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Seattle judge says City not liable in streetcar track lawsuit

Posted by on April 12th, 2012 at 10:30 am

Conditions on Lovejoy-5

New tracks on Lovejoy.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

There’s been a big development in a legal battle up in Seattle that has similarities to an issue we have here in Portland. As we shared back in June 2010, several Seattle residents who crashed while bicycling across streetcar tracks filed a lawsuit claiming that the City of Seattle, “knowingly allowed unsafe conditions.”

According to the Seattle Times, that lawsuit has been tossed out by a judge who says the City is not liable. Before you jump to the conclusion that the plaintiffs are just whiners who need to figure out how to ride their bikes (a common reaction whenever this topic comes up), what’s important to note is that the case didn’t center around whether or not the tracks posed a danger to people on bikes. All the City had to do in their defense was prove that they followed existing engineering standards.

Here’s a snip from the Times (emphasis mine):

… the cyclists hadn’t proved the city fell short of any design or engineering standards when it placed the streetcar tracks on the right side of the roadway, where bikes were likely to travel, rather than in the center.

“We never disputed the tracks were a hazard,” said Rebecca Boatright, assistant city attorney who handled the case. “The legal question was whether we fell short of any engineering standard in designing a road with a streetcar. The judge concluded we did not.”

This might not be over just yet as, “An attorney for the six cyclists said they will file a motion to reconsider the decision,” reports the Times.

This situation has parallels to the concerns by many here in Portland about our streetcar tracks — especially the new ones in the Pearl District that have been placed on the right-hand shoulder where a bike lane used to be.

Despite crashing on tracks becoming almost a given part of bike life here in Portland, no one (at least to my knowledge) has filed a lawsuit. Instead, local non-profit group Active Right of Way (AROW) launched a grassroots effort to work with the City and Portland Streetcar officials to improve the situation.

What’s interesting to me is that, while the cycling citizens in both cities have taken different paths to air their concerns, the overall impact of their actions netted similar results.

Portland Streetcar Inc. and the City of Portland have made some changes (although not as quickly or significant as hoped for) in response to the activism by AROW. They have added warning signs, they’re working on an educational video, and tonight they’ll start a project to move an ill-advised streetcar utility pole that was placed too far into the Broadway Bridge bikeway. And even though they beat the lawsuit (so far at least), it did, “prompt design changes in the planned First Hill Streetcar,” reports the Times.

In the end, what the situations both here and in Seattle show is that we need new streetcar design standards that include a greater awareness and sensitivity to the bikeway environment. And, when those standards call for additional measures — and agencies squawk about the added cost — we need to have a dedicated set-aside fund in all streetcar projects for bikeway mitigation.

It’s clear that people are still getting injured while biking around these tracks. The problem won’t go away until we acknowledge the problem is legitimate (blaming the victims is not an acceptable solution) and then work to reform the funding and construction guidelines.

— Read more about the Seattle lawsuit here and peruse our past coverage of Bikes and Streetcars.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Jameson Blake April 12, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Wow this is very interesting, this is the first I have heard of this problem, but I have been reading a lot lately about how bike safety is basically being ignored by the larger populous. These things need to be resolved; obviously something is wrong with the street car track placements because of the frequent crashes.

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    • Spiffy April 12, 2012 at 6:48 pm

      obviously something is wrong with the street placement because of the frequent auto crashes…

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    • Goretex Guy April 13, 2012 at 7:52 am

      How do they handle this in Europe? Amsterdam has lots of streetcars downtown. Do they have the same problems?

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      • Dave H (@BCCletts) March 31, 2014 at 2:34 pm

        Traditionally trams in mainland Europe (and Toronto) run in the centre of the carriageway, and go below ground through the city core, where there are more and varied movements by other traffic and greater potential for delays. Tram routes are designed holistically with other street use.

        In Toronto when a tram stops, all traffic has to stop to let passengers cross to the footway (sidewalk).

        The extent of on-street running is minimised – the tracks in the centre of the street use a reserved right of way, often the track formation is turned in to a grass covered strip, reducing noise generated by the trams, filtering out dust and pollution, and managing water run-off and climate through nature’s air conditioning system (grass/seedum plants). Oh and enhancing property values – because every frontage on the street gets a bit of park outside.

        Where the tracks run in the street the rails are laid properly flust with the road surface +0mm to -6mm or +3mm to -3mm, enabling the contact patch on a typical 700c tyre (roughly 120mm long) to bridge between higher friction pavement of road surfaces over the 50mm +40mm railhead, groove & keeper. The ONLY ridge greater than 3mm high that a tyre can strike at an oblique angle will be the flangeway groove. All thermoplastic road markings, or coloured road surfacings will have high friction finish, and be no thicker than 3mm above road level.

        In the UK we had the case of a motorist who received life changing injuries in a crash, when the rails were seriously high above the road surface (with the basis of this claim that all 4 car tyres were lifted clear of the road surface) This was was a costly exercise for the tram operator & track owner. As a result this system regularly patrols the tracks with a worker propelled measuring trolley to check that rails sit close to flush with the road surfaces.

        There are now systems which have sorted out the flangeway issue as well, after the failed attempts by Goodyear (OMNI) and others in the late 1980’s, using flangeway infilling.

        I think I’ll stop there – likely to win a Gold Medal in nerding at this rate

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  • are April 12, 2012 at 11:00 am

    “what the situations both here and in Seattle show is that we need new streetcar design standards”

    exactly correct. the city will always be able to defend on the ground that it adhered to prevailing standards (and they will not be able to use federal funding if they do not adhere to published standards). therefore if you want something changed, change the standards.

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    • aaronf April 12, 2012 at 11:14 am

      New design standards may be warranted. What would they be?

