MDTA backpedals on Hatem bike plan

Ce­cil County high school golf pre­view Will now only al­low cross­ings on week­ends, hol­i­days

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By JANE BELLMYER

jbellmyer@ce­cil­whig.com

— The Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity is backpedal­ing on its plans to let bi­cy­cles on the Hatem Bridge.

Start­ing Sept. 6, bi­cy­cles are only al­lowed to travel the Route 40 span over the Susque­hanna on week­ends

PERRYVILLE

from dawn to dusk and on state hol­i­days.

Perryville Mayor Jim Eber­hardt’s first re­ac­tion to the an­nounce­ment Tues­day was, “Wow!”

“I am elated to be hon­est,” he said.

“I just got a thank you let­ter from Sec­re­tary Rahn,” he said, re­fer­ring to Peter Rahn, MDTA chair­man.

The let­ter was a fol­lowup to a July 26 meet­ing Rahn held with lo­cal of­fi­cials.

“He started off (the meet­ing) with an apol­ogy to all of us,” Eber­hardt said Tues­day, ad­ding the sec­re­tary ad­mit- ted that lo­cal in­put should have been con­sid­ered. “Be­lieve me he got an earful. We told him this was a ter­ri­ble idea and they should re­verse the de­ci­sion.”

Ce­cil County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Robert Hodge, who was among a con­tin­gency of county of­fi­cials who met with Rahn dur­ing the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Coun­ties con­ven­tion in Ocean City last week, also wel­comed the pol­icy change.

“I guess they are as­sum­ing

the truck traf­fic will be less on week­ends,” Hodge said. “They’ve come to the con­clu­sion that maybe they should have thought this out bet­ter.”

On July 1, the bridge was opened to bi­cy­clists af­ter sig­nage and light­ing was added to make mo­torists more aware of the pos­si­bil­ity of shar­ing the two lanes of travel in each di­rec­tion with bi­cy­clists. Less than 48 hours later, the first bi­cy­cle wreck oc­curred on the Hatem. The rider was not se­ri­ously in­jured when the bike struck an ex­pan­sion joint and crashed.

Bi­cy­cle en­thu­si­asts were ea­ger to be among the first to make the cross­ing in­clud­ing Andy Hamil­ton, mid-At­lantic re­gional rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the East Coast Green­way Al­liance. The al­liance cham­pi­oned the pol­icy say­ing the Hatem Bridge was the only spot in the East Coast Green­way Trail — which runs from Maine to Florida — where bi­cy­clists could not ride.

Days af­ter the plan took ef­fect, how­ever, Gov. Larry Ho­gan was among those stunned by the de­ci­sion. While tour­ing Ce­cil County in early July, Ho­gan told the Whig dur­ing a one-onone in­ter­view that he knew noth­ing about the de­ci­sion.

“I just heard about this for the first time last night as I met with lo­cal lead­ers,” he said in July. “I was never in­formed.”

Ho­gan vowed to “get to the bot­tom of this.”

“It sounds like there were a lot of lo­cal con­cerns, and I have con­cerns about it as well,” the gover­nor told the Whig. “My un­der­stand­ing is that there is a com­mis­sion that made the de­ci­sion, and all these bike ad­vo­cates came and the squeaky wheel got the grease.”

On Tues­day, Doug Mayer, Ho­gan’s deputy com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor, con­firmed that the gover­nor and his staff had con­ver­sa­tions with MDOT of­fi­cials about the bike pol­icy af­ter Ho­gan re­turned from his trip to Ce­cil County.

“Those con­ver­sa­tions di­rectly led to this new pol­icy be­ing im­ple­mented,” he said.

Ch­eryl Sparks, direc­tor of MDTA com­mu­ni­ca­tions, said Tues­day’s an­nounce­ment came af­ter many con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple on both sides of the Hatem Bridge.

“The change was made to bal­ance the in­ter­ests of the cy­clists and the com­mu­nity,” she said.

Hodge said al­low­ing the bikes to cross still, but with much more lim­ited ac­cess, was a bet­ter idea.

“Rather than piss off all the bik­ers, this was a com­pro­mise. I think they’re back­ing off what they thought was a good idea,” he said. “I guess they’ve got­ten the mes­sage.”

Sparks said there has been lit­tle is­sue with the bike rid­ers.

“A few went on the side­walk to try to avoid the tolls,” she said. “It’s hard to en­force, but they are sup­posed to stop and pay the $8 toll.”

The cross­ing rules re­main the same un­der the plan for fewer al­lowed hours. Only those with mo­tor ve­hi­cle li­censes, or those 18 and old- er, can take a bike across the bridge. Pedes­tri­ans, scoot­ers, skates and skate­boards are not al­lowed. Be­fore cross­ing the bridge, bik­ers have to travel sin­gle file and press a but­ton to ac­ti­vate a se­ries of blink­ing lights to in­form mo­torists of their pres­ence.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

At least a dozen bi­cy­clists waited anx­iously to be among the first to cross the Hatem Bridge when the Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity al­lowed it start­ing July 1. On Sept. 6 the pol­icy changes, al­low­ing bikes only on week­ends and state hol­i­days from dawn to dusk.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

The lighted bea­con lets mo­torists know there is a bi­cy­clist on the Hatem Bridge.

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