Editorial: A first step toward Lake Arlington trail safety

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted7/16/2013 5:00 AM
  • A cyclist slows to ride past pedestrians on the Busse Woods bike path. Changes at the Lake Arlington trail could have implications for safety on other trails in the suburbs.

      A cyclist slows to ride past pedestrians on the Busse Woods bike path. Changes at the Lake Arlington trail could have implications for safety on other trails in the suburbs. JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

The Arlington Heights Park District has gotten a lot of advice in the past few weeks. Since the bike/pedestrian accident at Lake Arlington on June 18 that resulted in the death of Barbara Pagano, people have offered many suggestions for making the path safer.

Build a second path around the lake to separate the "wheelers" from the walkers. Ban bikes, skateboarders and in-line skaters from the path entirely. Make one lane on the path for walkers and another for bikers and have them go one way only. Separate the lanes into walkers and bikers, but have them go in opposite directions, so they can better see the other coming. Put up more signs and better educate trail users on how to avoid collisions.

These are a few of the many ideas. On Sunday, park district officials picked two, at least as a temporary fix. Starting immediately, Lake Arlington walkers have been given the inside lane and must travel clockwise around the lake. Bicycles and other "wheelers" have the outer lane and must travel counterclockwise. The park district is also installing high visibility signage detailing the directions and speed limits.

This reasonable beginning fits the need for a rapid response to the tragedy, without taking the draconian step of banning bicycles or hurriedly committing hundreds of thousands of dollars to responses that aren't well tested or thoroughly considered. Should the park district eventually decide to build a second path, estimated at more than $800,000, it should come only after much deliberation.

Another advantage is that the plan makes Lake Arlington an incubator not just for the Arlington Heights Park District, but also for other suburban entities with similar fitness trails. This approach also can be tweaked, without much cost, if commissioners decide it's better to have the wheelers and walkers go the same direction.

And the plan continues to put the onus where it belongs -- on trail users. Pagano's tragic death was the result of an accident, but people using Lake Arlington need to know and abide by the safety rules. Repeat offenders should be suspended or banned.

The park district has made a good first step. Now, it needs to increase vigilance at the lake and to monitor how well the new rules are working, especially to see if they cut back on the number of incidents and near-misses. Park personnel can't be everywhere, so people who use the lake trail should be given an easy system for reporting problems.

The Lake Arlington trail, like other paths in the suburbs, is a tremendous community resource. It is also a public, or shared, space, meaning all users have a responsibility to make sure everyone is safe. Take out the earbuds, pass on the left, keep your dog close at hand and be courteous.

"Every activity is going to have its risks," Janson Jenkins, education specialist with the Active Transportation Alliance, told reporter Melissa Silverberg in a story on Saturday. He says the absolute last resort should be banning bicycles.

"The health benefits way outweigh the risks," he said. We agree.

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