      While I acknowledge that lawsuits have a role in politics, and threatening to file lawsuits can scare cities into doing what the people who hired the lawyers want them to, I would not expect a judge to rule against a city in a case like this. This is something to think about for all of the people who thought that the pole on the Broadway bridge (which didn’t really belong there) was an instant lawsuit. Keep dreaming.

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    • JRB April 12, 2012 at 3:26 pm

      The fact the design met current standards is not a complete defense. The City could still have been found negligent if a court determined that the standard itself failed to constitute reasonable care to avoid the foreseeable risk of someone being injured. There must be more to the decision than just the fact that the city met current the design standard.

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      • i ride my bike April 14, 2012 at 7:27 pm

        Do you think the city and track planners intentionally tried to injure cyclists in laying out the track? Get real.

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  • aaronf April 12, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Having carefully considered the case, I still come to the conclusion that the plaintiffs are just whiners who need to figure out how to ride their bikes.

    If they won this lawsuit, why would anyone ever lose a lawsuit where they fell on the tracks? What city can afford that? Most judges are not that dumb.

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    • Champs April 12, 2012 at 12:24 pm

      I carefully considered the case, arrived at the same conclusion, and then it actually happened to me. My sister had ACL surgery this year for the very same (in SFO).

      Having lived in Minnesota, I’ve got plenty of winter riding experience. I’d rather tangle with glare ice than wet streetcar rails.

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    • Gregg April 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      I was a year round cyclist for 18 years. I taught bicycle safety education for 9 years. I am a very careful cyclist. I fell on the tracks last year- so has many people who are as careful as I am and are more experienced than me. I’m sure as anything that the tracks could be designed/ installed safer.

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  • RH April 12, 2012 at 11:11 am

    I find nothing wrong with the tracks…just be cautious around them. If someone put a chair on a side walk and a person tripped and fell, it would be silly if they sued. Be aware of your surroundings and acountable for your actions and above all, SHARE the road.

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  • Scott April 12, 2012 at 11:12 am

    The photo you used accompanying this story shows a biker travelling in between the rails. I can’t think of a less safe place to be riding when around tracks. In order to cross the rails at a 45 degree angle you’d have to slow down to near walking speed. It seems to me that by running this photo you are normalizing riding between the rails. Just seems like a bad idea to me.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 12, 2012 at 11:17 am

      Hi Scott,

      First, the photos used on this site are not meant to endorse any type of behavior.

      Second, in that specific situation, the design of the road sort of forces someone to ride in the middle of the tracks. The tracks are built right over where a bike lane used to be.. and several months after they were put in there were still bikeway signs directing people to use that route (it wasn’t until after activists spoke up that the city finally removed the signs).

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      • grumpcyclist April 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm

        And someone with half a brain might think to themselves, “Gee, the only way to ride on this street is to ride between the tracks, maybe I should go one or two streets over so that I can ride safely.”

        Cyclists are not “sort of forced” into these situations, they put themselves there. The reason I’ve never fallen on the rails, despite riding over them every work day for the last 3 years, is that I know that you want to cross them at as close to a 90 degree angle as possible. Those that don’t understand that are destined to crash at some point. I’m of course sorry that they’ve sustained an injury, but would never blame the city for it.

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        • Ted Buehler April 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm

          Grump wrote:

          “Cyclists are not “sort of forced” into these situations…”

          No? What about riding south on MLK at the Convention Center, at 30 mph, and all of a sudden a railroad track busts into your travel way, at the same time your lane narrows from a reasonably wide lane to a skinny lane? All of a sudden you need to jump two tracks in the street *and* start playing fender tag with traffic.

          If there’s no advisories upstream from the point where you’re faced to contend with tracks, then you’re forced into the situation.

          Same with making a left turn from Broadway to Vancouver, and lots of other places where you’re riding *in* traffic and all of a sudden you encounter tracks that will throw you onto the pavement, with no advance warning.

          It would be easy for them to put in signs directing bicycles how to plan in advance to cross tracks at right angles under controlled conditions, but we’ve been asking for 15 months now and in most places they’ve politely refused.

          Ted Buehler

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          • Gregg April 12, 2012 at 4:42 pm

            Preach it Pastor Ted!

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          • Dude April 12, 2012 at 6:26 pm

            Better to not ride on MLK. Anybody foolish enough to do so can’t complain when they do get hurt.

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            • are April 12, 2012 at 6:52 pm

              i can’t quite express how much i hate this answer. the roads are for people. MLK is the obvious route for a lot of destinations. the posting is only thirty. would you like to make a list of roads cyclists should be forbidden to take? wtf?

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              • Caleb April 13, 2012 at 6:25 pm

                I don’t think it’s wise to get hung up on any posting when one can clearly see on a consistent basis that the posting is frequently disregarded by a majority of the road’s users.

                I’ve cycled on MLK many times, both on my bmx and road bikes, and likely still will in the future, but each time I’ve done so I’ve acknowledged the risk I was taking and acted accordingly. Not only does that mean I’ve been ever vigilant in paying attention to my surroundings to avoid things like street car tracks, but it also means I’ve not tried to act as if a bicyclist’s rights (something consensus based, not an inherent part of existence) to be on any street translates into a reason to use any street regardless of the fact that it might put me and others in danger or exacerbate tension between cyclists and auto users, as well as between the general populous and civil engineering officials.

                Yes, MLK is the most direct route to many destinations for people traveling from NE to SE and vice versa, but whether that makes it the “obvious” route is an entirely subjective matter. If one bases one’s travels on the time that most direct route takes, then yes, it’s going to be the “obvious” route. The same goes for one who bases his/her travels on minimizing expended effort and bicycle degradation and whatever else I’m not thinking of.

                But I imagine any cyclist has the ability to adapt to circumstances that require more time, more effort, more bicycle integrity, and whatever else someone might consider a negative that I haven’t thought of. After all, don’t many choose to cycle in recognition that in many ways it isn’t as convenient as using an automobile?

