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In Seattle, bike crashes on streetcar tracks lead to lawsuit

Posted by on June 1st, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Bicycle Master Plan ride #3
Mixing with streetcar tracks
in Northwest Portland.
(Photo © J. Maus)

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports today that six people who crashed while biking across streetcar tracks are now suing the city for negligence because more was not done to make the tracks safe:

“Six cyclists who crashed while crossing the South Lake Union Streetcar tracks are suing the city of Seattle, claiming officials ignored hazards to pedal-power commuters.

All six were hurt when their tires got stuck in the flange way gap between the rail and street. They claim city officials were negligent in designing the tracks and knew of the risks but failed to post warning signs until after several people had been hurt, according to the lawsuit, filed last week in King County Superior Court.”

“Bike-track crashes are a major and underreported problem for Portland-area bicyclists.”
— From a report by Alta Planning and Design

The plaintiffs are seeking compensation for damages, medical expenses, lost wages, and attorneys’ fees. Streetcar tracks have long been an issue in Portland and they are the cause of many injuries and crashes. Could this sort of lawsuit spring up here? Are our city planners doing enough to keep people safe and avoid legal liability?

One thing’s for sure. Bike crashes on rail tracks are issue of concern to many people in Portland.

In April 2008, 1,520 people completed the “Bike and Transit” survey conducted by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance.

Over 67% of respondents said they’ve had a bike crash on streetcar or light trail tracks and 36% said they agreed with a statement that the expansion of street “will degrade existing bicycle routes.” Of those survey respondents who labeled themselves as a “learning or timid” bike rider, 63% said they were worried about falling on tracks (compared to 50% overall).

Detail from a map of bike crashes from a survey on riding around light rail and streetcar tracks.

In an analysis of the survey results, Alta Planning and Design wrote: “Bike-track crashes are a major and underreported problem for Portland-area bicyclists.”

Later that year, Alta included the survey in a report they completed for the Lloyd District Transportation Management Association titled, Bicycle Interactions and Streetcars: Lessons Learned and Recommendations.

Alta said PBOT and their partners, are “poised to create a new model of bicycle-streetcar integration,” but that so far,

“…streetcar designs to date have not provided adequately for bicycles, and as a result many cyclists report having crashed on tracks and experiencing anxiety and fear about the possibility of a crash.”

It will be very interesting to see how the case plays out in Seattle. Read more about it from the Seattle PI and the Seattle Times.

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Comments
  • Marcus Griffith June 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I took a nasty fall on the new green line when it was under construction. Portland never got around to posting any type of warnings during construction. I turned onto the street with the max lines in the evening and due to the hour and the high traffic, didn’t even see the tracks until my wheel got stuck.

    I give kudos to the SUV drivers around who stopped and let me get back up.

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  • are June 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    construction is one thing, but i really cannot see the city compensating people for snagging a wheel in the gap when it is such an obvious risk.

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  • Nono June 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I also crashed once on the streetcar rail. I was pretty embarassed but I don’t get angre at the city. I say learn from it and suck it up! It’s common sense that you’re tires are going to get caught in it.

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  • Allison June 1, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Is there a way to design tracks that don’t present risks to bikes? Are we ignoring some obvious solution?

    Because it seems to me that the only other option is no streetcar – which isn’t really a good option IMO.

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  • SkidMark June 1, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Frivolous lawsuit. Anyone on two wheels should know enough to cross tracks as close to perpendicular as possible. They are made out of steel and likely wet,if you try to cross them close to parallel your tire will slide and catch in the track. Sue yourself for not being able to ride a bike.

    Sorry but bicycle riding requires a minimum amount of skill.

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  • t.a. barnhart June 1, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    current streetcar construction is pretty good about warnings. and the old evil tracks on SE 2nd are being removed & covered – at last. many broken bones done there (i was lucky & only skinned my knee). the main need is for bicyclists to learn how to ride on tracks – always cross at 90 degrees, or as close as possible. even 45 degrees is a risk. slow down. be prepared for a fall. tracks are not going away, anymore than potholes, cracks in the road and stupid car drivers. the streets are inherently dangerous, and this is one more thing to learn to cope with safely.

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  • cyclist June 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    I’ve got to agree with everybody else here, I learned a long time ago that if you want to be safe you get as close to perpendicular as you can.

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  • BURR June 1, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    The streetcar is a boondoggle pork barrel project that has a terrible cost-benefit ratio, endangers cyclists, and has cut in line in front of cyclists when it comes to access to what could have been several major cycling routes in town.

    SkidMark – rail tracks are a real hazard to cyclists, and it’s not always about how well you know how to ride a bike; even experienced cyclists can fall on rails, and the more rail they lay in our streets, the more cyclists are going to get hurt.

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  • SkidMark June 1, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    I’ve fallen crossing tracks, I wasn’t anywhere close to perpendicular, so my fault. I stay off anything steel (like manhole covers) when it is wet and I try to stay off traffic markings too because they are almost as slippery as steel. Maybe skill isn’t the right word, perhaps basic knowledge or common sense is.

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  • Paul Souders June 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Crossing tracks isn’t the big issue, it’s turning across tracks in your own lane, e.g. turning right off of 10th ave, or left from Harrison to Naito. In order to cross “as close to perpendicular as possible” you need to turn from the outside lane.

    I’ve had two friends — experienced bike commuters both — break collarbones on this maneuver.

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  • are June 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    there is also unloading your front wheel

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  • A.K. June 1, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    I am scared of falling on tracks to so I… don’t ride next to them!

    One of the sweet things about a bike is how easy
    it is to take an alternate route.

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  • cold worker June 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    the world is a terrifying and dangerous place. i’m staying in today.

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  • Jason June 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    I crashed on the streetcar tracks while avoiding jaywalkers in March. Just got back on my bike last week but I’m still months away from being back to normal. It never even crossed my mind that it was anyone’s fault but my own. Timely story indeed.

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  • Ed June 1, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    How about just avoid the railway? I’ve only ever crash once in the rail line ’cause I was still new to Portland, but after that I avoid all the rail line streets except on Lovejoy where in the Pearl its got a bicycle lane. Just avoid it! Don’t ride on it. There are plenty of streets that are perfect for cyclists. I think its awesome soon there will be a new street car rail line on MLK and Grand.

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  • KWW June 1, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    I once fell in streetcar tracks on a motorcycle. I thought I had enough angle to the tracks to make the crossing, but it was wet and I crashed horribly.

    That said, streetcar tracks have been in cities for over 100 years co-existing with bicycles. The time honored simple solution is to dismount and walk across.

    Don’t claim this is a new problem with no solution.

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  • Lea June 1, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    I broke my wrist and foot getting my tire stuck in the street car tracks. I feel like there should be a solution but I also know most bikers will experience this- you are lucky if you get away unscathed. I feel like cities think street cars are the way to go when they are largely not effective modes of transportation (I am not including Portland’s MAX in this which is NOT a streetcar). Is there an organization that is documenting these accidents? I would love to contribute.

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  • Ed June 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    One thing you can do to protect yourself is to use 2″ wide road tires on a mountain or cruiser style bike since they cannot fit into the tracks as easily.

    When the tracks pull your front wheel along the direction they are going, you will fall off in the opposite direction since there is nothing supporting you. The best bet is to let go of the handlebars and bike and put out your foot to catch yourself.

    In order to cross the tracks carefully you first have to be aware that they exist. I was on top of the tracks on MLK before I had any idea they were there. Can we lay down a layer of reflective red paint adjacent to the tracks? Cheaper than a hospital bill.

