Council voices Hatem bike plan concerns
— 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-
email@example.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.
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.
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.