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Streetcar tracks vs bikes: Seattle looks into risky relationship

A handful of incidents reported to the Seattle Department of Transportation indicate that several cyclists have crashed after interacting with streetcar rail lines. (MyNorthwest file photo)

A new board will investigate the relationship between streetcar tracks and bikes as the City of Seattle considers moving forward with more rail lines downtown.

The City has been made aware of a potential link between existing streetcar rail lines and bicycle accidents.

Woman loses scooter after streetcar tracks incident

Cyclists report the tracks, which are laid in the road, can reportedly catch tires, and sometimes send riders to the ground. Wet tracks can also cause tires to slip. But the issue has gained more attention after the death of Desiree McCloud in May 2016.

No official statement on what caused McCloud’s fatal bike crash has been released, and there is no indication that there will ever be one.

Seattle police found no evidence to blame streetcar tracks, however, video of McCloud traveling on the road shortly before her accident shows she was riding between the tracks, The Seattle Times reports. McCloud would have had to cross the tracks soon after. Witnesses also place McCloud traveling between the tracks.

In his recent budget proposal, Mayor Ed Murray wants funding for a new streetcar project, laying more rail lines through downtown. That project, the Center City Connector, would link the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcar lines. The Seattle Department of Transportation is forming a bike/streetcar safety review board, which the Seattle Bike Blog reports would address the potential streetcar line that would link the two lines that are already operating. The bike blog previously pointed out that the existing streetcar lines are a problem for some Seattle cyclists.

Streetcar tracks and bikes

Incident reports from cyclists to SDOT, going back to 2011, indicate issues with streetcar tracks, including one in front of Seattle Central Community College.

“My tire was caught in the newly laid tracks for the lightrail in front of SCCC … I was thrown from my bike and ended up with stitches in my face as a result,” one cyclist wrote to SDOT in 2012. “This is a serious hazard and should be addressed.”

The city responded to the cyclist’s letter, which was about tracks for the First Hill streetcar line, saying it would review signage. Another bike rider wrote in 2012 that they nearly “went over” their handlebars because of streetcar tracks around Fairview Avenue. Another rider wrote that his wrist was broken when his tire got stuck in the tracks around Westlake Avenue and Lenora Streets, causing a crash.

“My bike was caught in the streetcar tracks along Westlake Avenue … I was thrown over the handlebars and have road rash on my face and legs,” a cyclist wrote to SDOT in 2015.

A minor injury was reported in 2015 when a bike tire lost grip on wet tracks along Jackson Street. Another bike rider slipped on wet tracks around Westlake in 2014.

“While I was going slow and did attempt to cross the tracks at 90 degrees, I crashed my bike, breaking my shoulder and going to the ER,” the rider wrote. “Those trolley tracks are extremely dangerous for bikers.”

SDOT did respond to one complaint involving streetcar tracks, noting that it does not direct cyclists to travel on Westlake Avenue between Valley and Stewart Streets. It notes that cyclists are legally allowed to travel that stretch but said that it suggests bike riders instead use 9th Avenue North, between Denny Way and Republican Street.

There are also other reports filled with residents’ concerns over the city’s planning of the streetcar lines and their proximity to bike lanes. Those are just reports to the city. The Seattle Times recently took accounts of incidents involving streetcar tracks, with more than 100 people responding.

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