New speed bumps on popular cemetery route: Necessarily dangerous?

Katelyn Hale learned about the
new speed bumps the hard way.
(Photo courtesy K. Hale)

David Noble, executive director of the non-profit Riverview Cemetery, didn’t want to do it, but he felt he had no other choice.

About one week ago, Noble instructed his groundskeepers to install three sets of speed bumps on the property. The reason? He says people on bicycles have been riding too fast and without consideration for cemetery visitors. The bumps were a last-ditch effort to prevent a serious collision and to ingrain into people on bikes that they need to slow down.

And it’s far from a new problem. Back in April of 2006 we reported that — after a near miss between a man on a bike and one of the cemetery’s maintenance workers — Noble considered banning bikes from the ground completely.

But for many people who ride through the cemetery (it’s private land, but the roads are open to bicycle traffic to avoid the nasty conditions on adjacent Taylor’s Ferry Road), the new bumps are more than just a speed deterrent, they’re downright dangerous.

Sunglasses shown for size context.

We began getting emails about the new speed bumps almost the same day they were installed. According to sources, when they first went in, they were not painted yellow and had no warning stripes leading up to them. Riders complained that they were “unfriendly”, very sharp bumps and that they appeared without any warning.

Katelyn Hale learned about the new speed bumps the hard way.

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Hale has been biking through Riverview Cemetery for the past three years as a student and now staff member at Lewis & Clark College (located on the hill above the grounds). She knows the roads well and has never had a problem — until last Thursday. She wrote us via email about her experience:

“I was surprised when there was this huge speedlump just within the lower gates! It was unpainted and gave me a jolt; I didn’t see it, nor was I expecting to see it. Thursday evening, coming home after dark, I almost broke a spoke when I ran into another one — I saw it in my headlight, but I didn’t have time to slow down enough to go over it safely.”

By Friday, reported Hale, crews had painted the bumps yellow and put down small stripes leading up to the bump. Then on Monday, she took a different route and crashed into a third speed bump she didn’t even see.

This time, Hale was thrown from her bike and sustained major road rash and a cracked helmet. After the fall, passersby told her that they’d seen another woman crash on the bumps and brake her collarbone that same morning.

“We take our duty to the community very seriously, but there’s a point when it gets too out of hand and you have to do something.”
— David Noble, Executive Director of Riverview Cemetery

Hale says she’s grateful that the cemetery remains open to bike traffic as an alternative to the “gnarly” Taylor’s Ferry Road, but she thinks the bumps are so “narrow and squarish that you’d have to slow down to 2 mph to go over them safely”. Given that, Hale feels the bumps are “very obviously targeted toward bicyclists”.

David Noble says that’s exactly the case.

Noble authorized construction of the speed bumps, and, during a phone interview yesterday, said that they were “carefully discussed and thought out.” When I asked why he installed them, he said it was in response to an alarming upward increase in the amount of rude and dangerous bike riding.

“Frankly, we don’t like them [the speed bumps], our maintenance people don’t like them… but it was like, if we don’t do something to slow these people down, someone’s going to get killed.”

Noble, a frequent bike rider himself, said he’s keenly aware of how important this safe bike route is for many people, but he seemed like a man at wit’s end who simply felt his hand was forced into taking this step.

“In any case, putting in dangerous and poorly-marked speedbumps is not the best way to go about improving the situation.”
— Katelyn Hale, rides her bike through the cemetery

It was hard to listen as Noble detailed many of the complaints and incidents of rude bike riding he’s heard about: people speeding right through a funeral procession; flying by (and flipping of and cursing at) an old woman on her way to lay flowers on a grave; and the worst thing — a common shortcut taken through a hedge near the top of the property, which happens to go right over the top of baby gravesites.

Noble says he suspects it’s the classic situation where a small minority of riders are causing most of the problems. “Most people that come through are courteous and respectful, they understand it’s a privilege — not a right — to come through our property, but I have negative encounters almost daily… I wish it was an isolated incident.”

The area Noble worries most about is near the main parking lot. “Bikes don’t make much noise and they’re harder to see than cars… and someone who is grief-stricken might not be paying as much attention to the road.”

Noble says if he had a larger budget, he’d like to add bike lanes and a bit of signage to guide bike riders through the property. He’d also be interested in organizing a summit with local bike advocates. “Maybe we can come up with some ways to solve this.”

Katelyn Hale, the young woman whose fresh scabs serve as a reminder of the bumps, says she’s equally appalled at some riders’ rude behavior, but she just wants more of an open dialogue between cemetery staff and people who ride through it. “In any case, putting in dangerous and poorly-marked speedbumps is not the best way to go about improving the situation.”

Red squares mark location of bumps.
(Graphic: Matthew West)

When I shared concerns about the design of the bumps from people who had crashed, Noble said he’d be willing to address them and that as a bicyclist himself, “could appreciate that complaint.” On the other hand, he added, “If they’re too smoothed out, it doesn’t slow anyone down.”

Noble is aware of at least two of the crashes, both of which he said the people involved have admitted they were going too fast.

The bumps have been installed in three places; in the middle of the property, directly above the road that goes by the maintenance shop, right above the main parking lot by the cemetery offices and mausoleum, and at the bottom of the grounds near the entrance and Highway 43.

Riverview is a non-profit, and Noble points out that a more typical, corporate cemetery would have already banned bicycling altogether.

“We take our duty to the community very seriously, but there’s a point when it gets too out of hand and you have to do something. As much as we’d hate to do it, if these bumps don’t solve the problem, people will find themselves out on the street. That’s not a threat, it’s a reality. Our hands would be forced.”

Do you ride through Riverview Cemetery? If so, what do you think of the speed bumps and this issue in general?

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