Will Maryland Finally Build a Safe Bike/Ped Crossing on the Susquehanna?

Imagine you live in Havre de Grace, Maryland. Congratulations: It’s a lovely, quaint little town. I’ve enjoyed stopping by on my way between DC and Philly, eating ice cream and watching sailboats bobble in the water where the Susquehanna River spills into the Chesapeake Bay.

Want to walk across the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace and Perryville, Maryland? That one-mile car trip will take you nearly 100 miles and 33 hours to walk. Image: Google Maps
Want to walk across the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace and Perryville, Maryland? That one-mile distance will take you nearly 100 miles and 33 hours to walk. Image: Google Maps

Now let’s imagine you work in Baltimore. You want to take the MARC train to work. Lucky you: You live about a mile from the Perryville train station, as the crow flies. But you’re not a crow. So you’d like to ride your bike there.

There are four bridges that cross the Susquehanna River between Havre de Grace and Perryville, Maryland, and none of them allow people to walk or bike across.

To do that, according to Google Maps, you’d have to go about 12 miles north of Havre de Grace (and the most natural route up the Northeast Corridor) and cross on the Conowingo Road bridge, where walking and biking is technically permitted. But there is no walkway on the Conowingo Road bridge, or even a shoulder, and the bridge is a mile long with heavy car traffic at times. If you want to cross safely, you’ll have to go 48 miles north and west to cross the river near York, Pennsylvania.

That’s right: There’s not a single bridge in the state of Maryland that will take you across the Susquehanna River safely on a bike or on foot.

So if you live in Havre de Grace and want to get to the MARC station in Perryville, or anywhere else north and east of your house, you’re going to have to do it in a car.

This river is just begging to be biked across. Photo: Ben Longstaff
This river is just begging to be biked across. Photo: Ben Longstaff

The East Coast Greenway Alliance is trying to change that. Maryland is in the process of designing a replacement for the 108-year-old Amtrak bridge over the Susquehanna River, which carries well over 100 trains every weekday. U.S. DOT gave the state $22 million for the engineering and environmental work to replace the bridge three years ago. Right now, Maryland is conducting its environmental impact review — meaning right now is the time for community input.

The Alliance mobilized at just the right moment. It’s talking to MDOT and its members of Congress and the state legislature and organizing local support for bike/ped access to the new bridge. On Tuesday, the Alliance launched the Susquehanna Safe Crossing Coalition, and Monday its members will speak out at a public meeting on the bridge design.

The Alliance is working to build a 2,900-mile bike and pedestrian trail from Key West, Florida, to the Canadian border at Calais, Maine. Right now, 29 percent of it is off-road, with the rest on “carefully-selected roadways.” The Susquehanna crossing is the greenway’s single biggest obstacle.

“The East Coast Greenway now relies on public transit to get across bridge — or you call a taxi,” said Andy Hamilton of the Alliance. “And public transit only operates Monday through Friday during work hours and rush hour. So if you happen to want to cross the river on a Saturday or Sunday, you are paying for a cab.”

The state of Maryland, with its smart-growth-minded, pro-transit Governor Martin O’Malley, has been friendly to the greenway, paying for signage along the route. But it hasn’t yet committed to making the new Amtrak bridge accessible to people walking and biking. Other major bridges in Maryland force cyclists to find a taxi that will load their bikes, too; most notably, the Bay Bridge across the Chesapeake to Maryland’s Eastern Shore prohibits bicycling and walking.

Aside from the obvious recreational benefits of connecting the greenway, there are countless commutes and other trips that will be made possible by providing access. More than 16,000 people work at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, an Army base a few miles southwest of Havre de Grace. The Perryville casino attracts thousands of workers and gamblers every day. A VA medical center and a massive IKEA distribution center in Perryville also employ several hundred people.

These are not high-paying jobs, notes Hamilton. “There is a need to cross that river without having to have a vehicle that costs you $3,500 a year, and then $4 a day for crossing,” he says. “That’s the toll at the Hatem bridge — which is a wonderful name for it.”

A petition urging Maryland to build bike and pedestrian access into the new Amtrak bridge has already garnered nearly 7,500 signatures online.


Bike-Ped Traffic, Funding, and Fatalities All Inch Upward

One day before President Obama’s State of the Union Address, the Alliance for Biking and Walking has released its 2012 Benchmarking Report. Once again, the report indicates, nonmotorized transportation is getting shortchanged by federal funders, while pedestrians and cyclists make up a disproportionately large share of all traffic fatalities. The Alliance looks at all 50 […]

Today’s Headlines

Cleveland City Council passes resolution backing Sen. Brown and Rep. Kucinich in their push for bike-ped lane on the new Innerbelt Bridge (Plain Dealer Blog) New study examines the stress that a future electric-car boom would put on the nation’s grid, with surprising results (TreeHugger) Questioning the nation’s dwindling investment in its built environment (Grist) […]

A Bike-Ped State of the Union: 9.6% of Trips, 1.2% of Federal Funding

With the nation still digesting the State of the Union address, the Alliance for Biking & Walking picked an auspicious day to release their biennial Benchmarking report on America’s bike-ped behavior. The group’s bottom-line conclusion: federal transportation funding continues to disproportionately shortchange travelers powered by their own two feet. (Chart: Alliance for Biking & Walking) […]

House GOP Threatens to Wipe Out Local Control Over Bike/Ped Funding

The House GOP couldn’t pass a transportation bill of their own, so now they want to undo one of the major bi-partisan achievements in the Senate transportation bill. As part of its counter-offer to the Senate in conference committee negotiations over the transportation bill, the House appears to be proposing the elimination of the Cardin-Cochran […]

The Simple Joy of Walking and Biking to School

One of the biggest sacrifices we’ve made in the United States to prioritize the movement of automobiles over active transportation is the health and safety of children. Biking and walking to school has become increasingly rare while childhood obesity is on its way to becoming the norm. But for at least one day a year, […]