while a concerned citizen looks on.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
This morning a man was taken away on a stretcher with serious injuries and numerous cuts and scrapes after he lost control while bicycling down the NW Lovejoy ramp.
A witness who was driving his car up the ramp, saw the spill and called 911. I happened to be biking by and rolled over to get a closer look and find out what happened. According to the witness, the man was riding down Lovejoy in the bike lane, then as he started moving to the left across the adjacent streetcar tracks, “he started wobbling and then face planted.”
I was unable to make a definite confirmation that the streetcar tracks caused the crash; but given what I know about riding in that area and what the witness described, it seems pretty clear that the tracks were a contributing factor. The man’s bike had skinny, road-bike style tires.
The tracks on the Lovejoy ramp are relatively new. They were installed as part of the eastside streetcar line that is set to open on September 22nd. They run parallel and just a foot away from the bike lane. People riding bicycles gain speed going down Lovejoy and many people merge over the tracks (to the left) in order to make a left turn onto NW 9th at the bottom of the ramp (PBOT has installed a bike box to encourage a two-stage left turn (a.k.a. “Copenhagen Left”) that would avoid this movement but not everyone uses it).
Streetcar tracks are a major bike safety issue in Portland. Thousand of people have crashed and been hurt over the years, and the new eastside streetcar line — with a design that has raised many concerned eyebrows in the community for its lack of attention to bicycle access impacts — greatly expands the threat.
Pearl District residents have raised a red flag on the issue because they see so many people falling on the tracks.
A volunteer activist group, Active Right of Way, has created a streetcar crash reporting tool to document where and how the crashes happen.
The tracks scare people so badly, it prevents many — including one of the stars of Portlandia — from riding at all.
Just nine days ago, someone posted on Reddit about a bad wreck on NE MLK Blvd:
“… I rode west toward MLK and the took a left and headed down toward Burnside. It’s downhill the whole way and a really fun, yet scary ride, for an amateur urban cyclist like me… I ended up behind a group of maybe 5 cyclists… an unfortunate rider ate shit right in front of me… I stopped to see if everything was OK… I hopped on my bike and headed back down the hill. It only took about 5 more seconds before I thought I was weaving into a bike lane and my front wheel became locked in the new street car tracks. I was thrown down to the ground instantly. It wasn’t serious, but it knocked my front breaks loose and gave my elbows some gashes.
This is going to happen again. People are going to crash on their bicycles on these tracks. They aren’t marked and they look like bike lanes. they are dangerous and when there is bus and street car traffic they could be extremely dangerous.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the new street car addition, but holy shit, we need to get some NO BIKES signs or something. It wasn’t marked at all, and bike tires just slide right down into the grooves. VERY DANGEROUS. People are going to keep crashing in MLK traffic unless something is done.”
Even with growing signs that this is a major public safety problem, local leaders, planners, and policymakers do not seem to be taking it seriously.
The solution here is to get PBOT and Portland Streetcar Inc. to actually devote themselves to a solution. So far, they seem to think people should just “figure it out”. They have also reacted to this problem by saying that they’re still learning and that they’re doing better and that they’ll continue to improve bike access issues in the future. But it’s very clear to me and other people who care about public safety that streetcar planners are not sufficiently concerned about this issue.
I don’t think a City that is trying to increase bicycle ridership, with a Mayor who says safety is his number one transportation priority, should continue to ignore this problem.
I have said for years now that it will take a legal and financial obligation for PBOT and Portland Streetcar Inc. to finally work to solve these issues. I think one solution (I shared others over one year ago) would be to require, through Oregon law, that all federally-funded streetcar projects include a 1% set-aside fund that must be used to address bikeway access issues. This is the same thing our vaunted “Bicycle Bill” does for highway projects. Absent a financial set-aside, the legislature or the City of Portland should pass a law that requires streetcar plans to be signed-off by a bicycle safety committee before they are finalized. In addition, the City of Portland should be required to fund a public education campaign about how to operate a bicycle around the tracks.
What are your thoughts?
