Folks at Baltimore's transportation department, put your hands over the bowls.
The bridge over Liberty Reservoir at the Baltimore County-Carroll County line has been a great fishing spot since Howdy Doody was a 2-by-4. Parents and grandparents took kids until they could take themselves. Someone strung up lights under the decking for night fishing.
When Martin O'Malley was mayor, Baltimore authorities who control the Liberty watershed closed the bridge to anglers, citing safety concerns. While it was true that the distance between anglers' backsides and traffic was snug, police could not cite one case where someone accidentally stepped into oncoming cars.
The Yoda of Maryland fishing, Lefty Kreh, took exception to MOM's decision and within a year the bridge was spiffed up and once again part of the fishing landscape.
Nearly two years ago, Baltimore's Department of Transportation began a $8.5 million project to demolish the 1952 structure and replace it with a snazzy cement span complete with "custom sidewalks, safety fencing, ornamental railings and reconstructed roadway approaches," according to the agency's press release.
The work was recently completed, ahead of schedule. The clean lines and smooth surface make the bridge easy on the eyes and tires.
But as a fishing spot? The Nicodemus Bridge comes up short. And by that I mean, if you're short — say anything under 5-foot-9 — you can't comfortably get your fishing rod or net over the railing. For 5-foot-nothing me, the top of the railing is a chin-high 54 inches above the sidewalk.
"High enough for you?" asked fisherman and Carroll County farmer Bud Zuck, as he watched me measure it.
Zuck's fishing buddy, 13-year-old Tyler Mullinex, struggled on tip-toes to reel in his line before giving up and standing on top of a cooler.
As he watched, Zuck said that the old bridge's rail, about 1 foot shorter, was just fine and just as safe. Now, he said, he's had to include a ladder with his fishing gear.
Nearby, Howard Zwagil had other concerns.
"We have elderly people who come out to fish, and if someone's in a wheelchair? Forget it," said the Baltimore County fisherman. "You'll eventually see someone on a box or ladder fall off backward or fall over the railing."
Another fisherman chimed in.
"It's way too high," said Aldric Williams, who comes from the Baltimore County side to fish twice a day: at 5 a.m. before work and then to wind down after dinner. "It's like they're trying to kick us off the bridge."
A Baltimore City transportation spokeswoman said the bridge was designed to American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials standards, which require railings to be 54-inches high to ensure bicycle safety.
The problem with that explanation is that if the surface is considered a "sidewalk," as the original press release states, then the bicycles should be on the roadway, with other traffic. And, since there is no connecting sidewalk on either side of the 552-foot bridge, where's the safety gain?
As recently as March, the bridge inspector told the Carroll County Times that the railing would be 42 inches. So who tacked on the extra 12 inches? Someone must have gotten a real good deal on railings.