Nothing Nice About Including Bike Lanes on Nice Bridge Replacement
The following is a timely discussion based on Greg’s discussion about “Bike Supremacy”. For whatever reason, bike lanes on the replacement for the Gov. Harry Nice Bridge in Southern Maryland is becoming a political flashpoint.
As WAMU reported last week, the Transportation Planning Board passed the decisionmaking regarding the inclusion of bike lanes on the bridge replacement to the Maryland Transportation Authority, citing cost as the final decisionmaking metric:
The Nice-Middleton Bridge is getting replaced. But whether that’s a boon for cyclists hoping to pedal their way across the southern end of the Potomac is still a little unclear.
That’s what was previously promised by Gov. Larry Hogan. After a vote from the regional Transportation Planning Board, the decision will be left up to the Maryland Transportation Authority, which says it will depend on how much it costs when bids come in later this fall.
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Maryland is trying to reduce the cost by having contractors come up with a design-build package. Maryland Deputy Transportation Secretary Earl Lewis told the TPB that a design that makes specific considerations for cyclists is still on the table.
But bike advocates are furious with how the Maryland government handled the $769 million replacement project. They say that even the possibility of excluding a protected bike crossing is a safety issue and a decision that could affect tourism.
Bikes would still be allowed on the bridge but would be forced to mix with heavy traffic driving at 50 mph.
Eric Brenner, the chair of the Maryland Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee was so upset by the change that he resigned his post. In his resignation letter to Hogan, Brenner wrote, “allowing MDTA to break your original promise will not be viewed kindly in the years ahead – nor will it be correctable until the next bridge is built, more than 100 years from now.”
The Coalition for Smarter Growth and the East Coast Greenway wrote in support of keeping the bike facility.
The bike lane has become so contentious that U.S. Senator Ben Cardin emerged from his ritual six-year hibernation to send a letter to Governor Hogan urging the inclusion of bike lanes on the bridge replacement. And pieces of the letter were an absolute hoot.
Some snippets from Cardin’s letter:
- “I am eager to work with you to ensure that funding is available to include a protected trail for bicyclists and pedestrians. Such a trail would substantially expand the bridge’s benefits for our economy and transportation networks.”
- “The Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial/Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge is a critical component of our state and regional infrastructure. I applaud your administration’s commitment to the much needed rebuilding and widening of the bridge to meet our current and future growth needs as well as your initial inclusion of a protected bike path in your vision for this project. Planning the construction of a new bridge that will server generations fo Marylanders to come presents a rare opportunity to expand and diversify our transportation options and to incorporate access for active, non-vehicular transportation modes. Tourism and recreation are pillars of our economy and a protected bicycle and pedestrian crossing on this bridge would expand ways for residents and visitors to connect with and explore the scenic and historic values of our state and region, a goal that enjoys strong support from local elected officials.”
- “I understand that funding large infrastructure projects such as this one presents a challenge, and I am eager to partner with you to meet this challenge. Failure to expend every reasonable effort to deliver this bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure as part of a new Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial/Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge would be to pass up a key opportunity to shape our transportation systems of the future.”
That’s a lot to break down here. And this is on a section of roadway in Maryland and in neighboring Virginia that I am quite familiar with. So let’s take a particular look at the claims that Senator Cardin made in his letter.
“Such a trail would substantially expand the bridge’s benefits for our economy and transportation networks.”
Cardin and other bike enthusiasts try to make the case that the bridge will provide economic growth to the state. Unless the Maryland Transporation Authority chooses to levy a toll on cyclists and pedestrians using any bike lanes, there is no chance that there will be any economic benefit for the state of Maryland and, depending on how much the lanes costs, would eventually cost the state money in the long-term.
Have you ever looked at a map of the areas being discussed with the Nice Bridge replacement? Take a look.
So tell me, what’s the benefit for our transportation network beyond being a boon to cycling aficionados and those promoting “cycling tourism”? (more on that later).
A couple of facts about the area near the bridge:
- The area is a rather rural area with few services.
- The only large-scale employers in the area are the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, VA and the Morgantown Generating Station power plant on the Maryland side of the river.
- The closest major settlement on the Maryland side of the river is La Plata, which is 14 miles north of the current bridge;
- The closest major settlement on the Virginia side of the river (and we’re using this term loosely) is Bowling Green, VA, 31 miles south of the current bridge;
- There are few available places for lodging in the area immediately around the bridge, inclusive of campgrounds;
- On the Virginia side of the river, you run into an Army installation (Fort AP Hill) that Route 301 crosses not too far south of the Nice Bridge. For those who are traveling down US 17 the nearest settlement is Tappahannock, which is 46 miles southeast of the bridge.
