Bicycling + Mossy Road = Broken Hip

Woman Using Her Crash to Highlight Dangers of Foothill Cycling

CRASH SITE REVISITED:“I knew water was there,” said Erin Tague of her July 14 crash. “I’d taken this route before, so I exercised a little bit of caution. I have no idea what happened, I completely lost control of the bike. It just flew out from under me. I’ve never been in so much pain in my entire life. I was paralyzed in the middle of the road.”
Paul Wellman

It was shocking enough for Santa Barbara resident Erin Tague to find herself paralyzed by pain in the middle of the road on July 14, the day that she broke her hip in a bicycle crash while riding through the Montecito foothills on Bella Vista Drive near the Romero Canyon trailhead. “It’s slicker than an ice skating rink,” she said of the slippery algae there that’s fed by a trickle of water from Romero Creek. “That’s pretty much what took me out.”

Erin Tague
Paul Wellman

But when the paramedics, a nurse at Cottage Hospital, and a firefighter from Montecito Fire all told her that she wasn’t the first to spill at this particular spot, Tague — a professional masseuse who moved to town from New York in April 2009 and works in the Biltmore’s spa — got angry. “They know that this is going on but nobody is doing anything to prevent future accidents,” complained Tague, who started road riding about six months ago and said she fell even after “exercising caution” before the crash. She’s now saddled with $56,000 in medical bills and is considering a lawsuit against the County of Santa Barbara, which maintains the road. (In a case of tragic timing, Tague had finally mailed in health insurance paperwork the day before her accident, which was too late, as the broken hip now qualifies as a pre-existing condition.)

The Independent was unable to track down Tague’s original sources: the paramedics weren’t named; the firefighter had gone on vacation, but Montecito Fire’s records did indicate a 2005 crash there; and two nurses in Cottage’s orthopedic unit recalled overhearing the same conversation, but could not recall which nurse noted that Tague was the third female in a year to break her hip at the same spot. However, a cursory survey of bicyclists with the Goleta Valley Cycling Club, the Santa Barbara Bike Coalition, Hazard’s Cycle Sports, and Echelon Santa Barbara — whose president Scott McIntyre once crashed there — revealed that the dangers of these creek crossings are well known to veteran riders, that they need to be hit with wheels straight, slow, and steady, and that many choose to walk their bikes across.

OFFENDING ALGAE: Bicycle riders are well aware of the algae that can build up near creek crossings. “You can go down in the slime, you really can,” said Dorris Phinney of the Goleta Valley Cycling Club. Added Ralph Fertig of the S.B. Bike Coalition,“It’s like ice. You’ve got to take it perpendicular.”
Paul Wellman

And then there’s Ben Borowski, another Romero Canyon victim who crashed there on July 18 and caught a severe case of road rash. “That’s a sketchy curve for sure,” said Borowski, who said that the slick road is made more dangerous by a tight turn and adjacent concrete barrier. “A lot of people are falling down there.”

Tague is hoping to raise more awareness in anticipation of the Santa Barbara Century, a 100-mile ride coming to town on October 23. That’s what Tague was training for when she crashed, and she fears that the Romero Canyon and Cold Springs Creek slicks could prove disastrous when as many as 1,000 bicyclists cruise the foothill route through town. But race co-founder Kalon Kelley believes that the creek crossings will be dry by race day. “If not,” Kelley said, “the race organizers will ensure that there is adequate signage to warn riders to slow and ride with caution when crossing water on the road.”

Whether or not she does file a lawsuit, Tague is also planning to contact the county to alert them to the danger. Public Works’ Dace Morgan, the deputy director of transportation, said the matter is already being looked into. “I’ll have our maintenance folks take a look to see the condition of the road, and then have our traffic report folks review it for any signage that’s appropriate,” she said on Tuesday. “We’ll review the situation and take the steps we feel would be necessary.”

Steps, meanwhile, are very much on Tague’s mind these days, as her broken hip is expected to take at least four months to fully recover. She’s encouraging anyone else who has crashed at this crossing or others to email her at “Something needs to be done,” she said. “This area has an extremely high volume of cyclists and this is a matter that needs to be made known to everyone who is traveling these roads.”


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