— For more on this topic, see our “bikes and streetcar” story tag.
I have an idea, don’t cross the tracks when going parallel.
Good that you’re such an expert. Now what do we do with all the people who are still learning how to ride a bike in a city environment? And what do we do about those late and rainy nights were these obstacles might not be so visible?
when I’m learning a new vehicle or area and come across a roadway feature or obstacle that I’m not familiar with I slow down or stop until I have identified how to proceed…
although I realize that most people don’t want to slow down for anything, even their own safety…
As a person that enjoys riding a motorcycle as well…no, that doesn’t work there either. Riding beyond your own skill and conditions still lands you in at least one of 4 places – the ground, doctor’s office, hospital, coffin.
Being acutely aware of limits does help avoid most, if not all of that for a long time. The biggest danger being everyone else on the road, of course. 🙂
Sounds like the cyclist was riding beyond their means – either faster than their skills allowed or too fast for the conditions.
Would that same “still learning” excuse work for someone on a motorcycle or in a bigger vehicle?
Is there ANYTHING on the road that causes crashes for people in larger vehicles as efficiently as streetcar tracks do for bikes? A large, unfortunately-sized pothole might do the same for motorcycle riders but that would be ONE pothole as opposed to MILES of streets with streetcar tracks. In my view, the fact is that streetcar tracks are objectively a bigger hazard to bicycle riders than anything except for other road users are to motorcycle and car drivers. If you think that contention is accurate, then maybe your analogy doesn’t hold. Maybe streetcar tracks are such a *large* hazard to people on bikes that something should be done to mitigate them rather than just telling people to increase their skill level.
How many track crossings are there every day in Portland alone (I imagine this number above 10k). How many crashes are known to be caused by the tracks each day?
I am going to estimate that the incident rate is less than 1%.
FWIW – I have crashed on the tracks before – during a nice warm day. 100% my fault for not giving the tracks the attention they deserved.
“…Maybe streetcar tracks are such a *large* hazard to people on bikes that something should be done to mitigate them…” Alex Reed
Sure…like what? Come up with an ingenious idea to mitigate the flange gap dilemma and you could possibly have it help you become a millionaire. To date, no engineer in the world has been able to come up with a really viable idea for allowing people to ride a skinny tired bike parallel to or at a steep angle alongside the tracks as part of a successful approach to crossing them.
Here’s my million-dollar “innovation”: provide an attractive, obvious alternative to riding in the lane where the streetcar is. I vote for a cycle track on the other side of the street. Others may vote for a buffered bike lane there or some other favored type of infrastructure. Whatever it is, it has to be super clear and *on the street where the streetcar is* in order to induce almost everyone who would otherwise ride between the streetcar tracks to instead use this obvious, non-dangerous alternative.
Or, we could just tell people to stop riding bikes…or leaving their homes at all. Problem solved?
I concur, that’s cycling 101. I don’t know how people are not getting the memo, but I still see it every day on my way through the south waterfront towards the Tram. Just scary to think about these people when it rains.
@davemess, regardless of why so many people are crashing on rails in spite of what seems obvious to some as an easily-avoided mistake, people are still crashing.
Educating our current ridership is one thing, but if we meet our city’s goal of shifting many many more potential riders from the “Interested but Concerned” column into the “Enthused and Confident” column, then we need to improve the built environment so that it’s inviting to riders who are new to city riding, or just new to Portland.
So educate the potential riders that they should always cross tracks at as close to a 90 degree angle as possible. Get some billboards out there, maybe some signs on the streets. PSAs on the radio. All of that will be cheaper than a massive redesign of the streets.
There have not been a lot of other suggestions on here to solve this problem. Other than get rid of the tracks, which we all know isn’t happening.
Be careful, slow down, and try to cross at right angles seems like a pretty easy and cheap way to go.
The tracks in Portland are laid out in a number of areas such that it’s basically impossible to cross all sets of them at anything near right angles. In other cases, crossing at optimal angles means making unexpected (by drivers, who don’t know about this issue) maneuvers that bring you into the path of heavy traffic (dangerous in its own way) and potentially run you afoul of the mandatory sidepath law. What would you suggest people do in these cases?