                Speaking most generally here: We can complain all we want about anything, but let’s remember that the world we live in is extremely complicated, meaning we’re going to have issues that TAKE TIME and much communication to resolve. In order to avoid creating more issues, how about we tolerate minor inconveniences while we wait for that time and communication to take its course, rather than invite trouble to prove a point?

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              • are April 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm

                i will acknowledge that i usually use some route other than MLK if i am going any appreciable distance, especially north (uphill). and i am not hung up on the 30 mph posting, just noting that despite the multiple lanes and heavy use by motorists in some sections, the road is not meant to function as a freeway — and need not, if we hold our space on it.

                what irked me about the dude’s comment was the suggestion that one should never use MLK — or presumably sandy or powell or foster or mcloughlin or any number of other heavily traveled streets — just because it is heavily traveled. if we give in to this mentality, our options will become more and more limited. we are already in danger of losing sandy, and we often hear that cyclists should move away from hawthorne, etc.

                williams is increasingly overused by automobiles, and one could argue, following the dude’s logic, that cyclists should simply abandon it. instead, we have staked our own claim. if we had surrendered the 12th avenue overcrossing, what would we have?

                i am not proposing to throw myself under the wheels of a truck to prove a point, i am just saying i will not be chased off a road that does in fact serve my purposes.

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            • Nathan April 13, 2012 at 11:47 am

              Comments like this really test my abilities to abstain from being combative on the internet.

              “Getting hurt” on MLK means being hit by a car or colliding with the ground at anywhere from 16 to 30 miles per hour. Do you even realize what you’re saying?

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            • Antload April 14, 2012 at 10:17 am

              Starts sounding like “separate but equal”…let’s not run away from streets that start to get dangerous. Let’s stand our ground. Let’s keep our access to most direct routing. I want to maintain safe access to the streets I pay for!

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            • MaxD April 1, 2014 at 9:40 am

              If there were some reasonable alternatives to crossing 405 I would try to avoid MLK- it IS a miserable place to ride, but it is a part our transportation system, available for bikes, cars, trucks and buses, and it is my (unfortunate) route to/from work 5 days/week

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        • kj April 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm

          I have several friends who “know to cross tracks at 90 degrees” (as most of us DO know how to navigate tracks I think who live and ride in Portland or learn quickly), and have been commuting over and around them for more than three years in Portland who have had crashes anyways. Sometime the lull of ‘experience’ or a sudden unexpected reaction to a road hazard etc. can land you on your ass. I have yet to, but I don’t for a second think I can’t crash on them no matter how much experience I have. Hubris can be painful.
          You can’t always avoid them, sometimes, but not always.

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    • OnTheRoad April 12, 2012 at 11:30 am

      On the SE Grand tracks, if you don’t ride between the rails, then you are in the next lane over. No room at far right to bicycle.

      And if you’re in the next lane over, you are getting cars passing you on both the left and right sides.

      That is the problem with the streetcar – in several locations it has effectively removed a street from a cycler’s choice of route.

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      • sabes April 12, 2012 at 11:42 am

        “That is the problem with the streetcar – in several locations it has effectively removed a street from a cycler’s choice of route.”

        So? Find another street.

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        • Champs April 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm

          This is different from complaining that you can’t use Lovejoy, when Overton is RIGHT THERE.

          To cross I84, there is nothing between Grand/MLK and 12th. That wouldn’t be a short distance if it was flat, much less on the grade that it is.

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        • 9watts April 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm

          “So? Find another street.”
          Excuse me? This is the mindset of the guy who yelled at me for biking on Burnside (since Ankeny is a bike boulevard). Why, given all that we’ve learned & all that we know about the disincentives to bicycling, the risks, the misunderstandings in the holdover print media, should people riding bikes take this kind of lip? Grand isn’t I-5! My tax dollars paid for all of that infrastructure as much as your tax dollars, buddy.

          I ride Grand, and don’t care for the street car tracks, but I can (generally) figure it out. When it gets tricky is when car traffic is thick and I need to get out from between the tracks.

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        • any and all April 12, 2012 at 4:48 pm

          “So? Find another street.”
          ALL streets should be safe for cyclists

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          • Joe Suburban April 13, 2012 at 9:59 pm

            Since “technically” I84 through town is a street as well, go ride your bike there – see what happens! Or full of potholes Burnside – looks like you’re aiming for the Darwin Awards! Maybe, just maybe, if your route is full of trucks and potholes, no place to seek refuge, move over 1 or 2 streets – Duh!

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      • Mindful Cyclist April 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm

        I simply ride on the left hand side since it is a one way street. As far as I know, it is legal to do and I will often do it on one-way streets sans tracks. A lot less of a dooring hazard.

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        • John Lascurettes April 12, 2012 at 7:59 pm

          Indeed it is legal as defined by the ORS. In fact, on a three lane, one-way road, you are required to ride in either the left lane or the right lane except when transitioning from one side to the other

          ORS 814.430 (see section 2(d))

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          • are April 13, 2012 at 8:16 pm

            if there is a striped bike lane, i think 814.420 technically trumps that
            nonetheless, i do ride to the left on one-way streets — or more accurately, i take a lane from which there will be the fewest forced turns or cars queuing to turn once the crosswalk clears.

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          • Greg April 15, 2012 at 11:55 am

            Not too be too nitpicky, that requirement is only if you are operating “at less than the normal speed of traffic using the roadway”. Most of downtown, I can keep up with traffic

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      • Caleb April 13, 2012 at 9:03 pm

        I’ll gladly give up a street from my list of choices if that means people will be taking public transportation rather than driving their car or simply having the ability to get somewhere that they wouldn’t otherwise. And I’ll gladly ride the extra miles I might have to, whether they’re up a severe hill or not, in order to give up that previously chosen route.