    These crashes are incredibly common, when I went to the hospital for an injury and told them I rode a bicycle they just assumed I had crashed on the tracks. I hope all of you stay safe.

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  • MIndful Cyclist June 1, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    Ed (#18): I beg to differ on the 2″ tires. The only time I ever got caught it one was when I was riding was when I was on a mountain bike and thought I had plenty of angle to be safe. When a tire is carrying over 150 pounds, it will give. You are right that it is more difficult than with a narrow road tire, but not that much.

    My question, though is this: Did the city of Seattle put up those yellow signs that warn of hazard or have the biker crashing like we have? If they didn’t, the cyclists may have a case.

    Agreed, though. Be aware of the tracks, slow down and make certain you are perpendicular, and walk across if you have to. It is not like the tracks showed up over night and there was no warning.

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  • ac June 1, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    [img]http://www.womansday.com/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/media/images/11-bike-on-tracks-wacky-road-signs2/893987-1-eng-US/11-bike-on-tracks-Wacky-Road-Signs.jpg[/img]

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  • jimmy June 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    i avoid getting tripped up by the tracks by starting with both wheels in the tracks. this way i dont even have to steer the bike.

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  • Steven Vance June 1, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    #4: A rubber filled flangeway might be a solution. It is used on a multi-modal bridge in Chicago. However, I cannot speak for its use on a track that is used much more often (the Chicago one is used a couple times a week by one very short train).
    See the Cherry Avenue bridge here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesbondsv/3845122785/in/set-72157622111235192/

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  • joel June 1, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    this falls under the department of eye-rolling to me. this is not a new problem, and not a problem thats going to go away unless people exercise proper care when crossing rail tracks on a bike.

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  • firekayak June 1, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    I am encouraged by the majority of the responses to this article. It shows that people today still have common sense. If there is a slot in the road…be careful around it. Thank you to all that support commons sense.

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  • rick browning June 1, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    Almost everyone who has posted on this topic so far is an incredible, pathetic Uncle Tom. Do you guys think for one second that a facility designed for C- A -R – S would ever, under any circumstance, be designed and built with an obvious known hazard that, unless taken at just the right angle, caused your car to skid and flip over??? The postings on this topic to date are a prime example of how as cyclists we are so beaten down and have such a low expectation of safe, commodious facilities that we blame ourselves for the crappy, dangerous state of “normal” roadway facilities. Wake Up!!! You deserve the same level of safety and ease of use as cars!! More in fact. You are the ones at greater risk. You are not surrounded by a 2 ton full metal jacket. You are the ones that are part of the solution, not part of the problem: transporting yourselves with virtual zero carbon footprint. And yet obsessive, massive, hugely expensive efforts are made to design and construct roadways to be safe for cars… while cyclists are left with… wheel trapping hazards and signs that say, in effect “good luck”. Been down so long it looks like up to us.

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  • Opus the Poet June 1, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    In Seattle they put the streetcars and the bikes in the same place but didn’t use the bike wheel excluders that cost an additional $1k/mile over standard tracks without them, when the excluder is installed with the track. I understand they cost a bit more to put in after the fact, plus you have to shut down the streetcar while you install the excluders. No streetcar, no bikes, and no cars on the street because part of the street has to be torn up to install the excluders and because of the people working in the street, plus the fact that they are working on the tracks makes running the streetcar unsafe.

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  • Hazel June 1, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    I’m curious about the new tracks on NE MLK. I was riding north the other day and when the tracks turn west on to Broadway, it’s safest to swing out into the middle lane to get a good angle. This doesn’t seem like a safe move on such a busy street.

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  • NecroPsyChroNauTron June 1, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    Never crashed on tracks, not on bike, not on longboard either.
    Guess these people don’t know how to look at the road in front of them and react accordingly?
    Someone get these people an oversized hamster ball!

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  • Chandler June 1, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Are they filing to force changes in the tracks or that the design in Seattle leaves little room for cyclists? Like zero.

    This should be an issue of putting designs together correctly. Or close to it. Less rail … more cars.

    Yes, I crashed in Portland (while worrying about if I would crash). I stopped paying attention and went down. Everyone was helpful and I was very red.

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  • BM June 1, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    What whiners those people are. They should see some of the hazardous track crossings we have here in San Francisco, not to mention the road conditions. Oh almost forgot the “cheese graters” at 2nd and Market. They’re vents for the subway below and are just wide enough to suck down bike tires and send you flying. The grates are also have ridges to allow car tires to grip on to them. You only make that mistake once.

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  • suburban June 1, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    To je Skoda!

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  • Garth Bowden June 1, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Unfortunately the only thing that these lawsuits can cause is cities banning people from riding bikes on the streetcar tracks. That doesn’t sound like an improvement to bikeability to me, so I’d rather the legal standard for these tracks be “ride at your own risk”.
    Portland already has signage to that effect.

    This is not substantively the same situation as storm drains and other such bike tire trap risks because you literally can’t design a streetcar track that doesn’t have this kind of gap.

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  • Red Five June 1, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    I never have problems with rails in my Subaru.

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  • drew June 1, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Over the years,I picked up lots of clip-on battery powered rear lights on Boones ferry road where the tracks cross at an angle in Tualatin. Detrius from previous bike crashes.

    Motorcycles crash on the tracks too. Two wheeled riders sometimes have learn the hard way. It took me 2 crashes to learn. Did not break bones thank goodness. Now I would never crash over tracks because i know how to ride in the vicinity of tracks.

    Learning how to ride a bike means constant judgement on what you are riding over. If you screw up, you fall. The lawsuits are frivelous; initiated by riders who lack the skill to ride safely.

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  • BURR June 1, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    It used to be two ER visits per day in Portland from crashes on rail tracks, but with the proliferation of new rail, I’d double that number today.

    These are tracks that run parallel to a cyclists direction of travel, on major through streets throughout the inner city, all of you ‘ride at your own risk’ people have your heads in the sand about the increased danger these facilities pose to cyclists; it is real, and the injury rate should be unacceptable.

    One more case of crappy road design, compounded by a large and well funded special interest group – the streetcar boosters.

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  • are June 1, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    re comment 25, please tell me you are kidding. why don’t you try taking a car into one of those concrete barriers along a highway median, or drop a wheel into a soft shoulder, or hey, just straight into a bridge abutment? yes, there are hazards to motorists in the roadway as well, built right in. the trick is to avoid them. what this has to do with uncle tom? the rail wasn’t put there for the benefit of motorists.

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  • Opus the Poet June 1, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    I think what some people are overlooking is that streetcar tracks are occupying shared space with motor vehicles and bicycles. This isn’t a train that crosses the road at widely spaced intervals and more-or-less perpendicular to the direction of travel, it runs with traffic and shares space with traffic. Also there are people and bicycles that can’t “bunny-hop” over them, it’s physically impossible for some people and some bicycle designs to perform that maneuver, me for instance, I have “issues” with any kind of jumping motion. Or my bikes that range from crank-forwards to full-blown recumbents with an almost horizontal riding position. If I was trapped on the left side of the tracks anything to the right of those tracks would be very hazardous for me to try to get to, vice-versa the right side of the tracks and reaching destinations on the left.

    There are devices that prevent bicycle tires from getting caught in streetcar tracks and as I posted above they are cheap to install when tracks are first being installed, on the order of $1k higher than track without them. The trick is that someone has to recognize that bicycles will be on the same streets as the streetcars and that the tracks are as big or bigger hazard to bicycles as the streetcar itself.

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  • Drew June 1, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    I suppose if you can’t manage tracks, grates, gravel, ice, litter, oil slicks, or tree root caused surface irregularities; there is always the option of using a tricycle.

