Hatem bike plan for­sakes pub­lic

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

To those who live and work here, the plan to al­low bi­cy­clists on the Hatem Bridge sounded lu­di­crous from the start.

To the bik­ing ad­vo­cates who ped­dle through the county a few times through­out the year, many of whom are out-of-state vis­i­tors, it sounded like the holy grail.

We’ve heard the cries from groups like the East Coast Green­way or Bike Mary­land about why our two-lane span should be­come the play­ground of bi­cy­clists from around the country. We get it: the Susque­hanna River is the last bar­rier for those look­ing to bike the East Coast Green­way, a trail that runs Maine to Florida, or the Septem­ber 11th Na­tional Me­mo­rial Trail, which runs from the Pen­tagon to New York City.

(Although it should be noted that cross­ings are pos­si­ble — just fur­ther north across Route 1 on the Conowingo Dam. Bik­ers have also long had ac­cess to a taxi ser­vice to get them across the Hatem.)

But in try­ing to ap­pease the crit­i­cisms of the small but vo­cal cy­cling crowd, the Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity is plan­ning to open a day-to-day can of headaches for lo­cals who uti­lize the Thomas J. Hatem Bridge on a far more fre­quent ba­sis than our ped­dling com­pa­tri­ots.

It should not go un­noted that Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Peter Rahn — an ap­point­ment by Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan — chose to an­nounce this mo­men­tous pol­icy de­ci­sion switch not to Ce­cil or Har­ford county lead­ers, but to a crowd of bik­ing en­thu­si­asts at the 2016 Bike Sym­po­sium in Fe­bru­ary. Lo­cal lead­ers only found out about the ill-ad­vised plan through me­dia re­ports of the an­nounce­ment, which was ap­par­ently met with de­light from bik­ers.

“While Bike Mary­land and other ad­vo­cacy groups had been work­ing to make this a re­al­ity, the un­ex­pected an­nounce­ment came as a pleas­ant sur­prise and be­came the high­light of the Sym­po­sium,” Bike Mary­land wrote in its re­port of MDTA’s an­nounce­ment.

But alas, there is more proof that state of­fi­cials have been con­spir­ing with spe­cial in­ter­est groups for much longer. Last Oc­to­ber, MDTA staff shut down a lane on the Hatem bridge to ac­com­mo­date a tour of sec­tions of the bridge with ad­vo­cates from Bike Mary­land, the East Coast Green­way, Mary­land Bi­cy­cle & Pedes­trian Ad­vi­sory Group, Alta Plan­ning + De­sign and Toole De­sign Group. No Ce­cil County of­fi­cials were in at­ten­dance at this meet­ing, which laid the ground­work for the re­cent de­ci­sion.

Ce­cil County Coun­cil­man Ge­orge Patchell, County Di­rec­tor of Ad­min­is­tra­tion Al Wein and of­fi­cials from Per­ryville and Havre de Grace weren’t per­son­ally clued into the plan un­til an April 8 meet­ing with Deb Sharp­less, deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, and Charles C. Glass, as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for trans­porta­tion pol­icy anal­y­sis and plan­ning, who is re­port­edly an avid cy­clist him­self.

De­spite county of­fi­cials con­vey­ing their com­pletely fea­si­ble con­cerns about safety of both mo­torists and cy­clists, as well as fur­ther traf­fic con­ges­tion in an oth­er­wise al­ready con­gested area, the MDTA of­fi­cials weren’t swayed. In fact, they re­port­edly told the county del­e­ga­tion that some state of­fi­cials were look­ing for­ward to cross­ing the Hatem on their bikes on July 1.

But with 1-foot-wide shoul­ders and 12-foot-wide lanes be­tween rel­a­tively low jer­sey wall bar­ri­ers, there is not much room left for er­ror or ag­gres­sive par­ties. We shud­der to think what may hap­pen if cooler heads don’t pre­vail un­der this pro­posal.

And bik­ing ad­vo­cates have al­ready put out a call to cy­clists to head to the bridge in or­der to fur­ther aid fu­ture lob­by­ing ef­forts for bik­ing-re­lated projects.

“We do not an­tic­i­pate that op­ti­mal con­di­tions for cy­clists of all ages and abil­i­ties will be achieved by July,” Bike Mary­land wrote on its blog. “It is im­por­tant to note that now that bi­cy­cle traf­fic will be al­lowed on the bridge, de­mand to cross this sec­tion of the Susque­hanna will be demon­strated … While de­tails on any type of im­prove­ments, hours of ac­cess, tolls for bikes and the like are worked out, we look for­ward to as­sist­ing the Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity in any way pos­si­ble.”

While MDTA has listed the Hatem bridge as “not de­signed to ac­com­mo­date bi­cy­cle or pedes­trian traf­fic,” its new ad­min­is­tra­tion has sin­gle-hand­edly changed the de­part­ment’s stance in fa­vor of spe­cial in­ter­ests.

We are ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed that MDTA lead­ers chose to ex­clude the lead­ers of the gen­eral pub­lic in or­der to kow­tow to the wants of the vo­cal few. If bi­cy­clists want to cross the Hatem en masse, make them ob­tain a per­mit to do so with a po­lice es­cort. But to al­low in­di­vid­ual bi­cy­clists to cross ev­ery day when­ever they want is sim­ply delu­sional.

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