Perhaps the city should do something to mitigate this, just like we require them to install stormwater grates perpendicular to the path of travel and expect them to fix giant potholes in the road.
“I have an idea, don’t cross the tracks when going parallel.”
Fantastic. You should patrol every inch of Portland’s streetcar system and teach every new rider how to safely deal with the tracks. Let us know how that goes.
It’s depressing how we, as a collective minority (bikers), are incapable of identifying with new riders who are trying to make a positive change and subsequently being put in harm’s way. New bike commuters tend to be even more helpless than even they realize. They at least need a firm and consistent surface to ride on.
If the utilities in place require a newbie to possess the skill of a seasoned veteran in order to pass through unharmed, something is very wrong.
If your grandmother is afraid to ride here, things need to be improved.
If we, as supposed bike advocates cannot put ourselves in the position of our less-experienced cohorts, we make ourselves a**holes.
if that is what happened.
Perhaps some No Bike logo could be put in between the tracks at regular intervals to scare cyclists from trying maneuvers that get them in trouble? Certainly wouldn’t eliminate problems but I think it would help discourage people from riding in between the tracks which in my opinion contributes to problems. I know that’s what caused me to go down. Also putting Sharrows on a different lane anywhere that the streetcar tracks are on a street
I think this is the best we can hope for as a short-term solution. It may not be apparent to some that the tracks are hazardous.
I strongly support sharrowing the far left lane along MLK and on Grand, only because it’s the only reasonably affordable band-aid for the increased danger introduced by the streetcar project.
Since the standard use-cases for sharrows don’t apply to this situation since it’s not a low-stress secondary road, does anyone know whether that mis-fit creates a policy barrier to using sharrows there?
As for me, I ride on street tires 2.0 to 2.5 inches wide, and I cross the rails with smug impunity.
Yes it does. PBOT used sharrow markings on bike boulevards as wayfinding and as symbols for low-stress, family-friendly bikeways. That is not what they were intended for; but PBOT decided to use them because the feds would fund them (feds only fund fed-approved markings). Now they’re in a sort of a bind because of the mixed-message it sends if they were to use sharrow markings for the real reason they were intended for… on higher-volume roadways where there isn’t sufficient space for a bike lane.
This isn’t my opinion. This is fact. PBOT has said it themselves.
This would take longer, but what would it take to add dedicated, possibly even separated, bike lanes to the left of MLK and Grand? Even aside from the streetcar tracks, we could use really use a north-south route that isn’t the Eastbank Esplanade.
So, Jonathan, since MLK/Grand are high volume roadways with (thanks to streetcar) insufficient room for a bike lane, does that mean that it actually DOES fit the prescribed use case for sharrows?
yes, craig, that is actually what they were originally designed for. as jonathan said, PBoT made a decision to roll them out on the greenways as wayfinders because the federal funding component required that they use MUTCD compliant markings.
the result has been that they have been hesitant to use sharrows where they are actually appropriate, such as on northeast 28th, hawthorne, etc.
It’s only insufficient room if we assume that we’re unwilling to take away a motor vehicle lane. If that’s on the table, we could get an awesome buffered bike lane or cycle track!!
Wow. What a great idea.
1. Build dangerous infrastructure.
2. Cause bikes to crash.
3. Ban bikes from area.
The only time I ate shit were on street car tracks in San Francisco. This was after a 300 mile bike ride form NYC to Wash., DC with no issues.
Ok, I know I am going to get totally flamed for this but I’m going to say it anyway.
Of all the safety issues in this city regarding bikes, the street car tracks are pretty much at the bottom of my list. I ride near street car tracks pretty much every single day and it doesn’t scare me. Not one little bit. I can see the tracks on the ground very clearly. They aren’t confusing. They don’t pop up on me out of nowhere.
