Before cyclist's death, a series of warnings

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 3, 2009 - 4:36 PM

There were other accidents and near misses in a Bloomington trail's tunnel before a woman was killed.

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This tunnel under E. Bush Lake Road in Bloomington was the scene of a bicycle collision that killed a woman. Flowers were left by the side of the trail.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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Riding your bike on a trail shouldn't kill you, said Jim Hanson.

Two months before a 50-year-old Excelsior woman died after colliding last week with another cyclist in a tunnel at Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Bloomington, Hanson warned the Three Rivers Park District about the danger at that spot along the trail, citing an earlier crash on his bike and accounts of other accidents or near misses.

The tunnel, which goes under E. Bush Lake Road at 86th Street, is potentially dangerous because of a curve in the trail that combines with a downhill run to create bad sight lines for fast-moving cyclists, Hanson told park officials.

"We began to question whether we had appropriate signs warning people of the curvy nature of the trail," said Boe Carlson, associate superintendent at Three Rivers, of Hanson's cautions.

But after Lisa Roden died following her underpass collision, park officials have intensified efforts to improve safety at the tunnel in one of the system's most popular parks. In the last week, park officials have gotten about five calls from people who had accidents or near misses along that stretch, Carlson said.

Police said Roden and the other cyclist hit heads in the collision and then Roden's head struck the ground. Both cyclists were wearing helmets.

Claire Correll said her husband broke his hip after swerving to avoid another cyclist in the tunnel. "I think he was going too fast," she said. "Tunnels can always be a little dangerous."

Norm Prins, who has ridden his bike at Hyland for 32 years, said he decided in June to do something about getting a change at the tunnel after seeing three kids playing in there. The kids were having fun with the echoes the tunnel created. "I stopped and told the mom that, 'I know it's a lot of fun but this is the most dangerous part in the park.'"

After near misses, a death

He later stopped a park ranger and suggested something be done, pointing out that he knew of several serious accidents that occurred there, including his friend Jim Hanson. She later informed Prins that park officials had no record of accidents there. So Prins urged Hanson to notify park officials about his accident and push for change.

"I was almost tempted to make my own sign ... to warn people to slow down because there could be people in that tunnel and you won't see them until it's too late," Prins said.

When he heard about Roden's death, Prins said, he broke out into a sweat. "I should have gone a step further and really been obnoxious" in pushing park officials to take action, he said.

Currently, a yellow road sign denotes an upcoming curve as riders approach the tunnel. Three Rivers, which manages 100 miles of regional trails and 50 miles of inter-park trails, has at least 15 similar underpasses in its system, and Carlson said he knows of no other accidents in those areas.

Park officials said they aren't sure exactly how to increase safety at the Hyland tunnel; some suggestions include more signs or changing the dashed line that separates the bike lane to a solid one, indicating that cyclists and others shouldn't change lanes. A suggestion that speed bumps be installed could end up being more dangerous, especially to young riders, Carlson said.

Wrist permanently disfigured

"We're very concerned about this situation. This tremendously tragic situation has led us to look very closely at that tunnel and the approaches on both sides of it," he said. "This is obviously an urgent situation," Carlson said.

Like Prins, Hanson also wishes the solution came a week earlier, possibly preventing the collision that killed Roden, a speech therapist in the Minnetonka School District. His own accident last Labor Day has left his wrist permanently disfigured. Hanson had to swerve to avoid an oncoming cyclist riding in the opposite direction through the tunnel. He smashed into the tunnel wall and broke both arms.

After learning about Roden's fatal bike accident, Hanson said he feels almost guilty that he didn't "push harder and go further" in getting Three Rivers to do something to better warn people at the tunnel. "This was an accident that didn't have to happen," he said.

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788

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