The Maryland Transportation Authority has released rules for bicyclists using the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge when cycling access to the Route 40 span across the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace and Perryville begins on July 1.
Maryland Transportation Secretary and Chairman Pete K. Rahn announced at the annual Bike Maryland Symposium in February his decision to open up the bridge to bicyclists.
The Hatem and other Maryland toll bridges and tunnels are off-limits to bikes, and MDTA officials said last winter they had received complaints from cycling enthusiasts that the 1.3-mile long bridge is a chokepoint for cyclists traveling on the 9/11 Memorial Trail and use the East Coast Greenways from Maine to Florida.
The announcement caused some consternation, because the bridge, the oldest of the state's toll bridges, doesn't have shoulders. When the bridge was built in 1940, it had a sidewalk, but that was taken out in subsequent reconstructions of the highway decking. The bridge has two travel lanes in each direction.
While state transportation officials are urging bicyclists and motorists to "Share the Bridge and Cross with Care," the mayors of the two municipalities at either end of the bridge have some concerns, some which they say were addressed.
"I feel that the way the bridge is designed, with no shoulder on it, I just feel it's a dangerous plan and quite frankly, I have some serious concerns over it," Havre de Grace Mayor Bill Martin said Wednesday.
Havre de Grace, Perryville and Cecil County leaders met with MDTA officials in late April regarding multiple concerns about the safety of bike riders and motorists on the bridge.
Perryville Mayor Jim Eberhardt said state officials made some modifications, such as placing an age restriction on riders, prohibiting bikes when there is heavy traffic on the Hatem Bridge, such as when I-95 is closed and traffic is diverted to Route 40, and moving the time of public notification from late June to early June.
He noted MDTA representatives made a presentation during a Perryville town commissioners' meeting earlier this month.
"There's still a number of safety concerns that we have with this proposal," Eberhardt said Wednesday.
He expressed concerns about truck drivers not having enough room to give riders 3 feet of clearance, which is required by state law when driving next to a bicyclist.
Martin, a motorcycle rider, said tractor trailers "rock me a little bit" when they pass him on the bridge.
He said he has friends who ride bicycles, and he supports any opportunities governments can provide for recreation.
"I just have concerns that it's not a matter of if someone gets hurt, it's a matter of when someone gets hurt, and I pray that doesn't happen," Martin said.
According to a recent MDTA announcement, effective July 1, bicyclists will be allowed to cross the bridge from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and from dawn to dusk Saturday, Sunday and on state holidays.
Prior to crossing the bridge, bicyclists will push a button to activate flashing warning lights that alert drivers when a bicyclist is crossing the bridge. The lights will flash for 10 to 15 minutes, providing the bicyclist time to safely cross the bridge, MDTA said.
Bicyclists must ride in the direction of traffic and should position themselves in the center of the right lane. Motorists are encouraged to use the left lane when warning lights are flashing.
Trucks over five tons still must use the right lane but may use the left lane to safely pass bicycles. When the right lane on the bridge is closed for maintenance and construction, motorists and bicyclists will share the open left lane. Bicyclists traveling east will pay the $8 two-axle toll in the far right toll lane, where cash and E-ZPass are accepted.
Other bicycle access restrictions include:
• Bicyclists must be 18 years old or older or have a valid driver's license;
• When bicycle access is restricted in the event of fog, wind, other inclement weather or incident, notification will be made via variable message signs and on MDTA's Twitter account at twitter.com/TheMDTA.