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  • Chris Smith June 1, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    I think you’ll find the eastside extension to be a bit friendly toward bikes. We have generally avoided having rails next to bike lanes, either by keeping Streetcar in the left lane (Broadway/Weidler), using cycletrack configurations (7th) or using streets that don’t have bike facilities (MLK/Grand).

    Places where the rail turns a corner will continue to be a challenge.

    We are continuing to monitor the availability of flange-filler materials. So far we have not found one that does not have operational problems (like causing de-railments). We’ll keep watching the technology develop.

    With each extension we incorporate new learnings, but don’t hesitate to let us know when we don’t hit the mark.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 2, 2010 at 11:54 am

      Chris Smith,

      thanks for chiming in.

      glad to hear the eastside project is “a bit friendly” to bikes but I think that’s just the point. Many people (myself included) in this city are done with being just “a bit friendly toward bikes.”

      Like Rick Browning above, I think these comments are very telling of something I’ve known for a long time — that people who bike and bike advocates are so used to getting the short end of the stick that they constantly self-marginalize themselves and settle for crumbs instead of standing up and demanding things.

      While you “keep watching the technology develop” for safer rail tracks, people are falling and breaking bones and perhaps even worse — choosing to not bike at all because they are afraid of the tracks.

      And I used to commute up Grand, on the space that is now used by the streetcar. The presence of those tracks and of the streetcar makes my use of that road much more tricky.

      Seems like maybe we need a policy where all streetcar project funds have a dedicated set-aside for bikeway infrastructure development. We have the Bicycle Bill for highway projects, perhaps we need something similar for rail projects?

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  • spare_wheel June 1, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    “These are tracks that run parallel to a cyclists direction of travel”

    Not only that, but PDX has designed bike paths that require taking tracks at 33-45 degree angles.

    Here is one terrible accident to happen:

    http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Portland,+Multnomah,+Oregon+97210&ll=45.504993,-122.673923&spn=0.00048,0.001206&t=k&z=20

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  • spare_wheel June 1, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    “These are tracks that run parallel to a cyclists direction of travel”

    Not only that, but PDX has designed bike paths that require taking tracks at 33-45 degree angles.

    Here is one terrible accident waiting to happen:

    http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Portland,+Multnomah,+Oregon+97210&ll=45.504993,-122.673923&spn=0.00048,0.001206&t=k&z=20

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  • Vancouver Bob June 1, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    looks like tracks can be better designed…

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  • al m June 1, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    It’s Amerika, where you can always blame someone else and get money for your own stupidity!

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  • cip June 1, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    Y’all are such a wuss! I rode my bike in Bucharest, Romania. Plenty of streetcar miles there. The tracks are basically buried train tracks with concrete ties (think Springwater trail)and tram rails similar to the ones here. In between the rails you will find super slick cobblestones that are anything but smooth or level. Due to the massive amounts of salt they throw there in winter, the edge between the cobblestones and the asphalt (trams run in the middle of the streets in Europe), all sorts of balljoint and shock/brakes eating monster of potholes form at the edge of the tracks. Add to the mix fumes belching trucks and a total disregard for cyclists, pedestrians or lanes, and you got the “perfect” cyclotrack!

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  • Bob June 2, 2010 at 12:49 am

    Thank goodness there wasn’t a car nearby otherwise you all would blame it on the evil automobile!!!!!!!

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  • Michael M. June 2, 2010 at 6:37 am

    In contrast to Rick’s (#25) “Uncle Tom” contention, I would say these lawsuits reflect a growing sense of entitlement felt by some people whose preferred mode of travel is bicycles. I have misgivings about that. I would rather see the sense of entitlement that many who drive cars diminish. I think what transportation planners and advocates should be aiming for is an equitable and balanced approach that de-emphasizes the primacy of the car (less free on-street parking, or less on-street parking in general; more streets prioritized for pedestrian, cycling, and public transit modes, lower speed limits in urban areas, fewer travel lanes for autos, etc.). The problem, it seems to me, is not streetcar tracks per se, it is that we are all fighting for the same limited space and there is no political will to reduce auto-mode convenience in any substantive way. Streetcars and light rail at least create “facts on the ground” that somewhat mitigate the utility of auto-mode travel, but we haven’t really closed off streets to cars.

    I think everyone needs to understand that we all have to make accommodations in order to provide a meaningful and useful array of modal options. That means there will be places it won’t be convenient to ride bikes safely, but it should also mean there will be places it won’t be convenient to drive cars. These lawsuits (and the line of advocacy they represent) don’t signal that “bikes belong,” they signal that bike riders want the same privileged, entitled place currently occupied by people who drive. That’s a step in the wrong direction.

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  • jeff June 2, 2010 at 7:19 am

    More buses and light rail, but get rid of the street cars. In addition to creating hazards for bikes, they’re slow, expensive, and non-adaptable.

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  • bikieboy June 2, 2010 at 7:36 am

    are(#36) – the hazards to motorists that you list are all outside of the intended driving area. If you encounter any one of them you’ve already lost control of your vehicle.

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  • Tourbiker June 2, 2010 at 7:55 am

    I do hope the Judge spends just enough time on this case to convey the message to the Plaintiffs..

    “what …are you and your clients Idiots”???

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  • OnTheRoad June 2, 2010 at 8:09 am

    #39:
    We have generally avoided having rails next to bike lanes, … using streets that don’t have bike facilities (MLK/Grand).

    Just because streets don’t have “bike facilities” doesn’t mean that bicycles don’t use them. I use Grand Avenue all the time to get to certain destinations.

    What’s wrong with using trolley buses that don’t require rails, instead of fixed-rail streetcars?

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 2, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Michael M,

    I think making accommodations is fine, but biking seems to always gets the short end of the stick.

    In urban areas, biking should be at the top of all other modes on the roadway. But for reasons unrelated to transportation, they are not.

    Are motor vehicles making any compromises or accommodations for bike traffic? No.

    Are buses, light rail or streetcars making any compromises or accommodations for bike traffic? No.

    When done right, I think bikes compete better than all those modes for trips of 3 miles or less, but because we continue to compromise the quality of our bike network for other modes, biking remains a mode only a small percentage of people choose.

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  • matt picio June 2, 2010 at 9:09 am

    BURR (#8) – Streetcar has about 5 years of life left, then the funding will evaporate and no new lines. The question is, will it be useful? Obviously the existing line sucks, but the Streetcar adherents keep saying the new lines will be faster and different than the existing line. I say “we’ll see” – I share your cynicism to some extent, and I think most of the planned routes are in locations that have no need for streetcar – NE and SE? That area is completely served by a robust and redundant grid, it’s the best tranportation area in the city, especially for bikes – it doesn’t need streetcar.

    re: cycling skills – I always hop my front wheel over the tracks when crossing at a shallow angle, and since I’ve started doing that, no accidents (crosses fingers). rear wheel “locking” incidents are generally recoverable, but when something channels the front wheel, disaster almost always follows promptly. Of course, as Opus (#37) said, that’s not practical for everyone.

    BM (#30) – I rode in San Francisco 2 years ago, on Market Street – it was a religious experience. What a great ride! (I doubt everyone would share that opinion) I was totally focused on riding, my place on the road, the tracks, the positions of traffic and pedestrians – very zen-like, I totally vanished into the ride, and it was awesome.

    San Francisco is a perfect example of a “real” city that’s been made bike-friendly. (i.e. the first tier mega-cities, which most people call “world-class”) I love Portland, but it’s not a metropolis (I consider that a good thing).

