Sunday, August 20, 2006

Vilas Park deathtrap revisited

About six weeks ago, in this post I called the old stone bridge at the west entrance of Madison's Vilas Park a potential deathtrap for pedestrians and bicyclists. It's a constricted one-lane bridge with a bike and pedestrian path squeezed against one stone wall. All too often cars come down the hill and cross the bridge too fast, often not even knowing bikes may suddenly appear against the flow of traffic. I suggested the city traffic department put a stop sign there to slow down the cars. My alderman passed the idea on to the traffic department for review and nothing happened -- because nobody has been killed there recently, I assume. Call me old fashioned, but I think they should be proactive and do something before somebody is killed or maimed.

Fast forward to this afternoon. I was third in a line of westbound bikes just nearing the crest of the bridge when we heard an oncoming car approaching a bit too fast. You always worry with the speeders whether they will take the turn a bit wide and swing into what seems an empty shoulder along the wall but which is really a bike lane, where people can materialize over the crest of the bridge at any moment. You always hold your breath for an instant, wondering what will happen.

Once again, nothing did. The car saw the first bicyclist and slowed in time. By the time he passed me, the obviously shaken driver was just crawling along, looking totally weirded out. What were all these damnfool bicyclists doing riding against traffic on a one-way street, anyhow? He vented his feelings as he passed me.

"You dumb fuck!" he hissed through his open window.

I was too startled to pay him back in kind with something intelligent like "You dumb fuck -- don't you know it's a bikepath?"

Besides, how would he know? When I had a minute to think about it, I realized the driver was just venting after being startled by bicyclists in his face where he had no reason to expect bicyclists.

Look at the bottom picture, which shows the driver's view. Is there any indication whatsoever that bicycles -- or pedestrians -- might be approaching? Absolutely not.

So how about it, City of Madison Traffic Department? If you think a stop sign would be excessive, fine -- I'll defer to your professional judgment. But how about some sort of highly visible sign to motorists saying something like "CAUTION: Oncoming bike traffic approaching over blind bridge." I'll leave the wording to you. Just do something.

Otherwise, one of these days a car will not slow down in time, and it could as easily take out three or four people as hit just one. Think about it.


Anonymous said...

A highschool classmate of mine drunkenly drove a car through the old bridge which was much scarier than the current version.

Sara said...

Why do the best responses to those things always come too late?

Not much you can say about it, but I hope that the folks in power do something.