Pedal faster, Lorenz – we need you

Where’s Lorenz Eber when you need him?

The answer is, “Down Under” – but not for much longer. The once and future engineer with the city public works department – who achieved minor fame hereabouts as the father of the Madison Avenue roundabout – is in New Zealand with his wife, Paula Holmes, and their two daughters, completing the final foreign leg of an around-the-world bicycle ride to raise funds for asthma research (www.bikeforbreath.org). At last report, having conquered Europe and Asia, the Eber-Holmes clan was crossing the vast expanses of Kiwi Country, bound for Wellington (although a 200-mile stretch was being traversed in a bus, after one daughter banged up her foot and couldn’t pedal for a week).

Eber came to mind recently with the announced closure of the Hildebrand-Ericksen (“Not A”) thru street, a private parking lot long used by motorists looking to shave time off the trip between downtown and Village-area businesses. The route will be blocked sometime around April 5; the property owners, concerned about growing traffic volumes and the safety of their tenants’ patrons, may thus achieve with a few stout

bollards what fire officials, public sentiment and common sense have been unable to compel the elected officials to do: confront the question of a formal opening between the two streets, and resolve the connection once and for all.

Regular readers of this newspaper will recall that before

setting off last year, Eber offered hope that in his absence the city would begin planning such a coupling, perhaps with a small neighborhood traffic circle to keep things slow and safe. Yet in the months since he departed, the landscape has changed, and not for the sensible. In adopting a new city-wide transportation plan, the council moved the question of a Hildebrand-Ericksen connection from objective realms –

traffic counts and circulation, impacts on neighboring streets – to the wholly subjective and political. Connecting the streets, the plan now says, will only be discussed when the council decides it will be discussed.

Later may come sooner, once drivers lose the accustomed bypass. And while some neighbors may dig in their heels for preservation of the disused strip of grass that separates the two streets, the general public may be moving ahead already. The first comment received by the city this week reads: “I have a perfect solution to the problem on Hildebrand: OPEN IT!!!!!!!!!!!!! There, now you have at least one ‘vote’ for opening the road all the way through (though I’m sure you’ll get MANY more, and if that happens, don’t ignore the will of the people).”

It’s times like this we could use a visionary engineer. After all, who’d have thought Eber could sell the Madison roundabout to the council, in the face of overwhelming public opposition? Turns out to be the best move the city made in years.

As it happens, Eber and family return to the States this spring, thence to complete their global circumnavigation by riding from West Coast to East. He will resume his post in the city engineering department in September.

Pedal faster, Lorenz. We’ve got a project for you.

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