    Drew (#38) – Reverse trike. A standard trike has the same balance issues when crossing tracks. Same disaster, shorter distance to the ground.

    OnTheRoad (#50) – Amen. Fixed facilities are dead. They’re non-adaptable, expensive, and cause issues. Trolley buses would be awesome.

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  • matt picio June 2, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Jonathan (#51) “are motor vehicles making any compromises … for bike traffic?” Actually, yes, they are. There are a lot of roads in Portland where a general traffic lane was removed to put in a bike lane. That’s a compromise, let’s be fair here. Granted, many more compromises are being made for other modes and against bikes, especially in the case of streetcar.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 2, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Matt,

    I knew someone would bring that up… but those motor vehicles lanes were extras and not necessary to begin with, so I hardly call those examples much of a compromise.

    Are there places in Portland where significant compromises to the safety and efficiency of the transit or motor vehicle network have been made to accommodate the bikeway network?

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  • Carter June 2, 2010 at 10:26 am

    Sorry, Seattleites, but you don’t have a case. Use some common sense. Avoiding slots of all kinds is part of riding a bike. I took a spill by getting my bike wheels caught in something narrow at about the age of six, and I never let it happen again.

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  • Spiffy June 2, 2010 at 10:39 am

    we’ve all learned that you have to be careful crossing tracks, even at 90° if they’re wet…

    and even the bad examples that people are giving can be navigated at 90° but people just don’t want to slow down enough to do it safely, and that’s the risk they take…

    I probably forget every few years or so and get my wheel stuck… but I don’t fall down because I’m going slow and being cautious like you’re supposed to…

    no money for idiot lawsuits…

    That night, a group of 55 cyclists took several laps through the 1.3-mile streetcar corridor to protest the hazards.

    and I bet none of them fell down because of the tracks…

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  • Dabby June 2, 2010 at 11:09 am

    First off, a frivolous lawsuit..

    When you ride on the city streets, you need to be responsible for your actions, including properly crossing tracks..

    Second off, streetcars are a waste of money, space, and time, not to mention forcing changes in cycling routes, how you have to use the lane, etc…

    I cannot even believe the City Of Portland is investing so much in streetcars.

    At how many million a block?

    A brisk walking pace is faster and more efficient than a street car.

    Screw streetcars and the great white horse they rode in on…..

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  • BURR June 2, 2010 at 11:38 am

    @ Chris # 39. I guess you don’t understand that cyclists are not just confined to bike lanes.

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  • Matt W June 2, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Nope- I don’t support this lawsuit. I haven’t read one reply that does (did I miss it?). I hope these responses are cited in the city of Seattle’s defense, really. Been riding/commuting for ten years and have had my scares, too. Cyclists are in error if they fall riding over rail tracks.
    I AM sorry they got hurt, though.

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  • Chris Smith June 2, 2010 at 11:47 am

    I certainly understand, but believe strongly that duty of diligence for streetcar with regard to bike safety is markedly different for designated bike facilities versus other locations.

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  • Tankagnolo Bob June 2, 2010 at 11:50 am

    I think those folks should stay home. The world has too many risks. Soon folks will be suing the gov because they hit a curb, or tree, and claimed that the curb or tree hit them. Learn to ride, slow down, go 90 degrees over tracks.

    Life on the learning curve is such a beeotch. We need to make the road safe for cyclists, but give me a break, there are some risks, like curbs and track, we have to learn to negotiate.

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  • poncho June 2, 2010 at 11:50 am

    just take the damn left lane and avoid the right lane. these are local city streets not freeway lanes so there are no “fast lanes”. if you really need to ride in the right lane on these streetcar streets then be extra cautious. here in portland perhaps the best bet is to ride on 9th, 12th, 13th, johnson, overton, marshall and only go 10th/11th/lovejoy/northrup for short distances (if the tracks are of a big concern to oneself). the beauty of a street grid are the range of different routes that are possible for most trips.

    streetcars and bikes manage to get along just fine in europe. bikes and transit (and pedestrians) are all on the same side and all share a common goal, there is no logical reason to start a civil war amongst non-auto transport.

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  • matt picio June 2, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    Chris (#39) – I appreciate that efforts have been made to make it more bike-friendly, but putting streetcar on the right lane of MLK/Grand makes it a lot harder to use those streets on a bike. I ride both, and I take the lane since no legitimate argument can be made on those streets that I am impeding traffic (how can you impede traffic when they have 2-3 other lanes to move into). Streetcar now makes those roads unsafe at best. If streetcar was the only option (or even the best option) then I could accept that, but it’s not – trolley buses are another option, possibly a much better one since there is no rail cost involved.

    Jonathan (#54) – That doesn’t invalidate my point. Safety is not the only concern, and even if it is the primary concern we do ourselves and our arguments a disservice when we fail to acknowledge the impact on other modes, including the dominant one. Spare lanes or not, removing them is a concession, and it impacts traffic. The argument we should be making is that that impact is desireable, not that the impact is not present. It’s an important distinction as advocates for a transportation minority, because the adherents of the dominant modes will seize on all of the minor points like that to steer and focus the discussion in the direction they want, or at least away from the real issues.

    Chris (#60) – Is streetcar still planning to run up 57th? That would remove the most level path up the Alameda Ridge for safe bicycle use.

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  • PDXmtnrdr June 2, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    I’m sorry that anyone got hurt, I know I have fallen myself on RR tracks and have seen others as well, BUT take some personal responsibility for your own actions. Cycling can be dangerous…

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  • Chris Smith June 2, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Jonathan, I think if we were starting the eastside project today, a cycletrack on MLK/Grand would be a no-brainer. That was not the climate when we started this project. In fact, I recall one point at which other interests in City government freaked out when one streetcar preliminary drawing showed a bike lane on one stretch of MLK.

    Matt, anything on the streetcar system plan map is still a “corridor” level plan. Specific street designations are not really meaningful, and maintaining safe bike access is a clear criterion for more detailed planning.

    I was being self-deprecating before, so let me be clear – we have learned a tremendous amount about “what not to do” from the original alignment and the three subsequent extensions. The eastside will be dramatically better based on those learnings, even if it is not everything the bike community wants.

    And I strongly believe that the destinations that will be created through development spurred by the streetcar will make the area much more useful to and frequented by folks riding bikes.

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  • Chris Smith June 2, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Seems like maybe we need a policy where all streetcar project funds have a dedicated set-aside for bikeway infrastructure development. We have the Bicycle Bill for highway projects, perhaps we need something similar for rail projects?

    I think the requirement that we build “complete streets” (or at least complete corridors if we opt to put bikes on a parallel street) when we build out transit corridors is an excellent idea.

    The bicycle community should keep this in focus as the Barbur Blvd high capacity transit corridor gets designed.

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  • OnTheRoad June 2, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Streetcar advocate Smith (#63)
    “And I strongly believe that the destinations that will be created through development spurred by the streetcar will make the area much more useful to and frequented by folks riding bikes.”

    Just as we all suspected. Streetcars are more a development tool than a transportation mode.

    The rails lend a sense of permanency needed to justify the local improvement district taxes levied on the adjacent merchants.

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  • Chris Smith June 2, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Just as we all suspected. Streetcars are more a development tool than a transportation mode.

    Nobody’s trying to hide the fact that streetcars are a development tool. They are public infrastructure that attracts very large amounts of private investment that occurs in a very sustainable form. ($3.5B of private investment along the existing streetcar alignment which cost $100M in public funds).

    But they are also GREAT transportation.

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  • BURR June 2, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    I certainly understand, but believe strongly that duty of diligence for streetcar with regard to bike safety is markedly different for designated bike facilities versus other locations.

