PRESS EDITORIAL: Foolish behavior begets another safety rule

Safety gets more attention in the U.S. than in most countries. This seems odd for a nation that suffers more gun deaths per capita than any other except Brazil. Yet, guns aside, America’s federal and state governments, municipalities, institutions and corporations tend to go out of their way, often too far, to instruct or require people, with laws, rules, regulations and warnings, to behave in ways to keep themselves safe.

Exhibit A, of course, is the laughter-inducing “Caution: Contents Hot” warning on disposable coffee cups, but other gratuitous safety advice and mandates abound.

The walkway encircling the federal bird sanctuary adjacent to Port Washington’s Coal Dock Park, for example, is festooned with no fewer than 18 warning signs over a distance of a scant quarter mile. Several of them are sensibly intended to prevent disturbing birds. But others proclaim such needless warnings as forbidding venturing out on the inhospitable rocky revetment that protects the land from lake erosion and climbing a high wiremesh fence to dive over jagged boulders into the power plant intake channel.

This signage overkill, besides being out of place in the natural surroundings of the sanctuary, insults the intelligence of those who visit the place.

It has to be said, though, that a lack of intelligent behavior does justify some safety rules and warnings elsewhere, which takes us to the Port Washington breakwater. Foolish behavior that threatens the safety—the lives, in fact—of people who visit this attraction is going on there and needs to be outlawed by the city.

People are riding bikes on the breakwater. No kidding—it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.

Bicycle riders have been pedaling their vehicles the length of the breakwater to the lighthouse, including on the narrow concrete walking surface that constitutes that outer third of the half-mile long structure. Two walkers can barely pass safely on the narrow section. A walker and bike rider cannot pass without the realistic risk that one of them will wobble over the side, with consequences that include drowning and serious injury on boulders that armor some sections of the breakwater.

The restoration of the breakwater is one of Port Washington’s modern success stories. With spirited effort, city leaders were able to persuade federal agencies to rebuild the structure and with grants and local tax funding add improvements that have made it not just a protective barrier for the harbor, but a means for the public to access the beauty of Lake Michigan up close.

On summer days, scores of residents and visitors take advantage of the opportunity to behold the expanse of the lake to the east from the pierhead beneath the lighthouse and observe the city and its picturesque skyline and waterfront to the west from this dramatic vantage point.

A popular Port Washington attraction, the breakwatser adds to the city’s status as one of Lake Michigan’s most appealing ports. Breakwater walkers range from children to senior citizens, and their safe enjoyment of that activity should not be compromised by having to compete for space with bicycles.

Today’s off-road bikes can go virtually any place, but most of their riders surely can figure out that a breakwater should not be one of those places.

The few who can’t or won’t are proof that there is a legitimate need for some safety rules.

So, pass an ordinance and post a sign: No Bikes on the Breakwater.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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