Small problem, big hazard

To a lot of UW-Eau Claire students, the free bus system is a Godsend. Both students living off campus and students who have to trudge up and down that freaking hill rely on the Stein Boulevard and Water Street buses to get them where they need to be quickly. Personally, I don’t know what I’d do without the bus. I’m habitually lazy and would probably kill myself trying to walk to campus between November and … I would normally say March but after last year’s spring snowfall, I’m going to go with May.

But one thing I’ve noticed while enjoying leisurely rides on the bus is that more and more drivers forget that buses make wide turns. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching the terrified reactions of drivers as the buses barely skirt by them while they make their turns. Please calm down, the buses will not hit you. But in order for them not to hit you, they have to jump the curb because you pulled up way too far.

I’ve been on the bus several times when the bus is forced to jump the curb. I don’t know if it’s just me, but a tense silence falls over everyone on the bus. I sometimes have to brace myself. Is it a huge nuisance for bus-riders? No, probably not. And bus drivers probably do it several times a day, so they’re used to it. But car drivers would make the bus routes a lot smoother for everyone if they just stayed back so the buses can make their turns. Especially when people panic and endanger those around them.

A friend of mine, senior management major Samantha Noltner, had a bit of a scare last week while driving to campus to attend class. She was waiting at the intersection of Park and Summit Avenues behind one other car. Noltner and the other driver were trying to turn left onto Summit Avenue. A Stein Boulevard bus approached the intersection on Summit and began to turn left onto Park Avenue. The driver in front of Noltner thought the bus was going to hit her and panicked.

The other driver put her car in reverse and backed up into Noltner’s Buick.

“I saw her coming and I put on my horn to warn her but she bumped into me,” Noltner said. “There was no damage, luckily.”

Noltner said she maybe would have freaked out if a bus was so close to her car but with better awareness, drivers can avoid similar experiences all together.

“I think it’s a good idea to try to make people more aware of this problem,” she said. “Signs are one thing, but even changing the bus route so they can drive on wider streets or something like that, I think that would work, too.”

When I ride the Water Street bus, the locations where these instances most often occur are on the corners of Park and Summit Avenues and State and Barstow Streets. Cars already waiting at the intersection can’t really do anything about the situation, unless there are no cars behind them. Backing up a few feet allows enough room for buses to get by. But cars that approach the intersection when the bus is already waiting to turn need to stay back. In my experience, most cars ignore the bus.

Simply putting up signs along the bus routes may help to stop cars from approaching the intersections. The signs would signal cars to stay back when buses are approaching or already turning.

There’s no guarantee people would see and adhere to those signs, but it’s a start. At least there would be some kind of warning, and if a bus ever did knick a car in the process of making a wide turn, the bus driver could argue the car should have followed the sign.

Is this the most pressing issue in Eau Claire? No, and I know that. But what happened to Noltner could have been substantially worse. It’s instances like this that make this small problem a big hazard.

“I was lucky nothing worse happened to my car or to me,” Noltner said. “I know it’s an uncomfortable situation when the buses have to make those wide turns, so that’s exactly why drivers need to know to stay back. I certainly know now.”