clist to cross the Hatem Bridge be­tween the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mon­day through Fri­day, and from dawn un­til dusk on Satur­day and Sun­day. State of­fi­cials said in their pre­sen­ta­tion that those hours are ei­ther off­peak or low-vol­ume times.

If a bi­cy­clist tries to cross the bridge af­ter hours, state of­fi­cials said, a buzzer will go off in­side the toll fa­cil­ity build­ing at the Hatem Bridge to alert them a bi­cy­clist is on

the bridge. Em­ploy­ees are then sup­posed to call the Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity Po­lice to in­ter­cede.

“The bi­cy­clist will be across the bridge by the time the po­lice get there,” Patchell said. “So, now the hours of op­er­a­tion aren’t worth the pa­per they’re writ­ten on.”

Bi­cy­clists will pay an $8 toll east­bound only. They will be able to ride their bi­cy­cles in lanes with ve­hicu- lar traf­fic.

“They told us trucks must stay in the right lane, which is the cur­rent re­stric­tion, how­ever, they legally will be al­lowed to pass bi­cy­cles,” Patchell said.

MDTA of­fi­cials cur­rently have no pro­posed age re­stric­tion for bi­cy­clists, but added that they they’re con­sid­er­ing mak­ing it 18 years or older, Hodge ex­plained. Re­stric­tions will limit bi­cy­clists dur­ing winds greater than 30 mph, fog, rain or snow that lim­its vis­i­bil­ity to un­der 1,000 feet. Elec­tronic mes­sage signs will alert traf­fic about any re­stric­tions.

MDTA of­fi­cials also have plans to add new signs to both east and west ap­proaches to the Hatem Bridge that will ad­vise mo­torists and bi­cy­clists to be cau­tious and alert when trav­el­ing the bridge to­gether. They will re­place 16 in­let grates on the Hatem Bridge to make them safer for bi­cy­clists.

Flash­ing bea­cons will be in­stalled at both ap­proaches, of­fi­cials said. Each bi­cy­clist is sup­posed to push a but­ton on a sign to ac­ti­vate the flash­ing bea­con as they start across.

An­other ques­tion posed to state of­fi­cials is what to do if traf­fic is di­verted from In­ter­state 95 to the Route 40 bridge.

“They’re go­ing to con­sider this also,” Hodge said.

The county coun­cil orig­i­nally planned to send a let­ter of op­po­si­tion to the MDTA about al­low­ing bi­cy­clists on the Hatem Bridge, but now mem­bers are re­signed to of­fer­ing ad­di­tional re­stric­tions or ideas to im­prove safety.

“Let’s con­sider how we can make a bad sit­u­a­tion bet­ter,” Hodge said as he asked his fel­low coun­cil mem­bers to come up with re­quests to for­ward to the state.

Both

coun­cil­men

Dan Sch­neck­en­burger and Alan McCarthy, who are run­ning for county ex­ec­u­tive, agreed that the state plan to al­low bi­cy­cle cross­ings was not for the best.

“Com­muters are go­ing to be an­gry about this. This whole sit­u­a­tion is get­ting worse and worse,” Sch­neck- en­burger said.

“This is a very ill-ad­vised idea and it’s very dan­ger­ous,” McCarthy said.

Coun­cil­woman Joyce Bowls­bey also voiced op­po­si­tion to the plan.

“How ridicu­lous it is to put bikes on the Hatem Bridge,” she said.

CE­CIL WHIG FILE PHOTO

Bi­cy­clists will be al­lowed to cross the Hatem Bridge start­ing July 1 un­der a new state plan, but lo­cal of­fi­cials are fight­ing back on what they con­sider to be a dan­ger­ous pol­icy de­ci­sion.

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