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        • Caleb April 13, 2012 at 9:04 pm

          “or simply have”, not “having”.

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      • i ride my bike April 14, 2012 at 7:36 pm

        Well on SE Grand and MLK you actually have 3-4 other lanes to choose from on those streets. I think the bigger issue is how autocentric the street design is with its unsafe speeds than the presence of a streetcar track.

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    • BURR April 12, 2012 at 11:34 am

      to the contrary, if you have to ride where there are tracks, riding between the rails is the safest place to ride. In that position you are out of the door zone and control the lane, and it is relatively easy to hop the rail when you need to. I do this all the time on Northrup and Lovejoy, and I’ve never had a problem. It helps if you run slightly wider tires, as well.

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      • Scott April 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm

        If it’s relatively easy to hop the tracks when necessary, the streetcar tracks aren’t a problem and this conversation is moot. Since people are crashing they must not find this relatively easy.
        Personally, I ride near streetcar tracks daily and don’t find them a problem.

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    • Scott April 12, 2012 at 11:50 am

      Not true and not truer.

      You do not need to be a a 45 degree angle and you do not need to slow down to walking speeds. Even if it is wet you can bunny hop out of the streetcar tracks with almost no effort. In dry I have no problem at all from any angle or any speed on 700×23 tires.

      Any “safer” areas that you can find while cycling on city streets are “safer” by maybe a hundreth of a percent. Cycling on American streets, the check is in the mail. All you can do is work towards understanding bike, body position, and impact angles to minimize the damage when you get hit.

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      • Jack April 12, 2012 at 12:01 pm

        What could possibly lead you to believe that any maneuver involving bunny hopping is a reasonable solution for the majority of people riding bikes?

        Can you bunny hop an extra cycle loaded with groceries? Or how about a bakfiets loaded with children…or empty for that matter?

        Are people driving cars or walking ever expected to perform comparable expert-only feats?

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        • jeff April 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm

          it requires “expert” bike handling to pull up on your front wheel for a half second?
          how many bikes out there are really loaded with a gaggle of children?

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          • John Lascurettes April 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm

            Quite a lot of them in Portland actually.

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            • Mickey April 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm

              And there is nothing safe about it.

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          • dan April 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm

            Popping up your front wheel is easy and accessible to many. Bunny hopping — i.e., both wheels off the ground at the same time — is hard. If you don’t believe me, head out to short track MTB racing at PIR and see how few people bunny hop the obstacles rather than dabbing over them.

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        • Scott April 12, 2012 at 2:15 pm

          I can bunnyhop a Cetma cargo bike with 15 cases of beer in it. Kids and extra cycles shouldn’t be that much harder.

          What idiotic notion leads you to believe that in the chaos of US streets a bunny hop would not be something you would want in you tool belt?

          No cars don’t need to do those moves, they have airbags and reinforced cages so that they can slam into whatever they are pointed at and be cool.

          Learn how to bunny hop. You will be so happy you know how when you get steered at a curb doing faster than able to stop in the distance provided speeds.

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          • Jack April 12, 2012 at 5:16 pm

            Either you don’t know what a bunny hop is or you are just lying. You cannot bunny hop with 15 cases of beer on board.

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            • Scott April 13, 2012 at 9:46 am

              Haters gonna hate. I will admit it is an estimiation, but at least 7 professional drinkers got hammered off what I was carrying.

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        • Scott April 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm

          Also are you holding a unicycle in your AVI?

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          • Jack April 12, 2012 at 5:16 pm


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            • Scott April 13, 2012 at 8:48 am

              I hope you are one of the unicycle commuters I see. Then it would be super awesome if you tried to poke holes in my argument that a bunnyhop is a good thing to learn when you are commuting on the least efficient way to commute ever.

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              • Jack April 13, 2012 at 11:49 am

                So you’re saying that because I ride a unicycle, everyone who wants to ride a bike for transportation should first learn to bunny hop? Can you explain your reasoning?

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              • Scott April 16, 2012 at 10:53 am

                Specialized talents are a must for anyone who wants to have the best chance of surviving an unprotected cummuter’s lifestyle. Skateboarders have the ollie, cyclists have the bunny hop. All tools to be able to evade danger as a smaller and less protected entity on the streets. Unicyclists must have something though I have no idea what it would be.

                I am also never would say “everyone should” about anything. My point was that as a physical specimen, I hone my talents so that I may do anything and everything that others who are not such amazing specimens can’t do. I also do it at much higher speeds and look amazing while doing it. Survival skills all day, every day. Also before you say it, yes, I can ride a unicycle. I learned on a dare and found it as banal as rollerblading and long(wrong)boarding.

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        • Scott April 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm

          …and you have never jumped over a puddle when walking? Or dodged some falling debris while walking? Has no one ever saved themselves by diving out of the way of a car?

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      • was carless April 12, 2012 at 3:18 pm

        You try to “bunny hope” a bakfiets with 80+ pounds of children and groceries in it.

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      • Opus the Poet April 12, 2012 at 7:10 pm

        When was the last time you bunny-hopped riding a SWB recumbent? It is theoretically possible on a LWB ‘bent, but I have never seen the maneuver performed successfully. And I have been riding ‘bents thousands of miles since 2001.

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    • Champs April 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm

      It’s not just the approach angle, it’s the lean. If you’re anything but upright, the wheel wants to slide out, especially when wet.

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      • Scott April 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm

        Problem identified. Now you have to be aware that a wheel turn is possible in place of a lean turn. Right?

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        • Opus the Poet April 12, 2012 at 7:06 pm

          The problem is the physics are identical. It isn’t the lean angle, it’s the lateral loading of the tire as it crosses the rail. So you have to not be turning when you cross the rails.