    So when the streetcar shows up cyclists are just supposed to use other streets or ride at their own risk? That’s complete BS.

    The city still hasn’t demonstrated that it can design safe bike facilities free from poorly patched utility cuts, right-hook and dooring hazards, and it’s unlikely that anything new they come up with is going to be much better than what we’ve already got.

    The bar is set much to low on cyclist safety in PDX, and all the PR spin in the world isn’t going to make the streetcar boosters care any more about cyclist safety than they do now – which is not at all.

    The only reason the streetcar is moving forward so rapidly is because of all the big money behind it, you can bet Stacey and Witbeck and other engineering design and construction firms as well as all the developers are lobbying hard for it. None of these lobbyist care about cyclist safety in the least.

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  • t.a. barnhart June 2, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    one thing that needs to happen is finding a new way to fund TriMet & the streetcars (daily ops, that is) so that we can get rid of fares. we know that increased use of public transportation leads to reduced costs in roads for cars. somehow we need to get those savings transferred to the operations of mass trans. the payroll tax method is failing, gas taxes won’t work, and meanwhile TM is taking steps to push more & more riders off the system.

    free mass trans is a win for everybody, and then we’ll be glad for the streetcars. i know i will be.

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  • BURR June 2, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Nobody’s trying to hide the fact that streetcars are a development tool. They are public infrastructure that attracts very large amounts of private investment that occurs in a very sustainable form. ($3.5B of private investment along the existing streetcar alignment which cost $100M in public funds).

    The cost-benefit ratio for the streetcar is horrible. And it’s just another case where the profits have been privatized while the risks are socialized.

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  • Michael M. June 2, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Jonathan (#51), I don’t agree that biking “should be at the top of all other modes,” I think if there’s any hierarchy at all, that public transit should be at the top. By and large, Portland does a decent job of prioritizing public transit (the downtown transit mall, for instance), but there are problems everywhere — fewer bus routes, decreased bus service, rising transit fares. Public transit is the most inclusive and expansive of all modes. It can cover distances that only private motorized transit can compete with (except for the fittest and most determined of cyclists), it can enable multi-modal transit (most public transit modes can and do incorporates walking, cycling, and driving — think park-and-rides), and it can be made the most equitable through progressive fare targets (like Honored Citizens passes). Cycling requires a level of physical ability that leaves out the elderly, the disabled, and the ill. When I had pneumonia, I couldn’t walk more than 200-300 feet without getting out of breath and having to take a break. Riding a bike was out of the question. I very much appreciated having a robust public transit system available that made it possible for me to avoid having to rely on an automobile.

    I also don’t agree that “biking seems to always [get] the short end of the stick.” Vehicular travel modes (bikes & cars) are too often prioritized over foot traffic in myriad ways in Portland. Sidewalks are closed routinely for construction projects here, with no accomodation other than “Pedestrians must cross the street” signs — sometimes in the middle of a block! In cities I’ve lived that prioritize pedestrian travel, like London and New York, construction projects are required to build protected walkways, even if that means closing a vehicular travel lane. Outside of downtown, you have to push buttons to get across the street, and even then you frequently have to wait a long time for lights to change. In many areas, street designs make walking about as inconvenient as it can get, for the sake of smoother vehicular traffic flow. For example, NE Broadway & NE 42nd — depending upon where approach from, you have to cross three streets (and wait at three lights) to get to the Trader Joe’s just south of there. And then there’s dumb decisions like the Burnside reconfiguration, which robs space from the sidewalk to create a bike lane, instead of removing the on-street parking (which would have been the sensible solution). Who’s getting the short end of the stick there? And, yes, public transit modes are making compromises for bike traffic — in the Rose Quarter, for example, where some bus/rail transfer distances were lengthened to accommodate bike traffic.

    But I do agree with you that private motorized modes aren’t asked to make anywhere near an equitable share of compromises. That, I think, should be the priority going forward, and I agree with Poncho’s (#62) assessment that non-auto transit modes should be on the same side. I don’t see that as settling for crumbs or “self-marginalizing,” I see that as demanding a workable transit framework for a Portland in which no resident feels they need to own a car to get where they need to go.

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  • Tony Columbo June 2, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Obviously bike riders have no common sense.

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  • BURR June 2, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Just follow the money.

    Rail is great but it shouldn’t be in shared space that cyclists need access to.

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  • mikeybikey June 2, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    i think people shouldn’t rush to judgment and call this a “frivolous lawsuit”. clearly many people have been injured on the facility and that is a problem. this could end up like the mcdonalds hot coffee spill case which was also called “frivolous” by the public. But as the case revealed, the disfiguring injuries could have been
    –>preventedresponded<– to complaints and lowered the operating temperature of the coffee pots from 180-melt-your-skin-off-degrees to 130-the-more-sane-and-industry-standard-degrees.

    if this streetcar case goes to trial, maybe it will ask some questions and force some answers about public safety on these types of facilities. the knowledge of streetcar track dangers to bicyclists is out there. So,
    what if injuries could be prevented by introducing simple safety features, or
    by adjusting design documents or operating procedures? I sure want to know about it and maybe this case will bring it to light.

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  • Greg June 2, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    @46 Exactly. It’s important to send a message that the only safe way of moving about is the car (streetcars are ornamental – no car enthusiast is afraid that they’re going to replace cars.) After all, it’s not like there are externalities from using gasoline, right? Oh, wait:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_spill

    And it’s not like the locals didn’t try to warn the city about how bad the planned tracks were sited:

    http://dailyuw.com/2008/1/15/riding-slut-streetcar-presents-danger-cyclists/

    So yes, the city deserves the suit. And cyclists *should* demand that our absurdly expensive transport system be made more efficient by encouraging more cycling.

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  • Jabin June 2, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Guard rails on bridges and along cliffs are just frivolous right?
    The first thing I learned when I started driving was not to drive my car off a a cliff.
    It’s just common sense.
    Why must we add anything to the edge of bridges just so bad drives don’t plunge off. I don’t want my Tax dollars going to support drivers that don’t know how to stay between the white lines at all times.
    In South America roads crisis cross the mountains without any guard rails and sure maybe a couple people a day plunge to there deaths but come on it’s there fault. If it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for us.

    /rant off

    I’m not for this law suit. I am for working to have safety measures implemented to reduce injuries as they become available.

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  • BURR June 2, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    I am for working to have safety measures implemented to reduce injuries as they become available.

    unfortunately, once the thing is built it is too late.

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  • are June 2, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    re comment 48, if you approach a rail on your bike at a shallow angle and are unable to unload your front wheel, you have already lost control of your bike.

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  • Lester June 2, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    … unless you’re on a ‘bent.

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  • scotth June 2, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    I think they may as well sue the city for their coffee being too hot while they’re at it.

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  • Blah Blah Blah June 2, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    I’m not sure where most of these replies are coming from, but I like the direction the comments are leaning. I feel a renewed sence of respect for the people of Portland.

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  • Seth Alford June 2, 2010 at 11:28 pm

    In response to #67: my commute to work is on Barbur. Usually I pick up Barbur at Capitol and head north. Barbur is incomplete in that south of Capitol, the bike lanes disappear over the bridges and at Multnomah Blvd. Filling in those gaps in the bike lanes would be good. There’s already bus service on Barbur, so there’s no need for a light rail line there. I’d much rather see the money that would be spent on light rail on Barbur fix the major headache on my commute: the Beaverton-Hillsdale/Oleson/Scholls Ferry Road intersection. Chris Smith, where does the bicycle community advocate for the no-rail-spend-the-money-somewhere else option?

