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TOWN OF VERMONT, WI - The opening scene of the classic TV drama "Hill Street Blues" always ended with the same line - "Let's be careful out there."

The same line sums up the feelings expressed by town residents and bicyclists who packed the Town Hall Monday night, trying to co-exist on the winding, hilly town and county roads of western Dane County.

The Vermont Town Board hosted the summit between angry and frustrated townies and bikers who seem to them to have descended on the area like locusts, around every corner and topping every crest.

Black Earth Village President Jeanne Poast brought the situation to a head in June by firing off an angry e-mail message to local leaders, saying bicyclists should be required to have licenses on their bikes so motorists could report bad behavior to law enforcement officials.

Her venting lit a fire under bicycling clubs and organizations, who claim their members bring good business to the hinterland.

Cooperation and reconciliation were the buzzwords Monday night, with both sides agreeing to sit down in a week or two and work out better advanced planning for major biking events coming to the area in 2005.

Otherwise, town residents said, somebody's going to get killed.

Our roads are narrow," said Jane Hanson, who lives on County J in the town of Vermont. "We call them goat paths."

Hanson, a school bus driver, said she is amazed at the numbers of bicyclists in her town even during the week in the school year.

"I can come upon 15 to 20 bicycles and I have nowhere to go," Hanson said. "I'm not anti-bike, I'm anti-disaster."

Steve Aeschlimann lives on Bell Road in the town of Vermont and works in Cross Plains, so he drives the rural roads every day, sharing the tiny highways with bikes.

"We have a stop sign right in front of our shop and I see bikers fly right through the stop sign all the time," Aeschlimann said. "What do we do?"

Sheriff's Office Capt. Tanya Molony said bicyclists are required to follow the rules of the road just like everyone else, but law enforcement can't be on every corner.

"These aren't high-speed roads out here," Molony said. "We don't want to see a fatality or road rage."

Horribly Hilly: Town residents said they are frustrated mainly when big events take to the roads, such as the Horribly Hilly Hundreds Challenge June 12, which attracted about 750 bicyclists and tied up rural roads so residents weren't able to do their normal Saturday things.

It could have been worse, according to Mark Sherven, a Town Board supervisor who lives on County J. He watched ambulances slowed to a crawl because of a huge bicycle pack during the Horribly Hilly.

The ambulances "were going to a call and had to slow down to 15 miles per hour because the bicycles weren't moving over," he said.

Molony said it was an unfortunate situation but with that many bikes in a huge pack, it would have been impossible to stop the bike pack to let an ambulance through.

That didn't appease Sherven.

"If it's your relative they are coming for, you don't want to see the ambulance stop for a pack of bicycles," he said.

Madison alderwoman and Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin program manager Robbie Webber said the problems between rural residents and bicyclists might be the catalyst necessary to drive home the point of safe driving and riding habits on the road.

"We want all road users to obey all the traffic laws," Webber said.

County Board Supervisor Vern Wendt of Mazomanie said he'd like to see the county take some of the millions of dollars spent on land acquisition and preservation and put more money into making wider paved shoulders on county highways so bicyclists can have a safer ride.

"There are a lot more bicyclists out here than those who might use the vacant land the county buys," Wendt said. "Paved shoulders would give bicyclists a safe place to ride."

Town of Berry Chair Mel Bankes said he was upset with the Horribly Hilly organizers because no one informed him or anyone else at the town hall hundreds of bikers would be riding his roads that Saturday in June.

"We had 750 bikers come through our township and we didn't know they were going to be there," Bankes said. "At one time on County KP, they were five abreast. We couldn't get around them."

Bankes said municipalities have the authority under state law to close down roads to bicyclists if something isn't done, but bike clubs will meet with law enforcement and local officials to plan for the future events coming to the western hills and valleys of Dane County.

"We'll try to meet in the next week or two," said Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin President Marjorie Ward.

Under the truck: If motorists have to keep dodging bikes, accidents such as the one Aeschlimann had during the Horribly Hilly might keep others awake at night.

He thought he killed a bicyclist but she slid under his pickup truck.

"My brother even said to me that day someone was going to get killed," Aeschlimann said.

It almost happened on a blind curve in the winding hillsides of western Dane County.

"I saw a flash and grabbed the steering wheel and hit the brakes but then I saw her slide under my truck," he said.

The bicyclist had a broken wrist but was otherwise uninjured.

Hanson said bicyclists need to be careful and be aware of the other motorists on the road, be it a four-door sedan or a combine.

The next meeting of the biking minds should set the stage for better cooperation among race organizers and the communities traversed by the lot.

If it's not, danger could be just around the corner.

"We need to create some open communication to accommodate each other," Poast said. "Otherwise, something's going to happen."

E-mail: [email protected]

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
looks like a no win situation

I've biked the roads mentioned (although not the horrible hilly hundred route, that's a little punishing), and I have to agree that most motorists are obeying the laws. Cyclists ought to be doing the single file, or at lest 2x rules, and following traffic laws, but face it, they are at a disadvantage when in the city that they follow more common sense rules . . mostly act like they are trying to hit you and cross when you can . . .then they get out on these backroad highways and are so delighted to not be so hemmed in that they, well, end up acting like rude biker gangs.

The bit about the ambulance really sums it up. The pack - and there were several Tour de France style, take over the whole road packs during the HHH - should have pulled over, or at least thinned out, but there's really no way to do that once you're en-packed. So someone had to wait and bleed as the ambulance puttered behind the cyclists.

Yeah, the race organizers should have coordinated better with the EMTs, who should have had non-race routes to get ambulances through, but the issue happens on training rides, when teams or clubs or simply the 200-body Wednesday Night Ride phenomena pulls out onto the rural roads. Who's to keep track?

I have no solution - I have been known to en-pack and snarl at rude cars while biking, and impatiently growl at cyclists when driving. As LakeRaven often says, "I feel strongly both ways."

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From reading this, the cyclists seem in the wrong.

Just sounds like the people on bikes are taking over the town. While there may be two sides to the story, the cyclists did not come out very well here. Why should the town have to practically shut down because of aa event the town did not even seem to know about.

It may seem nice to make the roads wider for bikes but where does the money come from. Road work can and will go into the millions of dollars which is an amount that may not be available from a rural community.

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
biker gangs

"town of vermont" is a bit of a misnomer - it's a rural area, no town exists. The incidents are all on the little two-lane byways, 40 miles from the nearest HoJo, that twist amongst the rolling hills of the post-glacial landscape, lined with patches of woods or stretches of cornfields. There actually isn't room to widen the roads, and speaking from experience, wider roads encourage the cars to go faster - the bikes are there because the roads are narrow and the narrowness forces traffic to go slow.

I invite you, gentle reader, to compare this situation with other multi-use conflict on off-road trails.

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