Sunday, March 09, 2008
In Madison, drivers consider 25 mph a minimum, and that's why this spells trouble
I'm pretty sure that the speed limit in Vilas Park used to be 15 mph. I remember being terrified of getting a speeding ticket whenever I drove through the park to the beach, because when I was younger slowing a car down to 15 seemed like a thoroughly unnatural act to me. Most people weren't as worried about tickets as I was, and the limit was eventually raised to conform to existing practice -- although, of course, this had the net effect of raising actual speeds even higher. Or at least that's how I remember it, even though I don't have a clear memory of when they made the switch.
Anyone who spends any amount of time driving in Madison, riding a bike, or even trying to cross the street as a pedestrian, knows that, these days, most drivers consider 25 mph an absolute minimum, certainly not a maximum. And that's another reason why I consider this bridge the Vilas Park Deathtrap, a serious accident waiting to happen.
See the car in the photo? Its brake lights are on, because it realized at the last minute that there's a fairly hard right turn heading into the bridge.
See the corner of the stone wall just to the left of the car? That's where, every couple of years, I'll bicycle by and see some new masonry work from repairs dues to auto damage by a driver whose reflexes weren't fast enough.
An approach like this is asking for trouble, especially with its confusing welter of signs, none of which mention approaching pedestrians or bicycles. It seems especially hazardous at the base of a steep hill that encourages some (mostly younger) drivers to speed up, because the sinking feeling -- whoopee -- is fun. Again, this is a narrow bridge that in the summer is crowded with pedestrians, kids and bicyclists, many of who can't be seen by approaching cars until it's too late -- especially if they're going to fast. There should be some sort of impossible-to-miss warning, or better yet, a way to force drivers to slow down. Again, what would be so bad about a stop sign?
In all fairness, when I shot this photo this weekend, I didn't see any signs of trouble. The drivers all seemed to be locals, going slowly out of respect for the icy streets, but also the bridge itself, further narrowed by accumulated snow on both sides of the roadway. There were few pedestrians, and when they crossed the bridge, cars left them room to pass. The situation will be different in the summer, especially on sunny weekends, when the bridge becomes a crowded recreational thoroughfare.
Plenty of time to put up a stop sign. I hope they do.