Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


In-Depth: Mopeds hit the streets

Seven months after her accident near campus, Meggie Bertram considers herself lucky to be alive.

"I flew in the air like 30 feet and landed on a curb," the University of Wisconsin junior said. "My initial reaction was my leg sticking out of my body."

Riding double on her friend's moped — which is illegal in Madison — Bertram said she was hit by a drunk driver near Johnson Street and Lake Street. She was not wearing a helmet or other safety apparel.


Bertram doesn't know how she left the scene alive. "It was cold so I had a thick jacket and jeans, … but I still had cuts and bruises all over," she said.

Besides the compound fracture to her right femur, Bertram said doctors also found broken bones in her nose and a minor concussion. She used a wheelchair following the accident, then crutches and then a cane.

Now walking on her own, Bertram said she would like to eventually get back on moped. "I know I will drive them again and be more cautious," she added.

In the wake of moped accidents around campus over the past couple years — including the high-profile accident of UW football player Joe Monty in 2006 — university and police officials are coordinating efforts to improve safety and education.

Transportation Services has mainly focused on managing thousands of mopeds with its new set of parking policies while University police aim to better enforce traffic laws.

"The overall theme that we came up with was safety," said Officer Kristin Radtke, co-coordinator of the moped project. "I think it’s slowly going to start to improve. We’re looking at behavioral, cultural changes."

Moped Safety 101

Unlike motorcycles or other specialized vehicles, mopeds do not require a special driver's license, only a license plate from the state. Randy Knudson, owner of Scooter Therapy at 9 N. Ingersoll St., said he recommends drivers take a motorcycle safety course because the skills learned also apply to mopeds.

“The most important thing I tell people is to keep your head up and watch where you’re going,” said Knudson, who use to teach a motorcycle safety course.

Knudson also used to do motorcycle racing and said he's probably broken at least 30 bones over the years. He recommends moped drivers wear helmets or other safety gear even at low speeds.

"As far as helmets go, anything is better than nothing," Knudson said. "You’re not going to appreciate what (an accident) feels like until it actually happens."

Knudson said between 60 and 70 percent of his clients are UW students and he's actually seen a growing interest in helmets. His theory: People became more concerned after Monty's moped accident and the motorcycle accident of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2006. Neither was wearing a helmet.

Radtke said she's also seen more people wearing helmets in recent years but doesn't know why. In any case, she's working with area moped vendors to arrange discounts for helmets. She hopes University Police will eventually be able to offer coupons for students.

According to University Police records, five accidents involving mopeds occurred in 2006 and three so far in 2007. But Radtke said the records system is somewhat deceiving. By her count, there were 22 accidents involving mopeds between 2002 and June 2006.

“You have to keep in mind that most streets in the city are city of Madison jurisdiction,” Radtke said, so the data is a little skewed.

Bertram's accident happened near campus but city of Madison Police would have responded to the incident. University Avenue and Johnson Street — two of the area's busiest streets — are both city jurisdiction.

Radtke said moped accidents go largely unreported. Knudson also said he rarely hears about moped accidents with reportable injury but he sees scratched vehicles all the time in his repair shop. He guesses people slipped at low speeds around a corner and just moved on.

Moped parking policies

Beginning last year, all mopeds must pay an annual permit to park on campus. New university policies say mopeds may only be parked in designated stalls. If no parking is available at one site, students must go elsewhere or face a ticket.

Parking permits this year increased from $55 to $60. Patrick Litza of Transportation Services said the price increased to help pay for parking maintenance, educational materials and new spaces. The campus peaked last year at 1,250 moped stalls at 40 locations. It will have more than 1,600 stalls this year at 70 locations.

Litza said Transportation Services sold 410 moped parking permits as of Aug. 24. He expects that number to jump significantly as more students and moped drivers return to campus for the fall semester.

"They don't make up a large portion of people but they intermingle with bikers and pedestrians so we had to figure out a way to manage everything," Litza said.

Although more than a thousand people registered mopeds last year, Litza said there usually aren't more than 900 on campus at one time. "We're still going to have way more stalls than mopeds on campus," he added.

Most violations occur when people park outside designated stalls at popular sites — such as Helen C. White, Bascom Hall or the Social Sciences Building — rather than seeking a parking spot elsewhere.

"There are places that might be full but they have to follow the procedure just like any other motorist on the road," Litza said.

New enforcement strategy

In the words of UW senior Phil Zanoni, "I think a lot of people that have mopeds shouldn’t have mopeds. They drive them to make some kind of statement."

Zanoni said mopeds wouldn't be such a large problem at UW if drivers followed traffic laws that apply to all motorists. The most common moped traffic tickets all run more than $160 each.

University police used to practice concentrated enforcement with mopeds — choosing one period of time to issue tickets — but that's not the policy anymore, Radtke said. At the officer's discretion, traffic law violators will be ticketed year-round.

Radtke said increased enforcement can be an educational mechanism to change current moped behavior. The cycle of new parking policies, increased enforcement and more education started last year and continued this year during SOAR.

In four years Radtke said the university will be able to make a better guess at whether moped behavior has improved in Madison because then most students will have received some influence.

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