If I’m riding in a lane with street car tracks it’s not hard to stay in the middle. If I need to make a turn over street car tracks I just make sure I can hit them at an angle, or I make three right turns to go left (I’m from San Francisco and there you pretty much make three right turns to go left all the time no matter how you choose to travel).
True, there could be a stronger awareness campaign out there to maybe educate riders about the tracks. Or maybe riders can just be smarter. For example, maybe if you ride a route that involves street car tracks you should perhaps not ride a bike with ultra-skinny tires!!
I’m not trying to be cruel nor am I trying to write off people’s concerns. I’m just saying from personal experience that I think this issue is way overblown and in many cases boils down to careless riding.
(now I’m going to go put on a helmet to protect myself from the rage that is sure to follow)
I totally agree. If I biff on tracks, a curb, or some other piece of infrastructure, I take responsibility and tell myself I need to be more careful next time. I don’t look around for someone or something else to blame. It’s not the city’s responsibility to eliminate our need to pay attention while riding.
I agree that we shouldn’t absolve people of the responsibility to be careful… But the city has a responsibility to build our streets in a way that doesn’t increase safety risks. Your experience is all fine and good… but the fact remains that many people are crashing. If the same was happening to another group of road users, I think the response would be much different.
Storm drain grates are an interesting comparison. There are city ordinances that mandate how wide the gaps in those drains can be – and it’s specifically because of concerns about people’s bike tires falling into them. People have actually sued the city and the city has paid out for crashes due to them. The city responded by fixing the drains with another piece of metal welded on.
again. it’s great that this isn’t a problem for you guys… But personal anecdotes rarely make for good public policy that impacts everyone.
just a thought.
I agree that the city does have an obligation to build infrastructure in such a way that safety risks are brought down to a minimum. However, as many of us speak about at length on this very blog, they also have an obligation to provide transportation options. In this case, an option that many of us wanted, comes with the need for us a riders (and let’s face it, drivers too need to use caution when dealing with the street car tracks) to change our habits and use extra caution in specific areas.
Your example of storm drains is a bit extreme in my opinion. A storm drain is small and difficult to spot, particularly in the dark or in the early morning hours. When a person hits a storm drain it is not something they typically could have avoided by changing their riding style. Street car tracks are not hard to see by any reasonable standard. Heck, in the pictures on this very post the entire lane where the tracks exist is a different color.
I’ll give you a different example. Probably the worst crash I have ever experiences was when I was riding along on the street and I pulled to the right and rubbed up against the curb where the street jumps up to the sidewalk. I don’t think the city has any obligation what-so-ever to eliminate sidewalk curbs. I crashed because I was inexperienced. I crashed because I was riding too fast. I crashed because I wasn’t paying attention.
I agree with you that too many people crash on the street car tracks. I think a lot of times however it’s because cyclists aren’t treating the tracks with the respect and caution we should be.
Yes, but storm grates don’t have to be wide enough to catch bike tires and still function properly. Streetcar tracks have to have to be that size for the line to function.
You said: “If the same was happening to another group of road users, I think the response would be much different.”
I disagree. For every bike that crashes on the tracks, there are probably 5 motorists who drive off the road into poles, trees, or the like. Many drivers die this way. And yet, there is no wholesale attempt in the city to remove these objects. It’s understood that drivers are expected to drive with reasonable care, and that to clear all these hazards to protect them from their carelessness would negatively impact others. In our case, there are people that want to get around by streetcars, and we bicyclists are expected to use more care around the resulting hazards. I say share the road.
I disagree Unit.
People run into poles and other objects because they fail to maintain control of their vehicles. If the poles were placed directly in the roadway the comparison would work. This is a hazard placed directly in a roadway used by vehicles that clearly are not equipped to handle it… And thousands of people have been injured and you and others are trying to say it’s not a problem? I don’t get that at all. Obviously ppl are responsible for themselves, but if something in the roadway was causing motor vehicles or transit vehicles to crash this often it would be a major major issue that would be front page news and would be fixed quickly regardless of the cost.
