Com­mu­nity voice: Bik­ers will con­trib­ute to county

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Robert Gas­ton

Over the past few years, the county has been work­ing on sev­eral plan­ning ef­forts aimed at im­prov­ing the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and qual­ity of life for cit­i­zens and busi­nesses in the county, all while im­prov­ing the en­vi­ron­ment we live in. Tran­sit-ori­ented de­sign stud­ies and plans, and the Ce­cil County Bi­cy­cle and Pedes­trian Plan were both pre­pared and ac­cepted by lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions and County Coun­cil re­spec­tively.

As a cit­i­zen of the county, I par­tic­i­pated in both of these ef­forts along with many other cit­i­zens and pub­lic of­fi­cials. The clear trend in the United States of im­prov­ing the safety and ac­cess for cit­i­zens to com­mu­nity events, nat­u­ral re­sources and lo­cal busi­nesses (as well as vis­it­ing his­toric and in­ter­est­ing lo­cal at­trac­tions) is through off-road fa­cil­i­ties, or trails, and safer lo­cal roads and streets, and the Com­plete Streets move­ment that in­cludes all user groups in de­sign­ing roads and pub­lic rights-of-way. This brings us to the rea­son why the Hatem Bridge con­nec­tion across the Susque­hanna River is such a key strate­gic de­ci­sion. Facts (not fic­tion) The up­com­ing open­ing of the bridge to bi­cy­cle traf­fic is de­signed to min­i­mize im­pacts to mo­tor­ized users, while cur­ing a ma­jor ob­sta­cle to both Ce­cil and Har­ford County cit­i­zens — not to men­tion state and na­tional trav­el­ers. As cur­rently planned, the bridge will be open to cy­clists over the age of 16 years (un­less ac­com­pa­nied by an adult) from the hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mon­day through Fri­day. On week­ends, it will be opened from dawn to dusk. Dur­ing un­usual pe­ri­ods of extra heavy traf­fic (like when the In­ter­state 95 bridge is closed or heavy hol­i­day traf­fic is present) the bridge can be tem­po­rar­ily re­stricted to mo­tor­ized ve­hi­cles. Pe­ri­ods when a lane is closed for main­te­nance and weather re­stric­tions will fol­low sim­i­lar re­stric­tions. I reg­u­larly cross the bridge dur­ing lower vol­ume pe­ri­ods and even when a lane is closed, find the traf­fic pro­ceeds at posted speeds. The short-term pass­ing of a cy­clist in the right lane across the bridge will have al­most no im­pact to mo­tor­ized users. There are many ad­di­tional tech­niques uti­lized by trans­porta­tion pro­fes­sion­als (MDOT, SHA and MDTA) across the state to fur­ther fa­cil­i­tate safe trans­porta­tion of mo­tor­ized and non-mo­tor­ized trav­el­ers.

Why is this so im­por­tant to Ce­cil County?

As men­tioned above, cross­ing the Susque­hanna River has been a huge gap in the de­vel­op­ment of tourism, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and qual­ity of liv­ing in our county. As bi­cy­cle and pedes­trian ac­cess to the new Am­trak bridge is es­ti­mated to be a huge ex­pense and less than de­sir­able for non-mo­tor­ized users, the Hatem Bridge was looked at as a way to close this gap. While not the ideal so­lu­tion (it doesn’t pro­vide ac­cess for pedes­tri­ans), the de­ci­sion has a largely pos­i­tive im­pact for next to no in­vest­ment. But why does al­low­ing ac­cess to more users mean so much to us in Ce­cil County?