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          • was carless April 13, 2012 at 10:38 am

            This can be accomplished in the very advanced riding technique called “riding your bike in a straight line.” Yes, very difficult to accomplish, but with some practice, you too can not fall over when riding over wet/icy rails.

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          • Dave H (@BCCletts) March 31, 2014 at 3:44 pm

            It’s mainly due to the oblique angle that a tyre strikes a raised ridge of any sort (dropped kerb, street ironwork etc….) the weight and momentum of the rider and bike acts to pivot around the top edge of the ridge, resisted by the friction between the contact patch and the road surface. Unfortunately there is an upward force vector delivered as the tyre impacts the pivot point and this acts to reduce the load on the contact patch and the resistance available to keep the bike upright… The result is obvious.

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  • NW Biker April 12, 2012 at 11:26 am

    This article reminds me of a previous one where part of the discussion was whether bikes would ever be considered as part of transportation overall or merely “accommodated.” Yes, people can ride more mindfully around streetcar tracks, but when they’re built into and take over an existing bike lane, the message is that bikes are trivial.

    I don’t think any real progress will ever occur unless and until the “motors only” mindset declines. And unfortunately, I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

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    • Caleb April 13, 2012 at 9:13 pm

      To assume the message is that bikes are trivial is to assume more than is evident. It could be that street cars are only a slightly higher priority for those planning the streets. Or it could be they consider street cars and bikes to be of equal importance, but that street cars clearly don’t have the options bikes do, so they were stuck temporarily disregarding bikes. I obviously don’t know, but I don’t think it’s wise to act as if any of us do until we actually do.

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  • JNE April 12, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Bike and streetcar friends. Bike not fight streetcar; fight cars.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 12, 2012 at 12:02 pm


      In my opinion, your position above is exactly why we’re having this conversation. The lack of scrutiny on streetcar by active transportation advocates simply because “at least it’s not cars” is why they’ve been able to run rough-shod over the bike network — even in America’s most bike friendly city.

      I’m not saying we should “fight” them, but just because it’s not a freeway or an auto-centric thing doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye and pretend everything will turn out fine.

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      • JNE April 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm

        Certainly don’t want to let streetcars run roughshod over us, but with limited political capital, it seems prudent to dedicate time and resources to advocate for growing bike infrastructure — as opposed to fighting rails.

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        • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm

          I hear you JNE… I just want to be clear that I don’t see my stance as “fighting with streetcar.” If anything, I’m advocating that we urge our elected officials to perhaps spend more of their limited political capital on major projects that would improve biking instead of falling over themselves to promote/tout/fund rail projects.

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          • John R. April 12, 2012 at 3:49 pm

            I wasn’t in Portland when the Grand/MLK design was put forward, but I’m shocked that what could have been an opportunity (making them work for all modes) made them worse for bikes. If we’re investing huges sums and tearing up the streets, why couldn’t we have used this opportunity to, say, put in cycle tracks. Accommodating the street car and not wanting to impinge auto traffic is a losing proposition for cyclists. Did the BTA and others speak up and lose or was the active transportation community just silent?

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            • John Lascurettes April 12, 2012 at 8:04 pm

              … particularly when streetcars can have their doors open to either side.

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  • toddistic April 12, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    I don’t understand streetcars to be honest but that’s me.

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    • Caleb April 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm

      I can’t say I understand everything about them, myself, but I imagine we won’t learn anything about them if we’re not asking questions.

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  • Morgen April 12, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    As a non bicyclist I feel the tracks adversely effect drivers as well. With portland’s perpetually wet conditions I often feel like I’m slipping and sliding on the tracks. I only use those lanes when I absolutely must and slow down considerably when making a lane transfer to make sure I can keep traction.

    I believe that street cars have a certain cachet but I don’t make use of them and don’t believe they add much to our transit system.

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    • Mindful Cyclist April 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm

      They jack the property values up in the neighborhood because your average white, “liberal” Portlander wouldn’t be caught dead on a bus.

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  • Chris I April 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    The lawsuit was extremely weak. You can’t accuse the city of not following proper standards when the standards in question don’t address bikes.

    The root cause of the streetcar vs. bike debate is still the personal automobile. If you look at the history, streetcars and cyclists have coexisted from the beginning. Streetcars generally travelled down the center of the roads, and cyclists and pedestrians traveled on the outside. The problems started occurring when more and more personal cars began jamming the streets. Streetcars became stuck in traffic with everyone else. More and more space was allocated to cars. Now traffic engineers are forced into a corner. For political reasons, they cannot take away vehicle lanes. They locate the streetcars on the outer lanes so they can serve the sidewalks; but this is exactly where most cyclists also want to ride.

    We need dedicated space for both streetcars and bikes, and it needs to happen by removing curbside parking and/or travel lanes. High capacity transit lines need dedicated space, so they don’t get stuck in traffic with everyone else. Bikes need dedicated space for safety. Until we have the balls to start removing car lanes, these conflicts will continue.

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    • Alexis April 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      This is a great comment, an excellent follow-on to Jonathan’s reporting. I did a presentation covering streetcar’s history in Portland and AROW’s activism at Towards Carfree Cities X last September, with the target of my presentation being advocates/activists and planners in other cities considering streetcars. Both the improvement of design standards and processes (greater inclusion) and changing the dominance of car space are critical elements to getting streetcar right in the many cities considering it for the future.

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    • Steve B April 12, 2012 at 5:40 pm

      Well said, Chris!

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  • Joe April 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    whoa kinda sad deal if you ask me. reminds me of the MUNI in SF way back. City was fighting cyclists and thru the years things have come along way. * more friendly *

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  • RyNO Dan April 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Wish we had BRT instead of streetcars.

