Bollocks to those bollards!
The Friday afternoon before Christmas, about a dozen riders from the Chico Velo cycling club headed out for their regular ride. Their destination this week was Keefer Road. Off they went at 1, navigating the Madrone Avenue bike path through Lower Bidwell Park.
Heading north, they crossed a bridge in a tight pack. Lead riders called out the hazard right before the Peterson Memorial Way intersection, then the hazard right after it: bollards, both a couple feet high, standing in the middle of the path to prevent cars from traversing it.
The pack swerved to avoid a pedestrian with a dog—at least that’s what Ed McLaughlin remembers, relaying events to friends. You see, an instant later, McLaughlin collided with that second bollard and crash-landed on the ground, crushing two vertebrae.
He was rushed to Enloe Hospital, then airlifted to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, where he spent the holidays. Ann Schwab, one of his close friends and cycling buddies as well as Chico’s vice mayor, said he’s made voluntary movements with his feet and hands and is tackling rehabilitation with gusto.
“It’s ironic for a bicycle advocate who has worked so hard to make Chico a top cycling community to have this random accident,” Schwab said earlier this week, standing next to the scratched-up—but still upright—bollard.
It’s particularly ironic because McLaughlin pushed to get Butte County to remove such obstacles from the Midway path to Durham, and had talked about the Bidwell Park bollards just one day earlier.
Now something is being done about them.
Schwab met Monday with interim City Manager Dave Burkland and learned that city staff is conducting a review of all the bollards—whether each is needed and if those that are should be replaced. At the first City Council meeting of 2008 (Jan. 15), she says she’ll ask that the Internal Affairs Committee address the issue as well.
“They serve a purpose of keeping cars off bike and pedestrian lanes,” she said on-site—and, almost as if to prove her point, a car turned into the picnic area just west of the Madrone path. “If they did get on here, it could be dangerous to someone. But the city is looking into, are bollards necessary at each intersection? Do they have to be made out of this solid metal material? Are they tall enough?
“An analysis needs to be made of each and every bollard.”
McLaughlin is not the first rider to hit a bollard but is clearly the most prominent. That’s partly because of his place in the Chico cycling community and partly because of the seriousness of the accident. He clearly is the impetus for action, though Schwab said “if anyone had this injury, we’d be looking into it.”
Schwab had Christmas plans with McLaughlin and his partner, Suzanne, so she spent the holiday with him at the hospital. Councilman Tom Nickell also spent a couple days with him. Within a week of the accident, McLaughlin was able to ride in an electric wheelchair—an encouraging sign, even if doctors wouldn’t give a firm prognosis.
He’s concentrating on physical therapy, Schwab said—"he knows this is what his job is. He’s very determined that he’s going to make progress. He’s affable, making jokes with people he meets, eating regular food—though he’s tired of hospital food.
“Ed’s goal is to be back in Chico riding his bike; he’s not setting his sights lower than that.”
This will take some time: “It’s a tortoise who’s going to win this race,” Schwab said, “and Ed’s a hare.” But when he does return home, he might just see a park that’s safer for riders, thanks to him.