    Regarding the comments above about riders just having to “suck it up” and that experienced riders know how to deal with tracks. I disagree. Consider that a stage in the 2009 Giro had to be neutralized because of the riders’ protest over safety conditions. Armstrong led the protest. Included in their concerns: tram tracks. See http://velonews.competitor.com/2009/05/news/armstrong-defends-rider-protest_92207

    The issue came up again in the 2010 Giro stage in Amsterdam. They put foam in the tracks to keep tires from being caught. See http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/4068/Giro-dItalia-Amsterdam-tram-tracks-ready-for-Saturday.aspx

    Closer to home, I recall that the Salem bike club has either put down carpet and/or had someone stationed at bad railroad crossings for their Monster Cookie Metric Century. The riders on that ride are doing about 63 miles. They may not be the most experienced riders in the world, but they aren’t inexperienced either.

    As for the lawsuit which started this thread, no it’s not a frivolous lawsuit. I hope that the people who are suing win, and that their win makes Seattle and other cities like Portland stop building light rail in the right of way because the liability is too high.

    I would much rather deal with busses than the railroad tracks. If it’s important that the transit run on electricity, then put in trolley busses like they have in Seattle. I remember 10th and 11th before the street car tracks. Those streets were much more ridable then.

    That the BTA is willing to go along with this is a continuing disappointment for me and one of the reasons I am now a former member. In my opinion, a functioning bicycle transportation advocacy group would not stand for one more foot of on-street rail transit.

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  • Chris Smith June 2, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    Part of the analysis for Barbur will be light rail vs. bus rapid transit. By all means, make the case for BRT.

    I’m curious though how folks reconcile the “rail can never be OK for bikes” sentiment with the fact that two of the world’s great cycling cities, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, have extensive in-street tram networks?

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  • jim June 3, 2010 at 1:20 am

    this is one of those things that you usually only do once and then you learn not to do that again, like people who raise children in a house with a wood stove. The kids survive just fine, perhaps they did touch that stove once, but unless they are really slow learners they don’t do it a second time. A smart kid will see his brother do it and learn not to do it.
    Judges should throw out frivolous get rich quick lawsuits, it only helps destroy our country. Perhaps the judge should send the cyclists to a mandatory bicycle safety program.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 3, 2010 at 8:20 am

    Chris Smith wrote:

    I’m curious though how folks reconcile the “rail can never be OK for bikes” sentiment with the fact that two of the world’s great cycling cities, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, have extensive in-street tram networks?

    Here are a few key differences that come to mind…

    - Vast majority of riders over there have wide tires and upright city bikes. In U.S. we have a lot of skinny tire road bikes.
    - People over there have been riding since they were babies. It’s a way of life and therefore skill level is much much higher.
    - The rail planners/designers over there take biking as a given that has major priority and importance — not simply as an interest group to accomodate and think about after the plans are complete.
    - Most importantly, they actually spend the money required to build real separated bikeways like cycle tracks, which are the best treatment adjacent to rail tracks.

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  • are June 3, 2010 at 8:44 am

    re comment 84, at what speed are the tour riders moving?

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  • are June 3, 2010 at 8:46 am

    in a dense pack.

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  • Spiffy June 3, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Seth Alford #84: racing is far different than commuting… I doubt anybody would pick a streetcar route for a race… and nobody expects you to come nearly to a stop to navigate tracks when you’re in a race…

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  • poncho June 3, 2010 at 11:59 am

    My biggest issue with the eastside streetcar is that the trackway permanently preserves the 1950s era traffic patterns of MLK, Grand, Broadway and Weidler. Grand and Broadway in particular, should have been traffic calmed extensively and put on a serious road diet with separated cycle tracks, streetcar tracks, angled on-street parking and two-way traffic with only a lane in each direction. They should have essentially been made into “main streets” as they originally were before the 1950s mentality of turning city streets into high speed thouroughfares.

    Unfortunately MLK, Grand, Broadway, Weidler will continue to remain high speed one way traffic sewers with 4 lanes of traffic unfriendly to pedestrians, bicycles, transit riders and human scaled urban development.

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  • BURR June 3, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    ‘Traffic sewers’, I like that…

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  • matt picio June 3, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Chris (#66) – I’d feel a lot more comfortable if Portland Streetcar would put the corridor level plan map on their website, so I could see it and provide input. The last one I saw was nearly 2 years ago.

    and (#69) – which is why it needs to be viewed critically. It’s looking increasingly doubtful that such investment will be available in the 5-20 year timeframe.

    t.a. barnhart (#71) – You basically have either taxes or user fees (fares). If you want to get rid of user fees, you have to increase taxes, either by raising the payroll tax (problematic in the current economy) or by tying is to a different taxation method, like property taxes, income, or some other means.

    BURR (#72) “another case where the profits have been privatized while the risks are socialized” – exactly. Ultimately, everything needs to become increasingly local until we get to a point where resources are consumed at less than their replenishment rate. There’s a lot more tough times ahead, and high-capital projects like streetcar are problematic.

    Michael (#73) – No sir, pedestrians should be at the top – it’s the only truly sustainable mode and has the highest mobility. Bikes and public transit should be about the same, provided the transit is relocatable. If it’s going to be MAX and streetcar, bikes should have priority. Cycling comes closer to sustainability than any other mechanized mode of travel, and really the order should be: feet, mechanized, motorized group, motorized single.

    I disagree that cycling leaves out the elderly and the disabled. It’s more difficult for them, and their speeds will be slower, but only a small percentage of the elderly and disabled are physically unable to use any form of cycle.

    Chris (#85) – I seem to recall those cities also using rail filler materials. Also, are their rail gaps the same width as here in the US? We’re using standard guage here.

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  • wsbob June 3, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    “…I disagree that cycling leaves out the elderly and the disabled. It’s more difficult for them, and their speeds will be slower, but only a small percentage of the elderly and disabled are physically unable to use any form of cycle. …” matt #93

    Matt…I’d like to think you’re correct, but seriously, though I wouldn’t care to speculate on a percentage number, I’m not so sure the percentage is so small. There seems to be a lot of people around with disabilities that can’t even seriously consider turning a pedal, let alone think about getting out in general traffic or on a busy MUP.

    Thanks to the Bush (aka Iraq/Afghani) wars, we’ll be having a few more of them join the disabled ranks of people that need to get around but can’t bike. Trains and streetcar will work for some of them.

    Hopping streetcar tracks is a biking survival skill that will be especially difficult for some people to master with consistency. The alternative, which is probably inescapable without transportation options like the streetcar…is most likely more and more single occupancy vehicles clogging the streets. That seems much worse to me.

    I’d say that in places like downtown where people riding bikes have to cross street car tracks, the should be very bold and conspicuous about it; sit upright on the bike and gesture very conspicuously with hand turn signals, generously in terms of time spent doing it.

    Might seem odd and annoying to road users behind these people, but they’ll get used to it and come to understand and expect that the reason for it is the obstacle posed to bike use by the streetcar tracks.

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  • El Biciclero June 3, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I’m ambivalent about the lawsuit, but regarding acceptance of sub-par conditions for cyclists–particularly the condition of having to ride near in-street rails–I’d like to take a second look at a couple of the analogies offered above. Before I do, we should be clear that there are two broad categories of track “encounter”: crossing tracks at some angle, and having to ride parallel to tracks that run along a street in or near the same lane that a cyclist would use, as we see three cyclists doing in the picture at the top of the post. The latter is the more dangerous proposition which most of the above comparisons fail to consider.