I think you nailed it. Streetcar tracks can be hazardous, but likely avoidable in most cases. I hope the rider recovers soon. But citywide awareness and enforcement of basic traffic issues; speeding, etc., is a higher priority in my book.
I’m right there with you. I ride this section everyday and although I don’t take a left turn across them, I feel totally safe around the tracks (that goes for the tracks throughout the city). It’s unfortunate for this rider but I’m not sure why he’d try a maneuver like that in the first place (downhill, usually loads of traffic through there, across tracks).
On that note, however, I think the bike lane would benefit from some more sturdy/permanent barriers (I seem to recall a number of articles on this website about the flimsy barriers being knocked over/lost forever due to careless motorists) to prevent inexperienced riders from attempting a turn like this gentleman did.
Don’t be surprised when you’re caught out by that cavalier attitude. I used to be an adventurer like you, then I took a streetcar rail to the knee.
I rode plenty of winters in Minneapolis. Wet streetcar rails are as slippery as any ice, without a speck of snow to break your fall. There’s no sane reason to ride between the rails if you’ve got a paved lane just to the left.
Makes sense to me. I haven’t been near many streetcar tracks since moving to Cali but didn’t have problems riding year-round over them (and railroad tracks) in Portland and Beavertron. When having to cross parallel I would bunny hop into the middle. Not to belittle that they are of concern, but I agree with Andrew, there are many more intersections, er, issues deserving higher priority.
I also have to wonder if this was a fixed gear or just a single speed. Around here (Silicon Valley) it’s a common sight to see young* people having a visibly hard time controlling fixies, especially at intersections and hills. I had an experience a few years ago where I knew a girl was out of control and refrained from turning on my green arrow (to the horns of the drivers behind me) – she had angels on her shoulders that day as a non-observant driver would have hit her quite hard. No I’m not lobbing generalizations, but riding a fixed-gear bike downhill takes some skill, and I can’t imagine myself bunny-hopping mine into the middle like I did easily on my road or commuter bikes.
Speculation aside, I hope this rider recovers quickly and fully – we all know crashing sucks and we’re with ya buddy!
*(I qualify a person as young if they look ‘newer’ than some of the bikes I bought new a few decades ago :).
So the gap in the streetcar tracks is for the lip on the streetcar wheels, and bike tires also fit into the same gap. It seems there is a significant weight difference between the two, so is there a reason that the gap cannot be filled with some kind of springy material that is compressed by the streetcar, but not by the bike? I’m thinking low-tech, like a foam/sponge/rubber something.
Conversely have everyone ride around with mountain bike tires.
My smooth “road” tires are two inches wide or greater (depending on which bike I rode that day), and they just roll over the rails, at any angle, like they weren’t even there.
Those are called “flange-fillers” Rob. I’ve asked about these a lot but I always get the same response. “They don’t work”. Apparently, flange-fillers break down and fail to work on high-frequency lines. They are in use for more touristy trolleys that don’t run as much… But Portland Streetar Inc. folks say they’ve looked into it and – at least so far – don’t think they’d work. I’d like to know more about the fillers and perhaps see them actually try them here locally and/or build their own system.
Right. Why not do a limited pilot of flange fillers at one small location, to see how they perform over time?
Periodically replacing fillers that break down quickly might be cheaper than the inevitable lawsuits.
Rob, you are a genius.
I’ve thought of a similar thing as well. Perhaps even a long & flat piece of metal, the exact width of the gap, with springs underneath (welded to the underside of the gap filling metal piece), that would immediately fill the space after the train went over it. Bikes would not be heavy enough to compress the springs. (the metal may still be slippery when wet, but not as crash inducing as the current, archaic setup.
It’s 2012 after all, there’s gotta’ be SOMEthing that would do the trick. Engineers, whatcha’ say?
I wish a speedy recovery to the gentleman.
We, who ride bicycles, tend to pick up speed coming down the bridge and the corner onto Lovejoy can be tricky at those higher speeds. At first appearance I would tend not to blame the streetcar track placement for this crash though as there is ample time to slow down (or keep a slower pace for those without brakes); and as mentioned in the article, there is no need to take a direct left turn at the lights at the bottom of the ramp. The bike lane absolutely sucks down the ramp though, too narrow and often pocked with gravel.