Peo­ple de­cide where to live for many rea­sons, but some of the core rea­sons are the qual­ity of the com­mu­nity, em­ploy­ment prox­im­ity, and cost. Em­ploy­ers seek places to start their busi­nesses in places that of­fer em­ploy­ees what they de­sire. If you man­age, work in or own a busi­ness in Ce­cil County, you will see more qual­i­fied em­ploy­ees in­ter­ested in mov­ing into the area to live. You will also see im­proved traf­fic in your store with­out the need for adding park­ing lots or spa­ces. Cy­clists ac­tu­ally do spend more money in places they visit than mo­tor­ized vis­i­tors, lit­ter less and travel mostly dur­ing low traf­fic pe­ri­ods. Cy­clists visit his­toric sites, scenic land­scapes and nat­u­ral re­source at­trac­tions (think the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, Ch­e­sa­peake City and Canal Trail, Fair Hill NRMA, Elk Neck State Park and For­est, and the nu­mer­ous scenic roads in the ru­ral sec­tions of the county). Our group rides on Satur­day and Sun­day morn­ings reg­u­larly in­clude a visit to Kilby’s in Ris­ing Sun or Ice Cream Al­ley in North East. Imag­ine what im­pact the ad­di­tional rid­ers will have on the busi­nesses that have what they need through­out the county.

The East Coast Green­way will also be signed through Ce­cil County this sum­mer (from Elkton to Per­ryville). The Ma­son-Dixon hik­ing trail is al­most com­pletely blazed from the Delaware Line to Per­ryville. The of­froad con­nec­tion from North East to Elkton through the Elk Neck State For­est will be com­plete and open to fam­i­lies, kids and adult be­gin­ner cy­clists and all hik­ers and trail run­ners late this spring or this sum­mer. Fair Hill has over 80 miles of off-road trails open to cy­clists, eques­tri­ans and pedes­tri­ans. Elk Neck State For­est and Park com- bined have another 20 miles of trails as well as preser­va­tion ar­eas, camp­ing, boat­ing and scenic fea­tures such as the Light House, White Banks and Pete Bond scenic over­looks. Open­ing a limited cross­ing of the Susque­hanna River via the Hatem Bridge al­lows all of these cur­rent county ini­tia­tives to con­tinue to move for­ward. In­cor­rect state­ments Sev­eral in­cor­rect state­ments have ap­peared in the press lately re­lated to the Hatem Bridge open­ing to cy­clists:

The WILMAPCO Non­mo­tor­ized Work­ing Group, which cov­ers Ce­cil County and New Cas­tle County, Del., has sev­eral Ce­cil County mem­bers and serves as the main com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nel to County Gov­ern­ment on bi­cy­cle and pedes­trian plan­ning ef­forts. As a cit­i­zen mem­ber of this group who at­tended all of the meet­ings it’s been clear that a cross­ing of the Susque­hanna River was a main pri­or­ity for the group.

As the gover­nor ap­pointed rep­re­sen­ta­tive (both un­der Govs. O’Mal­ley and Ho­gan) to the Mary­land Bi­cy­cle and Pedes­trian Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee rep­re­sent­ing Ce­cil County and the East­ern Shore, I at­tended the re­view and walk­through of the Ha- tem Bridge and county of­fi­cials were also in­vited to at­tend. Many po­ten­tial safety is­sues were dis­cussed in that meet­ing and all are ad­dressed in the cur­rent plan. Sum­mary If you’re al­ready a cit­i­zen of our county, you live in a spe­cial place. While I com­pletely un­der­stand the im­pulse to want to avoid any­thing that changes how we live, I also be­lieve in mov­ing for­ward with cre­at­ing good jobs, en­cour­ag­ing busi­ness growth (and new busi­ness and in­dus­try de­vel­op­ment), im­prov­ing our com­mu­ni­ties by al­low­ing safer ac­cess by mus­cle-pow­ered trans­porta­tion along with the many ex­ist­ing fea­tures — and do­ing this all in a way that en­hances the nat­u­ral beauty of the county in­stead of ex­ploit­ing it. There are thou­sands of lo­cal cy­clists in ad­di­tion to the thou­sands more of tourists on foot or bi­cy­cle who will visit our county now that the bridge cross­ing is avail­able. All we have to do is wel­come these vis­i­tors (and area cit­i­zens) to our trails, scenic road­ways and spe­cial at­trac­tions to gain the ben­e­fits so many other com­mu­ni­ties across the state en­joy.

Robert Gas­ton is a cit­i­zen mem­ber of the Mary­land Bi­cy­cle and Pedes­trian Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee.

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