So what does all of this mean? It means that there is no infrastructure in place to support the local transportation and through transportation needs that Senator Cardin and the advocates for these lanes claim. There is no desire for cycling as a regular transportation method. Period.
“Tourism and recreation are pillars of our economy and a protected bicycle and pedestrian crossing on this bridge would expand ways for residents and visitors to connect with and explore the scenic and historic values of our state and region, a goal that enjoys strong support from local elected officials.”
One of the major fetishes that Democrats and the cycling lobby have keyed on is this idea of “cycling tourism.” Maryland has flirted with the idea of expanding this during the Hogan Administration, but Governor Hogan himself wisely overturned his administration on this idea when he overturned a decision by the Department of Transportation to allow cyclists on the Hatem Bridge in Harford County. That decision was overturned after an injury occurred on the Hatem Bridge two days after the bridge was open to cyclists.
Cycling tourism has been a popular topic among cycling aficionados on both the right and the left, as Greg has documented previously.
In Anne Arundel County, as an example, cycling organizations have convinced the County Executive Steve Schuh, noted as “an amateur cycling enthusiast” himself in media reports, to budget millions of dollars in road funds for more cycling trails, bike lanes and bridges and establish a commission to determine what more can be done by the county to promote cycling. I have chronicled over the years that other localities have sought to change laws and spend public tax monies to encourage “cycling tourism” and get more cyclists to ride predominantly rural highways throughout the state. Federal funds too are being sought to subsidize local bikeshare programs unable to be self-sufficient despite the fact that most cyclists using the program are affluent and make six figure salaries.
As mentioned above, the infrastructure does not exist to support adding bike lanes in these areas. Now I’m sure that cycling advocates will put forth a “if you build it, they will come” mentality insofar as suggesting that the state including the lanes on the bridge replacement will create economic incentives for the private sector to build campgrounds and other infrastructure to support such lanes. But in reality, cycling is in decline and fewer people are riding their bike to work.
“Failure to expend every reasonable effort to deliver this bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure as part of a new Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial/Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge would be to pass up a key opportunity to shape our transportation systems of the future.”
There is literally nothing for Senator Cardin to base his opinion on. The infrastructure to support cycling does not exist. There is no demand for cycling as a transportation option in Southern Maryland. And cycling, in general, is already in decline in popularity and in use as a transportation method for workers to get to and from their jobs.
None of these concerns take into account the existing infrastructure on both sides of the bridge. In both Maryland and Virginia, US 301 is a four-lane divided highway. In Maryland, it stays divided all the way up to Route 50/Interstate 595 in Bowie, where Route 301 heads east as a co-signed expressway. In Virginia, it’s a four-lane, divided highway for 18.5 miles to Port Royal, where it quickly expands to a four-lane, divided highway again. In most of these places, there are no bike lanes, meaning that the creation of bike lanes on the bridge replacement would put more cyclists onto divided highways, creating hazards for both cyclists and vehicles.
Furthermore, bike lane inclusion does not include consideration of the potential expansion of US 301 in the future. Expansion of US 301 as a potential Washington Bypass or part of the Washington Outer Beltway has been discussed for decades. Virginia has already been pushing US 301 as an alternative to Interstate 95 when traveling from Richmond to Baltimore and points north. This route is already used by many drivers (myself included) and Virginia encouraging the use of US 301 will put more traffic, particularly thru traffic and tractor-trailers, onto the route. On top of it, Virginia is already considering retrofits of the US 301 corridor to include changes in intersections and interchanges to allow for higher-speed traffic in the 301 corridor. The Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance has proposed expanding 301, including the idea that “Virginia and Maryland should create a US Route 301 master plan that features a 4–6 lane facility and limits future access to the greatest extent practical along the 110-mile corridor.”
That does not mix well with the fever dreams of cycling enthusiasts. It naturally goes back to two key words: probability and physics.
So at the end of the day, advocates for cycling including at least one U.S. Senator believes that the Nice Bridge replacement should have bike lanes despite overwhelming evidence that the inclusion of such lanes is a bad idea and that the fixation on cycling does not take into account the realities of transportation policy across the river in Virginia or the safety of cyclists and drivers. Governor Hogan was correct when he overturned the decision regarding cycling on the Hatem Bridge, and it would be wise if Governor Hogan ensures that not only that no bike lanes are included on the Nice Bridge replacement, but to ensure that cycling traffic is banned completely from the new bridge.