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Article updated: 7/9/2013 5:19 AM

Fatal Lake Arlington trail accident renews calls for safety

The peaceful walking path around Lake Arlington is getting too busy in the evening and on nice days, say nearby residents not surprised by the death of a walker hit by a bicyclist last month.

The peaceful walking path around Lake Arlington is getting too busy in the evening and on nice days, say nearby residents not surprised by the death of a walker hit by a bicyclist last month.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

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The recent death of a pedestrian after a collision with a bike on the path around Lake Arlington has fellow patrons saddened -- but not surprised -- by the unfortunate accident.

Barbara Pagano, 74, of Arlington Heights was injured when she was struck by a bike while walking along the path June 18. She was taken to Northwest Community Hospital and died there July 3.

The Arlington Heights Park District issued a statement in response to the crash.

"This is a very tragic incident, and our hearts go out to Ms. Pagano's family and friends on their loss," said Steve Scholten, the park district's executive director.

Regulars of the almost two-mile path around Lake Arlington expressed sympathy, saying they've feared the same for themselves over the years.

"I feel real bad, but I'm not surprised," said Barbara Ilic, an Arlington Heights resident who walks there daily. "Something like that was just bound to happen sooner or later. It's just become a danger zone."

A speed limit of 8 mph is posted for bicyclists and skaters, and local police help patrol the area, park district leaders said in a statement.

"In addition to the enforcement assistance we receive from the local authorities, Lake Arlington staff periodically patrol the path and grounds, on foot, in an effort to mitigate any potential issues during the course of the normal operating hours of the Lake. And patrons are always encouraged to bring up any concerns to Lake Arlington staff," said Brian Meyer, director of recreation and facilities.

Ilic said it's not enough.

She has spent the last two years lobbying for additional patrols around the lake path after seeing many collisions between bicyclists, in-line skaters and walkers. Her efforts have included letters and calls to the park district and village leaders, as well as letters to various local newspapers.

"The rules are written, but there's no one there to enforce them," said Ilic, who lives four houses from the lake. "We live real close to the lake and walk there daily, but we just don't even walk there in the evening anymore. It's too dangerous."

Arlington Heights resident Paul Schmitz, an avid walker, jogger and bicyclist, said he doesn't ride his bike around Lake Arlington anymore. It's too congested for his comfort level, he said.

"The main problem is that almost nobody will call out -- 'passing on your left or right' -- almost nobody does that," he said. "And it's just courtesy."

Even when bikers do call out, Ilic said, that's not enough warning for people with physical disabilities to jump out of the way.

"They don't know if you're old or you're lame," said Ilic, who has had a double knee replacement and fears what a collision with a bike would do to her. "They expect you to move out of the way."

Conversely, Schmitz said pedestrians often walk two and three abreast -- taking up much of the path and making it difficult for bicyclists to navigate around them.

Communication between all patrons of the path is often hindered by people wearing earbuds or using their cellphones, both Ilic and Schmitz said.

Ultimately, Ilic said she feels the path would benefit from more patrols -- especially between the busy hours of 6 and 8 p.m. and on beautiful days when there's high traffic.

Schmitz, however, said patrols will slow people down temporarily, but they'll just speed up once that police presence isn't there.

"I think it could help, but where do you get the resources to do that?" he said. "If there's somebody in a uniform, people will see that and obey the law -- when that person is there."

It all amounts to common courtesy, he said, and being respectful and aware of their surroundings.

"Everybody has got to think about the other people who are out there and be courteous," Schmitz said.

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