Despite the great fanfare earlier this year, when it decided to allow bicyclists to ride across the Route 40 Hatem Bridge crossing the Susquehanna River, the Maryland Transportation Authority said Tuesday it will start restricting cyclists to weekends and holidays starting next month.
The move comes less than two months after bikers were given seven-day-a-week access to the bridge, which links the communities of Havre de Grace in Harford County and Perryville in Cecil County.
MdTA said that starting Sept. 6, bike riders will only be able to cross the bridge weekends and holidays, as well as special events that have been arranged in advance, according to a news release. Riders can cross between dawn and dusk.
"After further evaluation, there was a policy change made which will be effective Sept. 6," MdTA spokesperson Cheryl Sparks said. "It's basically just to balance the interests of both the cyclists and the community."
The 1.3-mile, four-lane bridge opened to cyclists July 1, the first MdTA toll facility in the state that bike riders could use. People could ride across from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday and then from dawn to dusk on weekends and holidays.
Bob Buchanan, of Bel Air, expressed concerns about the change as it affects cyclists who use the bridge for their daily commute, and the riders who travel the East Coast Greenway trails between Maine and Florida seven days a week.
Users of the Greenway and 9/11 Memorial Trail had petitioned the state to open a crossing over the Susquehanna River to cyclists.
"If they come up on a Monday, they have to wait until Saturday to go across . . . that, to me, is illogical to just to have it on the weekends," said Buchanan, who is vice president of the Harford Velo Cycling Club.
Sparks noted that vehicle traffic "is a little bit lighter" on the bridge during the weekends.
She said 84 cyclists crossed the bridge in July, and 35 have crossed so far in August, an average of two to three per day.
Sparks stressed the relatively light usage by cyclists was not a factor in scaling back the times, nor were any incidents such as an accident. A rider suffered minor injuries July 3 when she fell from her bike while crossing, according to MdTA Police
Sparks said the change is "simply to balance the interests" of all bridge users, "just to provide that flexibility for the bicyclists."
Riders still must push a button before they cross to activate warning lights that will flash for 10 to 15 minutes. They must stay in the center of the right lane and ride with traffic.
Motorists are encouraged to use the left lane when warning lights are flashing, according to MdTA. Trucks heavier than five tons can still use the right lane and can pass bike riders on the left.
Cyclists crossing to the east toward Perryville must pay an $8 cash toll, which is paid by operators of vehicles with two axles, or they can get discounts with E-ZPass. There is no toll when crossing in the opposite direction. Cyclists must be at least 18 years old or have a valid driver's license.
Buchanan said he had strong reservations about allowing cyclists to ride with vehicle traffic on the bridge, noting he has "never" ridden across the Hatem since July 1.
He said he would either drive across the bridge with his bike attached to his vehicle, or he would ride on Route 1 across the Conowingo Dam, which is 13 miles north of the Hatem Bridge in Darlington.
Buchanan said crossing the dam, which has just narrow lanes in each direction and no shoulders, "is not very safe itself, but it's OK."
He suggested building cantilevered catwalks on either side of the Hatem Bridge so cyclists and pedestrians could cross without impeding traffic.
"They haven't solved the problem," he said of the MdTA's policy. "They put a Band-Aid on it, and now they're taking the Band-Aid off."