WTOP recently reported, as was mentioned here in January, that the Maryland Transportation Authority is considering removing the bike/ped path from the new Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge, which is the last bridge over the Potomac River before it gets to the Chesapeake. Cyclists would be allowed to/required to cross in the regular travel lanes. Pedestrians would have no way to cross.
The smaller bridge would be cheaper, a factor which could be more important after Maryland cut tolls a few years ago.
The savings would be $60 million.
The originally selected alternative announced in 2012 promised two lanes for cars each way and a 10-foot-wide path that would have provided enough room for people walking or biking in opposite directions, and was estimated to cost close to $1 billion.
In a draft memo, the planners raise significant concerns about safety if people riding bikes are told to share a lane with speeding cars on the bridge, especially given the steep slopes needed to create enough room for large ships to pass underneath the bridge.
“High speed differences mean more fatal crashes,” a summary said. “Only ‘fit and fearless’ bicyclists will dare use it.”
Even if people do use it, growing traffic beyond the millions of vehicles that use the bridge each year now could lead to restrictions on when people can bike across the bridge, restricting commuter options even as new trails are added on either side, the report said.
If there is no separate path, it also means people will not be able to walk across the bridge between Maryland and Virginia.
MDTA estimates about 50 people would bike across the bridge each day, and no one would walk.
The estimates are based on numbers from the Wilson Bridge's bike path.
In 2013 the trip count on the Wilson Bridge helped inform the MDTA forecast for bike trips on the Nice Bridge. Mr. Patton asked if there could be a spike on the week-ends. Mr. Mr. [Will] Pines [of MDTA] replied that there numbers were an average. There was a question about the hours bikes are allowed on the Hatem Bridge; apparently it is daylight and non-rush hours. Bike usage on the Hatem Bridge is very low. The bike community has also been dodging the tolls by hopping onto the sidewalk.
Currently many bicyclists on the Hatem Bridge dodge the toll. Counts on the Hatem are very low, just one or two riders per month. Mr. Brenner replied that if the accommodation were better, the counts would likely be higher. They are much higher on the Wilson Bridge, and the majority of the people are pedestrian, often tourists. Mr. Patton said that focusing on commuters was the wrong way to look at it. Done right, a bicycle and pedestrian path on a bridge can be a major attraction. It’s mistaken to look at ridership under very hostile conditions as indicative of what ridership might be under better conditions.
At the May TBP meeting people wondered if collecting tolls from cyclists was more trouble than it's worth. Or if maybe a coin basket/honor system would work better.
If there are 50 cyclists per day, every day for the 100 year life of the bridge, then that would mean they were spending about $32 per bike crossing. If 50 is right. As noted by one person at the May meeting, Virginia is planning to extend the Dahlgren Rail Trail to the bridge and Charles County wants to extend bike facilities to it as well, meaning the numbers could go up. In a typical exchange, the MDTA representative defending the choice of dropping the path says that the Dahlgren expansion is not in VDOT's 6-year plan, but bike advocates say it's not in the 6 year plan, because there is no bridge right now to extend the trail to. Chicken meet egg. Mr Pines went on:
Of the 6,000 people who watched the video, only 10% offered comments. Only 15 comments came from people living within 10 miles of the bridge, and some of those were opposed to the bike path, calling it a waste of money.
Based on the low local interest, MDTA does not think that a bike path will be a major commuter facility or economic driver. The people who will actually use this bridge don’t care about a bike path.
The TPB and Charles County leaders would like to see the path included.
With a planned 100-year lifespan of a replacement bridge, this represents a once-in-100-years opportunity to provide such a bicycle and pedestrian connection, with important community and economic benefits. Including a bicycle and pedestrian connection would also be consistent with the TPB’s adopted Complete Streets policy. Additionally, the Charles County Commissioners’ letter asked for consideration of keeping and repurposing the existing Harry Nice Bridge as a bicycle and pedestrian facility.
That's the first I've heard of the idea of reusing the old bridge for bikes and peds. Such a facility would likely be better.
Unfortunately the successful opening of the Hatem Bridge is working against cyclists here
Working with the bike community successfully on lane sharing on the Hatem Bridge has opened the door to using that approach on the Nice Bridge.
But the TPB doesn't see it as a perfect match.
The Hatem seems relatively flat, and so might offer a different bicycling experience than the Nice Bridge. Bicyclists might have trouble maintaining high speeds on the uphill portion of the Nice Bridge.
if a bicyclist is going 7 mph on the uphill portion, because that’s as fast as they can go, cars are going to be catching up with them a lot faster than if they’re riding 20 mph on the flat. It makes for a very different riding experience. If there is a dedicated path the bicyclist can safely stop to rest, or enjoy the view. Having cars on your tail is a very different experience from a dedicated path.
And then there's this exchange
Mr. Pines noted that the uphill grade on the Tour de France is as much as 11%, versus 4% on the Nice Bridge. Mr. [John] Wetmore [of Perils for Pedestrians] asked if the expected user would be a world-class bicyclist athlete, or the family rider
Mr. Wetmore added that on the Hatem the bicycle community’s preferred option would be to add a cantilevered shared use path. The preferred option is a separated facility that would provide 24 hour access to all levels and abilities.
The full Transportation Planning Board is scheduled to discuss pushing for the path at a meeting Oct. 17.
In other news, the date for choosing a design has slipped from 2018 to late 2019, but the opening day is still listed as 2023, so we'll see.