The Dallas Morning News: Pedestrians, cyclists hope to find unity in safer Katy Trail after jogger’s fatal collision
12:00 AM CDT on Tuesday, October 5, 2010
By DAVID FLICK and MARC RAMIREZ / The Dallas Morning News
The Katy Trail is a hotspot for pedestrians and cyclists at a range of speeds. The Friends of the Katy Trail, which operates the path, said it will meet with city officials to improve safety after Thursday’s fatality.
“I come in the mornings most days. I tried 5 to 7 [p.m.], but it was so congested – it’s like Christmas at NorthPark,” said Wallace, who lives in the M Streets neighborhood of Dallas.
Experience has taught her to look both ways, and – after listening to it only twice – she has decided that her iPod use is hazardous.
“It scared me because I couldn’t hear anything,” she said. “The bikers are supposed to move at a safe speed and announce their presence, but they don’t.”
Lauren Huddleston, a 28-year-old jogger, died of head injuries Sunday after an accident Thursday night. She was hit by a biker, slamming her head against the pavement, after she abruptly changed directions.
The incident has ignited safety concerns about the wildly popular Katy Trail, including sometimes bitter Internet exchanges between cyclists and pedestrians.
Huddleston’s family declined to join in the acrimony.
In a letter to supporters, Carl Huddleston said the family held no anger toward the cyclist who struck his daughter, a 2000 graduate of Highland Park High School.
“He has to live the rest of his life with this,” he wrote. “We hold no malice. It was just a bad situation waiting to happen.
“We will work to solve the problem of crowding on the Katy Trail. Lauren would want that most of all. She ran that trail for years, as did the cyclists.”
Huddleston also said the family had decided to honor Lauren’s wishes to be an organ donor.
The grief and horror caused by the accident, he wrote, “has a purpose, one of which may be to save several lives, and Lauren would be thrilled to know that she could do that.”
The Friends of the Katy Trail, which administers the path, posted condolences Monday on its website to the family.
Eric Paulson, a spokesman for the organization, said representatives from the group intend to meet with city officials this weekend regarding safety issues on the trail. In the meantime, the group’s website now prominently displays guidelines aimed at cyclists and pedestrians.
Trail users recounted horror stories Monday afternoon.
Sydney Shaughnessy of North Dallas regularly bikes and walks the Katy Trail, where cyclists vary from casual riders to people speeding by on road bikes.
“Some of the bikers go so fast, there definitely needs to be a speed limit,” she said.
But the one accident she experienced was caused by a pedestrian. She was riding her bike when she came up behind a woman accompanying a young boy on a tricycle.
“He veered over to the other side of the trail, and I flipped over and ended up getting stitches on my head,” she recalled. “They didn’t even stop to see how I was.”
Jennifer Kimble, a training class coordinator for Run On! Texas, has mixed feelings about what should be done given that Thursday’s incident appears to be a freak accident.
“This could have happened to anybody,” she said. “The lesson that needs to be learned in general is that we all need to be more aware of our surroundings.”
Huddleston was running on a shared concrete path, though there is also a pedestrians-only track in that section.
More signs urging pedestrians to stay on the pedestrian trail would be a start, Kimble said.
The problem, she said, is the portions designated for pedestrians don’t run the entire length of the trail and are too narrow to accommodate traffic during peak times. Last week’s incident occurred about 7 p.m., “and at that time of night, it gets crowded,” Kimble said.
In such conditions, said Ted Barker, a longtime advocate for local bike and pedestrian safety, earbuds should never be used. Huddleston was wearing earphones at the time of the accident.
In the wake of another bike-pedestrian accident at White Rock Lake last summer, tensions around the issue have been high, he said.
“It’s pretty well split down the middle with finger-pointing,” he said. “That’s unacceptable. We have to come to an agreement.”
He’s taken his case to both Dallas police and the parks department. Ultimately, he said, a solution will have to come from the city itself. No ordinances currently govern such trails.
“I wish my fellow cyclists and runners would be more situationally aware, but that’s not going to happen,” he said. “People are not going to regulate themselves.”
He’s pushing for a 10-mph speed limit for bicycles. That’s what officials in Renton, Wash., a Seattle suburb, instituted on a trail this year after an 83-year-old woman was struck and killed by a bicycle.
The risk of head injuries doesn’t really require that the bicyclist be traveling at great speeds.
Dr. Paul Pepe, chairman of the emergency medicine department at UT Southwestern Medical Center, said people can sustain a serious head injury simply from falling from a standing position to a hard surface. The temporal bone, just above the ear, is thin and has an artery going through it, he said.
He noted the 2009 death of actress Natasha Richardson, who died of a head injury after a seemingly innocent fall during a skiing lesson in Quebec, Canada.
Still, the chances of a debilitating injury increase with the speed of the vehicle, he said.
A common theme in conversations Monday with trail users was the need for civility in navigating a crowded urban environment. Elizabeth Webb and her friend Sarah Christian meet once a week to walk their strollers in double file. Their worst experience was with a fellow pedestrian.
“We got yelled at one time by a power walker,” Webb said. “He told us we were taking up too much space. He was yelling, ‘You’re not the only one who wants to use this trail, you know.’ ”
Still, Webb and Christian remain fans. They drive down to Uptown from McKinney and Carrollton, respectively.
“We don’t have anything like this where we live,” Christian said. “It’s so nice in good weather.”
Staff writer Joe Simnacher contributed to this report.