    Jim in #86, compared dealing with tracks to a child-vs.-wood stove scenario. Of course a child will learn not to touch the wood stove, but would you install the wood stove in the doorway to the child’s room so they have to squeeze past it several times a day without getting burned? No, you wouldn’t. But when a cyclist’s most convenient route runs parallel to and within a foot of rail tracks, this is what you are doing. Sure, we can say “take another route”, just like we could tell the kid, “hey, just climb in through the window” to avoid the wood stove in the doorway.

    Others have mentioned “hazards” to motor vehicles such as highway barriers and bridge abutments. Sure, it would be detrimental to drive into any of those things, but do we ever find lanes that are separated by jersey barriers, leaving only 6 or 8 inches of clearance on either side to drive a car through? With “soft shoulder” sand traps at 100-ft. intervals and a bridge abutment dead center? No, we don’t, because that would be considered an undue risk for drivers. Even though the main risk in driving through a jersey barrier gauntlet is actually only to the vehicle, as sideswiping a concrete wall is unlikely to injure a driver or passenger, we still don’t make motor vehicle drivers navigate such gauntlets. We have no problem accepting an equivalent scenario, however (cyclists riding along tracks), even though the risk is to a person, not just a vehicle.

    Also, while “unloading the front wheel” is a useful thing to be able to do, are there any non-emergency situations where we expect drivers to utilize such “trick” maneuvers in order to avoid crashing? “Oh, yeah–on this corner up ahead you’re going to have to do a quick e-brake and simultaneous downshift so you can break your wheels free and ‘drift’ around those concrete bridge supports (don’t forget to countersteer!) or else you’re going to slam into them and destroy your car. And hurt yourself. Oh, you have a front-wheel-drive automatic? then I guess you’ll have to take the long way around.” Of course this is an exaggeration, but not much of one.

    I don’t personally have a problem with tracks. I’ve never crashed on them, but then I only have four sets of them to cross on my commute and I don’t have any routes that run parallel to tracks. I’m not trying to be a crybaby whiner–sure a “real” cyclist has the skilz to do tricks to avoid needless obstacles–but it seems a little out of whack that in general we expect this from cyclists but not from drivers.

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  • Marcus Griffith June 3, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    “it seems a little out of whack that in general we expect this from cyclists but not from drivers” #95

    Hit the nail on the head. Why are motor-vehicle hazards consider priorities while bicycles hazards are minimized? Are they not both road-hazards?

    14th Amendment:

    “No State shall..deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

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  • Case June 3, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Opus said: “There are devices that prevent bicycle tires from getting caught in streetcar tracks”

    This is the point of the lawsuit people! The city knew they were installing tracks that would pose a hazard to road users before they ever broke ground. They knew there was a solution available and they decided not to use it. This lawsuit is about making the city realize they have a responsibility to protect their citizens and they have obviously use the available means to do so. If this lawsuit didn’t come up you can be sure the safety of streetcar tracks that are in the planning will be compromised. Bob is doing this in the public good, not for a big payout.

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  • Chris Smith June 3, 2010 at 3:33 pm

    Matt, when I was in Amsterdam in 2005, I saw no track-fillers. I’ll leave it to others to report what they’ve seen in Copenhagen.

    The Streetcar System Plan was a City exercise (not Portland Streetcar, Inc.), the maps are on the City web site:

    http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=46134

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  • Chris Smith June 3, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    - Vast majority of riders over there have wide tires and upright city bikes. In U.S. we have a lot of skinny tire road bikes.
    - People over there have been riding since they were babies. It’s a way of life and therefore skill level is much much higher.
    - The rail planners/designers over there take biking as a given that has major priority and importance — not simply as an interest group to accomodate and think about after the plans are complete.
    - Most importantly, they actually spend the money required to build real separated bikeways like cycle tracks, which are the best treatment adjacent to rail tracks.

    Jonathan, this is an excellent summary. I would note that the first two points are about people who ride bikes and their choices (I myself ride an upright “City Bike” with wider tires) and society’s choices. The latter two are about infrastructure.

    I’m in complete agreement about both infrastructure points and would suggest that the eastside streetcar alignment largely adheres to the first point (with the exception of MLK/Grand, which is clearly a policy failure on a grand scale, but one that I think is larger in scope than just the streetcar project).

    The second point is all about funding the bicycle master plan, and I’m already on record saying that it’s a higher priority to fund bikes than to fund streetcars.

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  • BURR June 3, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Chris – The BAC wanted the streetcar planning group to investigate and use flange fillers way back in the 90s when the first line was in the planning stages, and the streetcar planners refused to do so.

    It sounds to me like you and the current streetcar planning group are still refusing to do so. Can you please tell us when the obstructionism and the rationalizations will stop?

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 3, 2010 at 4:07 pm

      Thought folks would like this recent Oregonian column by Steve Duin — wherein he writes about his crash on streetcar tracks downtown. If you don’t click through.. here’s my quote from the column,

      “I don’t think people should have to fall to figure it out. If there was a similar issue with any other mode of transportation, with a similar potential for serious injury, do you think it would just be sitting there as an issue, for columnists to write about and cyclists to grumble about at the coffee shop?”

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  • Michael M. June 3, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Matt (#93), IMO, public transit supports pedestrian mobility. It’s that rare bus or rail or streetcar trip that takes you, for all intents & purposes, door-to-door. Taking public transit almost always involves a fair amount of pedestrian travel (unless, of course, you’ve brought your bike with you). And having spent a fair amount of time in various retirement facilities around the area, as well as amongst people with various disabilities, I have a very different perception of what percentage are able to use a bicycle as a viable means of transportation. YMMV.

    El Biciclero (#95) do we ever find lanes that are separated by jersey barriers, leaving only 6 or 8 inches of clearance on either side to drive a car through?…No

    Obviously, you’ve never driven in NYC. Try the Cross Bronx, the BQE, or the FDR Drive or West Side Highway in Manhattan sometime. Oh what fresh hell hath Robert Moses wrought.

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  • Chris Smith June 3, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Chris – The BAC wanted the streetcar planning group to investigate and use flange fillers way back in the 90s when the first line was in the planning stages, and the streetcar planners refused to do so.

    It sounds to me like you and the current streetcar planning group are still refusing to do so. Can you please tell us when the obstructionism and the rationalizations will stop?

    There is no obstructionism or refusal. We have investigated flange fillers and continue to monitor the technology. So far all the available solutions have an unacceptable risk of derailments.

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  • esther June 3, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    oh lord, tell me about it. i crossed the tracks on 11th ave at too oblique an angle a week ago and fractured my clavicle. lucky me, it was one of the 10% of clavicle fractures that needs surgery. had the operation yesterday, will be off work for 3 months. that is 3 months if i’m lucky, longer if i end up with a frozen shoulder. i do physical work, no light duty available. fortunately i have health insurance and good sick time benefits.

    i knew the hazard was there when i crossed the tracks, so i can’t blame anyone but myself for the actual accident. i opted to ride on that street instead of a trackless one. so at most,the city’s liability would be limited to my expense at not having the streets with tracks ride-able, not the cost of the accident after i chose to take the known risk. and does the city have any obligation to make a street ride-able? probably not.

    it is a poor design that puts those curb jut outs on the corners so all of a sudden a bike doesn’t fit comfortably between the track and curb. perhaps a bike lane on the left side of the street since it is a one way street would be one solution.

    and why not rubber track filler in a town that prides itself on bike-ability?

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  • BURR June 3, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    There is no obstructionism or refusal. We have investigated flange fillers and continue to monitor the technology. So far all the available solutions have an unacceptable risk of derailments.

    well then, maybe we shouldn’t be building any new streetcar lines until there is a solution to this problem, ever thought of that?

