Hatem bike plan forsakes public
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.