MDTA backpedals on Hatem bike plan
Cecil County high school golf preview Will now only allow crossings on weekends, holidays
— 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
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.
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.
The lighted beacon lets motorists know there is a bicyclist on the Hatem Bridge.