On sledding kids and cars

A fun little story about sledding and cars…

When I was a kid, we lived down the block from my elementary school, which was built at the top of (very) small hill—it’s not even enough of a hill to show up on Google Maps’ terrain view, but it was enough to sled on.

The problem was, there was a road built across the slope–and the way the hill curved and the road was constructed, the result was that kids’ sledding path was pretty much perpendicular to the road.  So you had kids who’d get going fast enough that they’d end up sledding into and across the road, sometimes even ending up in the yard of the church across the street.

This might not have been a problem generations ago when the road was constructed, but by the 1980s this little street was a major connection between the freeway north out of town and the university campus, pharmaceutical and other research labs, and various other offices, shopping centres, and such on the north side, and so traffic was beginning to be a problem.

To protect the sledding kids from the traffic, a chain-link fence was erected along the sidewalk.  Now, when kids went sledding down the hill at high speed….they punched through the fence, losing only enough momentum to keep them from safely reaching the other side of the road.  More of them ended up stopping in the street itself.  This was obviously suboptimal, so to solve the problem, hay bales were added in front of the fence, so that kids would be definitively stopped before they could reach the road.

Now, southeast Michigan has some pretty wicked freeze-thaw cycles.  It will occasionally snow a couple inches, then melt, then re-freeze, all within a couple days.  And it turns out that when you dump a bunch of snow on hay bales, then melt it, it seeps into the bale.  And when you refreeze it, you end up with an enormous 12-cubic-foot ice cube.  Which is as hard as rock.

And so it was that at age 7, sledding one day in early January when it had finally snowed again after having been warm a few days, I ran into a hay bale the size and consistency of a cement-block wall foot first and shattered my tibia at the distal growth-plate into thirteen pieces.

To this day–26 years later, next month–my leg is enough shorter that I can stand straight on my left foot and my right swings freely.  I got off light–some years later, a child hit the hay head-first and was permanently and severely brain damaged.  Shortly thereafter, signs were posted at the top of the hill declaring sledding forbidden.

I haven’t been around the school lately—my parents moved to the other side of town a few years ago—but Google Maps shows heavy construction across the top of the ridge, where there used to be a playground, and where kids used to start their sled runs.  The hay bales are gone—I suppose with no sledding allowed, they aren’t necessary anymore.

It doesn’t appear to have ever occurred to anyone that, instead of keeping the kids away from the cars, we should keep the cars away from the kids.

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