In Seattle, bike crashes on streetcar tracks lead to lawsuit

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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