Learning to ride on MLK ?
That sounds completely insane to me.
Because people never get confused, make wrong turns, or think they might want to ride on the roads they’d drive on?
Jon, thank you for this story. When I lived in The Wyatt (NW 12th/Marshall-Northrup, I was on Northrup side) I was having a dinner party on my balcony one night and I was watching a cyclist head east on Northrup (this was before they made it one-way going west only) and as the cyclist went to turn north onto 12th he ate it on the tracks. I was 10 floors up and it was night but we could see enough to see it was the street car tracks he crashed on. He had a shaved head, and I remember just seeing dark streams of blood coming down all over his head.. we rushed down to help.. those tracks can be scary. You really have to cross them at the proper angle, otherwise it’s a game of roulette.
<mode=broken record> trackless trolleys </mode>
No, that doesn’t fix the installed problem but at least don’t keep digging the hole deeper. Replace existing lines as track wear and other factors allow. Use paving patterns (bricks, cobbles, aggregate…) to reinforce the permanence of the route and put developers at ease.
Using 1%-for-bike rules, and still installing tracks, continues to make trolley streets hazardous or limited access for bikes (and wheelchairs, canes, walkers…) and leaves problems where bike (etc) routes cross trolley lines.
PS – I’m not against %-for-mitigation, just don’t think it goes far enough to solving the problem.
this seems serious enough to get the attention of Portland Streetcar… it helps that the BAC also just rode that same route…
glad that the driver was paying attention and the rider didn’t get run over…
IF the plastic bollards didn’t all get knocked down, this could have been prevented. I honestly never knew what what that copenhagen left thing was for at the bottom of the hill. I always though cyclist behind me would rear end me if I used that thing.
That seems to be a problem at a couple locations. The left turn box needs to be sufficiently far from BOTH car and bike traffic.
Signaling a stop should help as well as slowing early.
It’s a sad catch-22, that If they’d used bollards that actually do damage to cars which run over them, those same bollards would be a danger to people on bikes.
seems funny to me that no one here actually knows if the tracks caused this guys crash or not, yet are all to willing to put the cart before the horse. why did he leave the bike lane to begin with? The tracks aren’t going anywhere, so its time to start paying attention folks.
I hear you Jeff. I realize that. Perhaps I jumped the gun here and should have separated this into two posts. However, while I have a strong hunch the tracks contributed to this crash… and regardless of how this crash happened, the problem with the tracks remains in my opinion.
Darwin comes to mind. People will learn as awareness increases. Just like I don’t mess with Buses (I err on the side of staying well behind them) . And I don’t mess with long trucks with dubious intentions. I have people to feed.
Darwin is for the natural environment. this is a designed-in flaw that is dangerous to an existing sub-set of road users already in place at the time of building this streetcar system. It can be negotiated, but it takes complete concentration and attention from the rider to do so (no multitasking like watching for traffic or wayfinding while crossing the streetcar tracks).
I think the motor vehicle equivalent would be something that made vehicles flip over if they hit at the wrong angle, like the “SUV flip” except caused by the roads instead of trying to look “off-road capable” even when the vehicle will never get further from pavement than a gravel driveway. Make it as easy to not see as a streetcar track and if installed on a Monday the first lawsuit would be filed no later than Wednesday.
I could see an inexperienced rider making the mistake to merge left over those tracks but anyone else with some time in the saddle either knows how to do it safely or knows it’s best not to. I’d have never attempted that myself. I’ll take the bike box dude!
Didn’t you once post an article about the possible ways the city can mitigate this problem Jonathan? Something about some kind of rubber that can be inserted into the grooves that still allows the streetcar to run smoothly, but also prevents bike tires from sinking into the grooves and getting caught, but it was apparently considered too expensive?
