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Fargo Park District mulling status of gates that caused death of White Earth man

District mulling status of gates

Published Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Fargo Park District is waiting for the results of a review by its insurer before deciding whether to make any changes to a gate involved in a fatal bicycling accident last week, Executive Director Roger Gress said Monday.

Fargo police said 48-year-old Gordon Clyde Fineday died after he struck a gate that prevents vehicles from driving on a bike path along the Red River at the Dike East recreational area. A passer-by found Fineday on the paved path at 1:11 a.m. Thursday.

An autopsy showed the cause of death was a skull fracture, most likely from the impact with the ground, police said Friday.

The insurer's review is standard procedure following accidents on park property, said Jim Larson, the district's finance director.

Officials from the North Dakota Reserve Insurance Fund, which insures the park district and other governmental entities in the state, photographed the accident site on Friday, he said.

District officials asked for any suggestions of things that should be done differently at the site, which is not lighted, Larson said.

"At this time, they do not have any preliminary response to that," he said.

Gress said he has discussed the issue with Park Board members and doesn't foresee changes to district policy.

"Our conversation has been that the park is open in the morning at sunrise and closes at sunset," he said.

Moorhead bicyclist Pete Morsch, a member of the F-M Community Bicycle Workshop, said the accident and the Park District's response have generated rumblings in cycling circles.

"People are on the path," he said. "It's being used, whether it's open or not. For something that dangerous to be on the path, it's unacceptable."

Morsch said he knows two cyclists who have hit the gate at Dike East and others who have come close. Last week, former Fargo police officer Kyle Olson told The Forum he has permanent nerve damage from hitting the gate while on bike patrol in 2004.

Chris Potter, a school resource officer at Fargo South High who also is an avid cyclist and bike patrol instructor, said it's "na?ve" to think that cyclists won't use the trail system at night, especially with gas prices approaching $4 a gallon.

The metro is seeing more bike commuters, and not all of them work a 9-to-5 job, Potter said in e-mailed comments.

"The Fargo-Moorhead trail system is a vital link for many cyclists, and at all hours. It is also safer than riding on city streets at night," he said. "The Fargo Park District is obligated to identify potential hazards and take reasonable measures to mitigate them."

Gress said installing beacons or LED lights on the gates, as some people have suggested since the accident, would encourage people to use the trails at night, which the district discourages.

"If people want to ride bikes, we have a wonderful sidewalk system that's lit throughout Fargo-Moorhead," he said.

Opening the trails at night also would make users more susceptible to predators who may be lurking in the shadows, Gress said.

Many areas within the district's 35 miles of trails are dangerous in the dark, Larson said. The district must be reasonable when considering the cost to taxpayers of lighting those areas, he said.

"It'd be like us posting a lifeguard all the way along the Red River in case somebody fell in," he said.

Morsch said Fargo park and city officials do "a lot of horn-tooting" about the city's nice, integrated trail system, but it's not treated like other transportation systems.

"If the path system is going to be claimed as a transportation option, then it's got to be safe and open and ridable all the time," he said.

The Park Board's next meeting is June 10. As of Monday, the gate issue was not on the agenda, Larson said.