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  • Icrashedonce June 3, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    #105 -
    They should also cover or remove all the tracks up in the meantime. That will keep the cyclists a little safer. Until all those who are using Max/Streetcar start using automobiles to get around.
    How many vehicles do the Max and streetcar remove from our streets each day?

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  • poncho June 4, 2010 at 12:18 am

    If you ride a bike in Portland, the streetcar tracks are the least of your worries. Bike lanes that abruptly end, door zones, high speed streets, lack of shoulders, blind spots, inattentive motorists, multiple driveways, etc. are all worse. There are so many auto-infested areas particularly near freeways where you have high speed autos coming at you in all directions. I’d take the cycling risks of the current streetcar streets anyday over many streets in Portland and almost all the streets in the suburbs.

    This bike-streetcar flange issue reminds me of the tragedy of forgiving roads. Traffic engineers get so obsessed about preventing every possible accident that they end up ruining the place by removing every slightly potential motorist hazard. This fanaticism includes removing street trees and on-street parking because a motorist could crash into them and get hurt if they arent paying attention to the road. So the pedestrian experience and city life of a city has to die because of the complete safety of an irresponsible and reckless motorist. And nevermind that street trees and parked cars (and the like) are actually protection for pedestrians. The safer the roads feel, the more reckless people travel.

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  • matt picio June 4, 2010 at 8:46 am

    wsbob (#94) – There are 51.2 million disabled. 2.7 million use a wheelchair, 9.1 million use a non-powered ambulatory aid. The majority (about 40 million) are able to use a bicycle, tricycle, or other wheeled human-powered transport. They can’t go 20mph, but to say that cycling leaves out the disabled is inaccurate and possibly disingenuous.

    There will always be a segment that bikes can’t serve, but that segment likely needs powered assistance.

    Note: statistics taken from this source

    Michael M. (#102) – Absolutely, I agree, but we don’t need rails to do it. Rails were necessary in 1910 when the original streetcars were built, but we could use trolley buses and avoid the bike/streetcar conflict entirely, and get a side benefit of being able to reroute our transit according to changing populations just by running new catenary.

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  • El Biciclero June 4, 2010 at 9:17 am

    “If you ride a bike in Portland, the streetcar tracks are the least of your worries.” –poncho #107

    This may be true, but some would probably say they are just one more insult added to all the other things you mentioned that make cycling difficult.

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  • Mike Fish June 4, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Amsterdam – an oft referred to city for bicycle advocates – has way more tram tracks criss-crossing their city and no warnings signs or anything like that. Cyclists ride across them all the time, I was just there for a week seeing it happen. People just need to learn how to deal with it and become more savvy riders. If you feel uncomfortable just walk your bike for a block or pick a new route. The longer you spend on the saddle the more comfortable you’ll feel.

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  • jered June 4, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    I’ve slammed on tracks and had many sketchy situations in traffic on on the tracks. Yeah, some blood and way more hurt pride… Suing the city sounds like typical USA sue-happy crap. Uh, there are train tracks, the tracks didn’t jump up and tackle you, be careful, use common sense, if you’re afraid, avoid the tracks or walk over them… Every year you see a huge pile up in the Tour due to a pro slamming on the tracks, maybe this year somebody on the Tour will sue France… LAME.

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  • GlowBoy June 4, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Seems like the dominant theme on this thread is we cyclists just need to learn to deal with tracks. Personally, I run at least 700×35 tires year round, ride carefully and haven’t faceplanted on any tracks to date. So for the most part I suppose I support the consensus.

    Just the same, I don’t think rail planners are considering cycling needs adequately. I see too many instances where streetcar, MAX or WES tracks have been laid across existing intersections, forcing cyclists to cross them at dangerous angles. There’s not always that much latitude in placing the tracks themselves, but there often is a LOT that could be done in terms of the intersection’s overall layout and lane striping.

    One thing to remember also about the folks suing Seattle, is that their health insurers are probably denying coverage for their injuries. You might assume your health insurance company covers you when you get hurt, but often they will NOT cover you if someone else could conceivably be held liable. I’ve known too many people over the years who’ve been trapped this way, forced by their insurer to sue.

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  • Seth Alford June 4, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Icrashedonce (#106) wrote How many vehicles do the Max and streetcar remove from our streets each day?

    That’s the wrong question to ask. The right questions are how many more motor vehicles do the Max and streetcar remove from our streets each day, versus spending the same money on more busses, versus spending the same money on a bus rapid transit system with hybrid busses that can run on diesel/electric (roughly similar to my daughter’s Prius) when they leave the catenary? And how much do those additional motor vehicles detract from bicycle safety, if at all? And if those additional motor vehicles cause more bicycle crashes, is it worse than the crashes we see today caused by railroad tracks in the street? Furthermore, with the funds that would become available from not laying down expensive track and buying expensive rail cars, how much more bicycle facilities could be built and how would that different spending pattern increase bicycle safety?

    And a related question is: how many fewer bicycle travel miles are there because bicycle riders don’t want to deal with railroad tracks and so drive motor vehicles instead?

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  • Seth Alford June 4, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Mike Fish (#110) when you write about tracks in Amsterdam: Cyclists ride across them all the time, I was just there for a week seeing it happen. (emphasis added) are you referring to bicyclists crossing tracks perpendicularly, or riding parallel to tracks such as what we have here in Portland on 10th?

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  • BURR June 4, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    another example of where a comparison to Amsterdam is meaningless

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  • Steve B. June 11, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    I’ve been riding a bicycle as transport in New York City, Philadelphia and Portland for over 10 years. I’ve fallen on tracks many times, and while I am smarter for it, I’ve fallen as recently as 2 months ago on the tracks of Water Ave. I have the scar to show for it.

    We need to keep streetcar tracks far away from the most desirable parts of the street for people on bikes, and when there is a lot of interaction with bikeways, we should spend the extra dollar, go beyond the paint, and make the crossings safe and effective for all.

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  • Krista October 16, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    I just took a crash this morning because of this. I ride down 10th ave extremely infrequently (maybe a total of 3-4 times), and was riding in between the tracks-which I hate to do, but on the right side there isn’t really an alternative.

    I figured ‘I’ll be in between these tracks for less than a mile, I’ll just go straight’-however, I needed to turn right to take one of the other more ‘bike friendly’ streets.

    Long story short, I crashed because I was moving into the left lane to try and get AWAY from being in the middle of the tracks. My tired got wedged, I went down and hit my head (always wear a helmet!) and the car behind me luckily stopped as to not hit me. I am all cut up with a damaged hand and had muffled my hearing for a few minutes due to the knock to the head, which was freaky and concerned the nice people who stopped to take care of me. One of the local coffee shop owners mentioned how frequently it happens, and how the city needs to put up signs to warn bicyclists and how angry she is about seeing this happen all the time.

    Which they should! Put signs up, or city paint in the center saying ‘look out’. Or plastic bumps between the tracks-something! A lot of bicyclists such as myself really may not exactly realize that their tire will indeed fit perfectly right in between those tracks if anything happens whatsoever. You really can’t tell that it wedges right in there until it happens, or if you are warned ahead of time.

    All I am saying is, is that if we can spend thousands of tax payer dollars doing things like turning 39th ave into ‘Caesar Chavez’, we sure as heck can spend some of it to keep people off the tracks if even experienced cyclists are doing things like breaking their clavicles. I am all for personal responsibility and routing bicyclists to certain roads, but there’s absolutely no reason that the city can’t spend a small amount of money to warn people of what seems to be a frequently hazardous area.

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