I just heard that long-time bike advocate, Portland Bicycle Advisory Committee member, and former Alice B. Toeclips Award winner (1999), Sharon Fekety fractured her arm in three places after wiping out on a pair of MAX train tracks last week.
Sharon was riding south on the I-205 bike path after a light rain. As she reached Burnside, she turned right, crossing the MAX tracks, “carefully”. Here’s what Sharon says happened next,
“I went down and ended up in the Providence emergency room with my left humerus (upper arm) fractured in three places. I just thought it was my bad luck but then I found out today that Trimet greases that particular section of track because it is such a sharp curve. So beware if you are crossing these tracks, especially if they are wet. Next time I will dismount and walk.”
I have not heard of TriMet greasing MAX tracks, so I asked TriMet’s new Strategic Planning Analyst Eric Hesse about it (he also handles bicycle issues).
He confirmed that they use a “lubricant” on tracks to cut down on noise and to facilitate sharp turns.
He was surprised they caused someone to crash because he says the lubricant is applied “below-grade” on the inside of the track grooves, not above ground.
He added that there are city codes relating to noise and that noise pollution is their primary reason for applying the lubricant but that it is also applied on sharp corners.
Eric was genuinely concerned about Sharon’s crash and I’m sure he’ll document this incident and bring it to his managers.
MAX and streetcar tracks are a major hazard for cyclists. I’ve seen several people crash on them, including my own mother. A few summers ago, my Mom (in photo, right) got caught in the streetcar tracks on Lovejoy and went down hard. She needed several stitches in her chin.
If TriMet is lubricating their tracks, I hope it is being done very carefully and that it does not work its way to the surface.
I also think it’d be great if someone could develop a way to cover the track grooves (when trains are not present) so that bicycle tires don’t get caught in them.
Whatever happens, I hope TriMet looks into this practice and makes sure they are not causing a hazardous situation.
[Flashback: Remember what happened when ODOT left slippery, wet paint on their new lane markings? Here’s a recap: cyclists crashed on wet paint, ODOT heard about it, and they changed their policy immediately.]
UPDATE: I changed the title of this story from “Greasy MAX tracks claim a victim” because I do not know the extent to which lubricant (vs. the rain) played a role in Sharon’s crash.
UPDATE 2: I have heard from TriMet’s Eric Hesse that their Railway Maintenance is aware of this story and is checking the resources and ideas referred to in the comments below. Eric is also running this issue by other relevant managers.
UPDATE 3: I’ve heard an update from Sharon Fekety. Her recovery is going well and she has written a letter to TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen. Here is a copy of that letter (48kb PDF).