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    • Chris I April 12, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      That’s an odd thing to wish for, as they serve completely different purposes. BRT is essentially MAX on rubber tires. Longer stop spacing, and ideally, dedicated right-of-way. You would take BRT if you wanted to travel quickly from Tigard to Portland.

      Streetcars and city busses are used as circulators: frequent stops, expansive coverage. Streetcar lines are generally preferred by transit riders because they are easy to use. It’s easy to find the streetcar line, they area easy to board and offer a comfortable ride. Developers like locating near streetcar lines because it basically guarantees future frequent transit service. As we have seen recently, Trimet can very easily change bus service to a given area.

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  • seeshellbike April 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    So if I read this right a City can knowlingly design something that is a hazard (“We never disputed the tracks were a hazard,” said Rebecca Boatright, assistant city attorney”who handled the case. ” to a vehicle (bicycle) that has legal right to use the roadway. This seems to go against the basic engineering code of “holding paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.” If its not illegal it at least unethical.

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    • Caleb April 13, 2012 at 9:24 pm

      Are you saying cities should refrain from installing street cars in order to avoid putting hazards in place? Cyclists are aware that automobiles on any given road can be a potential hazard, too.

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    • bicycle rider April 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm

      ask that same question as to how we can still have dangerous pedestrian and bike killing arterial streets like Powell, Foster, 82nd, 122nd, TV Hwy, Beaverton-Hillsdale highway etc when its very obvious of their dangers to people.

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  • Case April 12, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    I don’t know if anyone commenting here knows the actual situation with the lawsuit or the streetcar tracks. From the beginning, the city has known about and acknowledged the flaws of the tracks. They have even said, in a number of reports, that placing the tracks in their current location would result in bicycle related crashes. They followed federal standards which didn’t take into account cycling. They also mentioned in their brief that unless the street had a bike lane or sharrows, bikes are not considered regular traffic. This is the point of the lawsuit, the city did not consider the safety of bicycles as road users because they contend bicycles are not to be considered true users on streets without bike lanes or sharrows, in opposition to state law. Municipalities are required to take all steps to mitigate dangers of roads for road users and they didn’t do it in this case.

    *full disclosure: One of the lawyers in this case represented me in a bike vs. car collision. I can say, with certainty, this lawyer is looking out for the health and well being of the cycling community.

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    • JAT in Seattle April 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      Interesting. Westlake (the main street in question) has been carrying a lot of bike traffic for decades, for the city to turn a blind eye to this for what was essentially a vanity project of Paul Allen and our former mayor is as mentioned above unethical. I wonder if bike commuter Rebecca Boatright wrote that brief. Disappointing.

      While I agree that streetcars are preferable to a hundred additional private cars, the recurring problem seems to me that they’re continually being sited in denser urban districts with existing (comparatively) high bicycle use and the engineering standards don’t take bike safety into account. These Westlake tracks shift from the left lane to the right lane in some places (and due to terrain, street layout, and development there are very few viable alternative roads) there is no place for a cyclist to go that avoids this hazard.

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  • Nathan April 12, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    In imagination-land, this lawsuit is settled by providing all involved with fat bikes. Sweet, sweet fat bikes.

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  • Champs April 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    There may be some confusion about the issue, so in summary:

    Riding parallel to the tracks:

    * Sometimes you get caught riding inside the track, with no way to get over without stopping in the middle of an intersection to wait until you can change lanes.
    * The most likely explanation for getting snagged by the groove is riding like an idiot, but there are many other acts of god that could wobble you just enough to throw you over.
    * It isn’t just a skinny tire problem. By design, even medium-width tires that aren’t inflated to rock-hard pressure (what would be the point if they were) will squeeze in, too.

    Riding over the tracks:

    * The rails have very little dry traction, and are ice-slick when wet. So even if you’re just crossing the rails, the wheels will want to slide out if there’s any lean to your bike.

    Steel is just a crappy surface—that’s why they have those big orange warning signs for plates—and there’s all kinds of it in central Portland, laying wait for the moment you let down your guard. Was this not one reason for the Morrison’s new deck? Thankfully, I don’t have to drive over the Hawthorne. Don’t blame the victim.

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  • Jeremy Cohen April 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    The bike/streetcar conflict is frustrating to me, but not nearly as much as the comments on this board. The idea that bikes should just ride better, or pick another street, or any other “blame the victim” strategies is disheartening. When projects like streetcars are developed, they take into account all types of conditions the MATTER to them–clearly bikes don’t. By this, I simply mean that the tracks are flush with the roadway (even though a car COULD slow down, and bump over a 2-3″ protruding track), the street cars wiggle along and make stops at the sidewalk (even though pedestrians COULD carefully navigate across half of the lanes to board the streetcar in the center of the road). However, it is only bikes that ACTUALLY have to adjust their mode in order to co-exist with tracks. I too ride on streets with tracks–and I AM one of those people with a longtail hauling a kid to/from school each day–and I HATE the tracks. I slow down, I cross at a 45 degree angle or more, and I avoid the tracks the best I can.
    What frustrates me is that it is assumed that bikes will change their route/style/speed/approach and NO OTHER USER is asked to do the same. I think this attitude must change–especially in this forum, where we all share the (unneccesary) hazards. I don’t love the idea of lawsuits, but sometimes that is the best way to get things done. The city built (or allowed to be built) something that is patently dangerous to a legitimate user of the roadway–that should not be alright.

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  • Caroline April 12, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    I don’t see how this is a new debate. There are still fewer streetcars now than there were almost 100 years ago, when probably just as many people were on bikes, and drivers were just getting started on the roads, and much more haphazardly. So, what can we learn from them? IMO, the #1 thing we can learn from history is what an irresponsible, proud, selfish, and litigious culture we’ve grown. There will always be tracks and tires in Portland. People will always get hurt and die on the roads. Watch yourself. Move on…

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    • BURR April 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      100 years ago there were a lot less cars and the speed they were operated at was a lot slower than it is today.

