Chesterton Tribune

Bike trail collision prompts call for following the rules on Prairie Duneland Trail

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Wrong way riding on the Prairie-Duneland Trail led to a head-on collision over the weekend, injuring three people.

Robert Harris, his wife and the other rider were all injured when he and his wife, riding their tandem bike, were struck head-on by a bicyclist who, though warned loudly he was heading straight at them, nevertheless, failed to swerve away.

The incident occurred on one of the S-curves in the trail, just east of the town’s compost pile, Harris said.

“My wife is pretty beat up, “ he said, and “the other guy is still eating through a straw.”

Harris, banged up himself, said he was the least injured in the collision.

Harris came before the Park Board Tuesday to urge them to make a concerted effort to mark the trails, stripe the center, especially on curves where sight lines are limited and generally help bicyclists understand basic bicycling etiquette.

“Many bicyclists don’t seem to know that bikes are supposed to follow the same rules as motorized vehicles,” Harris said.

These rules include riding in the same direction as traffic, keeping to the right, riding single file, stopping for stop signs and giving pedestrians the right -of-way.

The trail is, of course, it’s own unique situation, since bicyclists, pedestrians and skaters all share the 12 foot wide path. But the basics, keeping to the right, giving a verbal signal when passing, and giving pedestrians the right-of-way are essential to everyone’s safety.

This is the first major accident on the 12 year-old trail that superintendent Bruce Mathias knows of, he told the Chesterton Tribune after the meeting.

Board member Roy Flaherty found the incident almost unbelievable. ”You’ve got a 12 foot wide trail! How can there not be enough room to pass?”

Harris said the other bicyclist was either not paying attention, or was distracted by something else.

“I shouted to him ‘Heads Up,’ but he just kept coming right at us.”

Though signage might not prevent every accident, as Flaherty said, “You can’t stop a reckless bicyclist,” Harris said he has some suggestions that would improve safety.

Harris and his wife travel quite a bit and visit bike trails throughout the country whenever they can. He offered photos of bike trails and their signage in Colorado, Washington and Montana.

Warnings such as 2-Way, Keep Right, and Pedestrians have the Right-of-Way are often posted at the entrances to trails, he said.

One of the issues for the Prairie-Duneland Trail is the sight lines. The curves mean some sight distances are “pretty tight,” Harris pointed out. A solid stripe in the curves could effectively signal a ‘no passing’ zone, he said.

Harris said he’s seen unsafe use of the trail in the form of walkers walking three abreast, roller bladers swerving back and forth using the whole trail and bicyclists passing, then staying on the left. “We need to set out rules with realistic signage,” he said.

Fund Cut Makes it Tougher

As with many park improvements, the bottom line is money, park board president Vincent Emanuele said.

Board member Ted Jacobs pointed out that the Department of Local Government Finance had “in their infinite wisdom,” recently cut the park department’s budget by $28,000.

Jacobs asked if Harris would be willing to provide a safety seminar for bicyclists. Harris was also encouraged to work up his ideas on bicycle safety, discuss them with park superintendent Bruce Mathias and submit a written safety piece to the Chesterton Tribune for wider distribution.

Harris agreed to work on such a piece and board members will likely be discussing the possibility of signage and striping again.


Posted 10/3/2007