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Some Harford cyclists concerned about crossing Hatem Bridge, others are excited

Some Harford cyclists unhappy about $8 toll to cross Hatem Bridge

When the Route 40 Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge opens to bicycle riders for the first time Friday morning, a lot of people are wondering what to expect, but at least one Harford County rider does not plan to cycle across the heavily-traveled bridge over the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace and Perryville.

"It's better than nothing," Bob Buchanan, a Bel Air resident and the vice president of the board for the Harford Velo Cycling Club, said of the opportunity itself, even though he's not going to take it.

"I think it's hazardous, and the fact that they want to charge us a toll, I'm not going to ride across – I'll ride across the Conowingo Dam," he said.

Under the set up at the bridge, cyclists must push a button, before they cross to activate a flashing light to warn drivers. If they are traveling east from Harford to Cecil County, they have to pay the $8 toll charged two-axle vehicles. Riders can use E-ZPass for discounts.

The potential safety issues – the bikes will have to share the right lanes of the bridge with trucks – and the toll have confounded some local riders, but there's also a curiosity element at play, according to Buchanan and some other local avid cyclists.

Earlier this year, when Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn announced the decision to make the Hatem the first and thus far the only toll bridge or tunnel in the state to permit bikes, the change was explained as giving cyclists traveling on the 9/11 Memorial Trail and East Coast Greenways from Maine to Florida a way to cross the river without having to detour or resort to motorized transportation.

"If I could ride across it without a toll, I might do that, but I have no other reason to [cross]." Buchanan said.

He drives across the Hatem Bridge about once a month to visit the Perry Point VA Medical Center, and he said he often sees large tractor-trailer trucks on the bridge.

"To me it seems very unsafe [for cyclists]," he said.

The Harford Velo Cycling Club has about 100 members, and groups ride from Harford to Cecil about once a month, Buchanan said. They typically ride across the Conowingo Dam, which is about 13 miles north of the Havre de Grace approach to the Hatem Bridge. Route 1 crosses the dam with a single lane in each direction, and no toll.

Buchanan said he knows people in Havre de Grace who would be willing to cross the bridge on their bikes, especially if that is their only mode of transportation, if they had business in Perryville.

"They would love to go across that bridge," he said.

Jerre Taylor, president of the Chesapeake Spokes club, said she feels "a little anxious" about crossing the bridge.

"There's no real bike lane, and hopefully people will pay attention to that flashing light," the Baldwin resident said.

She said it is unlikely she will cross the bridge on her own, but she might cross with a pack of fellow riders.

Taylor also took issue with the toll.

"I don't mind paying a fee, but $8 is a little steep for riding a bike," she said.

Taylor noted there have been discussions among Spokes Club members about crossing the Hatem Bridge on the first day Friday, and other cyclists have expressed excitement about the new route.

Erik Sundquist, of Forest Hill, is one of those riders.

"I think it's great," he said. "I wouldn't do it alone, probably, but I think as a group it's safer."

Maryland Transportation Authority, which operates the state's toll bridges and tunnels, says riders must stay in the center of the right-hand lane and motorists should move to the left-hand lane of the four-lane span while the warning light activate by the cylist is flashing. The light flashes for 10 to 15 minutes to give a rider enough time to cross the 1.3-mile span.

Trucks heavier than 5 tons are required to cross the bridge in the right lane, but they can pass cyclists via the left lane, according to MDTA.

The bridge is open to cyclists from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday and from dawn to dusk on the weekends and holidays. Riders must be 18 and older; they should ride single file and they cannot stop while on the bridge. The bridge will remain off-limits to pedestrians.

Hours will be limited this weekend because of the Independence Day holiday, according to MDTA spokesperson John Sales.

Cyclists can cross the bridge from 9 a.m. to noon Friday, from dawn to 10 and from 4 p.m. to dusk on Saturday, from dawn to noon and 6 p.m. to dusk Sunday and from dawn to dusk Monday, Sales said.

Sundquist is a member of both the Velo and Spokes clubs and rides about 9,000 miles a year. He is also a member of the Bike Shop of Bel Air's Racing Team and part of the nonprofit JAM squad, which provides bikes to children in low-income families.

Sundquist said he likes the policy of reserving a lane for riders, but he does not recommend crossing the bridge during rush hour.

He also said it will only take a few minutes for a group of cyclists, riding at about 20 mph, to cross.

"We're not going to cause major traffic jams when it's three-and-a-half minutes across the bridge," he said.

Updates about traffic and weather conditions will be posted on the MDTA Twitter feed, and an MTDA Police detachment is near the Hatem Bridge.

"They certainly are keeping an eye out for safety," Sales, the MDTA spokesperson, said. "It is something new for everybody, bicyclists and motorists included."

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