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    • Joseph E April 12, 2012 at 6:08 pm

      The streetcars used to be in the CENTER of the street. This is ideal for fast operation of the streetcar, and for bikes to get around them. The problem we have is streetcar routes in the right-hand lane. This was not normally done back then. Notice streetcar tracks in the middle of the street, cars (and bikes) on the sides:

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      • was carless April 13, 2012 at 10:49 am

        Yeah, but today, if a streetcar were tos top mid-street to let off passengers, drivers would pass on the right and hit and likely kill any passengers exiting/entering, as that is simply what you do when a vehicle is stopped in a lane: you illegally pass on the right!

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    • Case April 13, 2012 at 8:51 am

      This is a new debate because there are steps which can be taken to mitigate the impact on all road users from streetcar tracks but because those aren’t included in federal standards they were ignored by a municipality. Ignored with the understanding that their actions will result in bicycle accidents and possible injuries to citizens traveling using an accepted mode of transportation. Just because a problem has been around for 100 years doesn’t negate the government’s responsibility to find and implement solutions.

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  • Fred Lifton April 12, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    I can bunny hop 360’s and have the skills needed to ride steep technical single track. And I think it’s way beyond ludicrous to expect every rider out there to learn these specialized skills just to get around town. Do we ask drivers to learn how to drive up on two wheels to get their licenses? Rather than expecting every rider to become a junior Danny Macaskill, I think it’s entirely reasonable for us to expect that the City not install roadway infrastructure that can cause anyone with reasonable cycling ability to biff it. That doesn’t make me anti-street car (I’m not at all), I think that just makes me reasonable.

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    • Scott April 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm

      I am all for special training for drivers. I have taken defensive driving, adverse condition classes, and always put cars/trucks that I own through skid pad and braking tests in controlled environments so I can be sure how my car/truck reacts in situations where it may be neccessary to someones safety to know these things. I am continually amazed by the bare minimum people are required to know to get a driver’s license and at cyclists who have low levels of skill in defensive and reactive safety.

      It is all well and good to look forward to a beautiful future where Bill Nye the science guy has created covered tunnels with artificial tailwinds in them to safely convey us to our destination. I want a bottom bracket force tripler too that makes all pedals strokes 3x more efficient, and on the off chance that I wreck, i want a flock of genetically engineered Pikachu’s to catch me and be super cute.

      The reality though is that even separated bike paths, higher levels of driver awareness in even the most bike friendly of city’s and real nationwide infrastructure to support cycling as a recognized mode of transportation are a decade away in the best case scenario. So be prepared for what you will encounter or be forced to face consequences ranging from taking out of the way and circuitous routes to avoid obstacles that you cannot deal with or risk a wreck. Easy peasy.

      Now, what about the glazed concrete in downtown that becomes amazingly slick in the rain. No one pipes in about that.

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      • Caleb April 13, 2012 at 9:38 pm

        [sarcarsm]Yeah, if only everybody could take their time to gain all the same skills you have! Certainly society wouldn’t be vastly different in ways even you consider negative.[/sarcasm]

        I’m for people being prepared to the best of their abilities, but you seem to be ignoring the possibility that some people have led lives that simply haven’t allowed them to learn the things you have, whether this has occurred by their conscious decisions or not. Yes, people could be more conducive to surviving anything if they had preparations like what you advocate, but we could also say people would be just as conducive to surviving if the things that killed them were removed from society through different choices than what had been occurring before.

        You have your strong opinion which lead you to make the choices you have. Everyone else has theirs.

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      • El Biciclero April 16, 2012 at 11:50 am

        I live on a 50-acre compound with a stockpile of weapons/ammo and my own water well and small stream, and have learned not only manual agricultural techniques (for when all the diesel goes away), but also animal husbandry, timber management, sawmill operation, food preservation, metal fabrication, woodworking, water purification, urban combat, Krav Maga, sniper skills, field surgery, shoemaking, sod construction, wilderness survival, long-distance swimming, animal trapping/fur trading, big game hunting (with firearms and bow/arrow), tai chi, and the ancient game of Go. I have a road bike, urban fixed-gear, longtail cargo bike, bakfiets, long-john, full-suspension MTB, hardtail MTB, folding bike, tandem bike, recumbent bike, and a tall bike–and I can bunny-hop them all over boulders.

        Gotta be prepared for anything…

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    • Steve B April 12, 2012 at 5:45 pm

      Exactly, Fred, and this is the spirit of the city’s approach to bike infrastructure going forward. All the more reason to hold planners of new transit projects accountable to the city’s own goals of attracting a wide variety of people onto bikes for transportation.

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    • dwainedibbly April 12, 2012 at 5:45 pm

      OK, let’s see you do it on a tandem, with a 9 year old stoker.

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  • mh April 12, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    I challenge any and everyone out there to bring me to the point where I can bunny hop. Lets schedule an educational afternoon, and I hope to be successful. Don’t expect it, but I certainly hope to.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) April 12, 2012 at 3:14 pm

      ooohhh! Who’s up for a bunny-hop meet-up one day after work at the Salmon Street Fountain? I’ll host it and bring some treats. The goal would be to teach folks how to do it and then to get a huge group in the air for a photo. Anyone interested? (It is spring after all and I bet there are still some bunny-themed party favors on the discount aisle 😉 ).

      here’s some inspiration (from Jamie at Metrofiets)

      Art Bike Parade at Cirque du Cycling-48

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      • Will Vanlue (Contributor) April 12, 2012 at 3:17 pm

        Ha! Just yesterday a guy passed by my house, saw my cargo bike, and said “Have you ever seen that picture of someone jumping one of those? It was on BikePortland.”

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      • Nathan April 12, 2012 at 4:50 pm

        Lemme know when! I’d love to help.

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      • was carless April 13, 2012 at 10:52 am

        I stand corrected.

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    • Doug Smart April 12, 2012 at 3:50 pm

      Here’s a start. You can find lots of similar videos on YouTube. Not that this can replace practice or completely replace one-on-one coaching, but a start.

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    • Nathan April 12, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      Best place to start is somewhere that there is a speed bump. Pull up on them bars to ramp up the bump and alight the pedals a bit and feel when the bike bounces with the back tire over the speed bump.

      Do this a bit and start trying to tug up the pedals by pushing back/pulling up with your feet. After 20 minutes I’ve gotten three friends a-hopping this way. (It’s sometimes called a J-hop, if you’re grouchy or whatever.)


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  • Paul Souders April 12, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    What is it about track crossings that make cyclists fall all over themselves (ha!) to blame the victim? Everyone imagines themselves to be invincible and have mad perfect handling skillz until exactly 0.2 seconds before their collarbone contacts the pavement.

    When it happens to you — and eventually, it will — it happens faster than that, usually while you are being your most invinciblest and mad-skillziest.

    And if you think you can always plan a route that avoids tracks, good luck crossing downtown.

    Could we (as riders) be more vigilant around tracks? Should we exploit local knowledge to avoid them? Well of course. But in what way does such a crappy attitude encourage the non “strong and fearless” contingent to Go By Bike?

    In what other realm of transportation infrastructure geekery are we so tolerant of this kind of injury?

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  • This one does April 12, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    This one does. And I see plenty of other “Average white liberal Portlanders” on the bus with me. Join us once in a while?

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  • Scott April 12, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    At this point, I would like to remind that my original rebuttal to other Scott’s statement was that you do not have to slow to walking speed and do an angle of 45 degrees to make it out from between the streetcar tracks. I maintain that you do not.

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  • dwainedibbly April 12, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    I think this issue would make a good question for our candidates for mayor. What are their suggestions for making current & future streetcar tracks safer for people on bikes?

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    • dwainedibbly April 12, 2012 at 5:47 pm

      Assuming that they see it as a problem, of course.

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    • OnTheRoad April 13, 2012 at 5:42 am

      Especially Charley since he was the big mover for streetcars when he was on City Council previously.

      Until he quit mid-term to work for an engineering firm that promotes streetcars.

      I asked one of his door-to-door campaigners about it and all he could answer was that Charley rides a bicycle.

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  • Dude April 12, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    You could always elect conservative leaders that aren’t trying to put rails down every street in town

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    • art fuldodger April 12, 2012 at 7:40 pm

      interesting thought — maybe the Cascade Policy Institute, avowed hater of all rail transit, should put up a candidate for city council – say John Charles – and form an alliance with the mighty Portland bike lobby? Yeah, I’ll see you in Hell….

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      • BURR April 12, 2012 at 8:22 pm

        not a chance in hell. Randal O’Toole would be all over that, he hates bicycles as much as he hates rail transit.

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    • Chris I April 12, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      And then we won’t have any spending on bike infrastructure either?

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      • Dude April 12, 2012 at 10:10 pm

        I think the time has come when most politicians do see the value in bike infrastructure. They also see the value of the constituents. I think republicans would indeed spend money on bike infrastructure as long as it isn’t something absurd, like several million for a mile of path. You would actually have more money to spend if it were under control. The days of run-a-muck spending are numbered.

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        • Chris I April 13, 2012 at 7:52 am

          Pro-cycling republicans are extremely rare. The vast majority support rural America, where bicycle travel is not practical. A great example is Wisconsin’s Scott Walker:

          He based his campaign on killing a new Amtrak line in Wisconsin; one that was mostly federally funded. He cancelled it once elected, saving the state a few million dollars. He then proceeded to initiate hundreds of millions in spending on highway projects. Oh ya, and he also eliminated bike/pedestrian funding:

          I can never trust a republican on transportation policy. Even if they say they support cycling. It isn’t worth the risk.

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  • Jim Lee April 12, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Michael Powell’s dingbat rattletrap streetcars lurch around corners like triplets of angry zombies in a conga line.

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  • BURR April 13, 2012 at 11:19 am

    any post about the streetcar is guaranteed to get 100 + responses

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    • Steve B April 15, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      half of which will include the phrases “bunny hop”, “learn how to ride” and “just get over it” — Gotta love the blame the victim mentality pervasive in our streetcar track and helmet debates.

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  • Tankagnolo Bob April 13, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Lets learn to ride. We can not afford to make the streets of nurf rubber. what about curbs, sign posts, brick walls. We have to learn to negotiate the concrete world. Can we now afford to have all the tracks pulled up and replaced. NOT. Learn to ride, be careful, walk across tracks if wet. I am SO glad to see bike lanes and green boxes, but we cannot afford to redo all tracks. Gone are the days when folks throw empty beer bottles at us on a regular bases as when I was a kid in the 1960s. Also, LETS SHARE THE ROAD, and thus win a bit of respect for the auto folks !!

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  • Aidry April 13, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    I can’t believe people here are agitating against streetcar tracks. If it weren’t for the streetcars, there would be many more private automobiles and public buses on the roads. Vehicles present a much greater & difficult to avoid danger compared to the fixed infrastructure of streetcars!

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  • Janis April 13, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    I got caught in the streetcar tracks recently on NW 10th or 11th– it broke my bicycle (permanently), messed up my hands, and gave me a permanent scar on my shoulder from a deep gash. I’m lucky I didn’t hit my head or get run over, especially since it was nighttime. I also fell into broken glass and am lucky it didn’t mess me up way worse. We need to address this issue– sure I knew the tracks pose a danger but it was dark, I was zoning out for a split second and poof! There I was on the ground with headlights coming at me quickly… not fun.

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