I hate to be one of those people, but this issue never affected me until a recent crash on the streetcar tracks. I tend to be extra careful around them, and I have a hybrid, so the tires are slightly wider. They can still get caught, just not as easily. But the remarkable thing about my crash was that I wasn’t riding a bike. I was riding a scooter. Scooter tires are much wider than bike tires, and while it still feels somewhat nerve-wracking and I tend to be careful around them, I did assume a crash would probably never happen. I was very wrong. I was riding down MLK and needed to make a right over the tracks to get to my destination, and I guess I didn’t go over the tracks at enough of an angle, because my scooter fell to the ground with me on it. Fortunately I wasn’t going very fast since I was making a turn, but I still got some major road rash on my right arm, shoulder, and both legs.
In my opinion, the fact that even a motorized vehicle can be so significantly impacted by the tracks only underscores how serious of a safety concern this is. If someone on a scooter or motorcycle going more like 40mph were to wreck on the tracks, the outcome would likely be a lot more serious. And according to the guy at the scooter shop, this isn’t the first time he’s heard of this happening.
But from everything I’ve seen and heard over the years, with many of my friends having wrecked on the tracks, it appears that the city doesn’t care and will do nothing. It’s unfortunate, but I wonder if it will take someone threatening to sue in order for anything to get accomplished with this.
I see in your response above that it wasn’t expense, just that Portland Streetcar thinks they wouldn’t work well for a high-capacity streetcar. Perhaps they should look to find a solution that would work rather than just determining that one possible solution won’t and then throwing their hands up in the air and saying “Welp, guess we just have to live with it then!” Surely, there’s can’t just be no possible solution. Does this happen all of the time in the Netherlands too? What do they do over there?
Conjecture: The downed rider suffered some kind of medical incident–seizure, etc.–that resulted in wobbling and falling. In that scenario, the tracks might bring down the rider more abruptly without really being the cause–and the rider may even fare better than if he had wobbled way further left before falling.
Little pieces of plastic are useless….we need an actual divider at the Lovejoy ramp. This is a narrow bottleneck……on a ramp that was torn down not much over a decade ago…..then rebuilt, then torn up again to add the streetcar lines and narrow bike lanes….a constant cycle.
I feel like we have been playing with this ramp over and over again ever since the debate ranged as to what to do with the painted support columns they saved from the demolition….and where did those ever go btw? Probably sitting on a storage lot somewhere.
Stuff like this drives me crazy….they COULD have build the down ramp a few feet wider, OR they could have raised the bike lane to sidewalk height to provide for more bike/ped flexibility….or….
But instead we are again left with a dangerous section requiring an expensive retrofit…..sigh…..on NEW infrastructure.
I pretty much despise all aspects of the streetcar. When it first arrived in town, I thought it was pretty cool, then tried to use it a couple times as transit and realised it was pretty much a toy for the rich and the tourists. Kind of a death dance on the graves of the “pearl” for the removal of the Lovejoy Viaduct and the rail yards.
Pretty cool that my bus line was cut one week before the 148 million dollar new line was unveiled! I had better move to the Lloyd center I guess.
I try to avoid the tracks as much as possible, but remember, you are playing on their turf here, so nothing much will probably ever be done. Cynical? Perhaps, but that’s what it looks like to me.
Oh, and I love that in the first photo there is clearly a man bicycling between the tracks down Lovejoy. Ha!
Don’t confuse the expenses and budgets of Portland Streetcar, Inc. and Trimet. Your bus line was cut not due to the streetcar, but to financial issues with Trimet.
This is true, I concede. It’s still a kind of sting, though.
You aren’t the only one who feels that way:
“TriMet has three times slashed bus service since 2009, yet still found $3.75 million in its 2013 budget to fund ‘streetcar operations.’
“That sum would restore full service to four or five of TriMet’s major lines.”
This is a salient point. However, in the eyes of the common traveler, this distinction is all but lost. All they see is services being cut, with the justification that Streetcar could replace the trips that were once taken by bus.
Hmm, the commuters I see riding the line everyday seem to dispute your point about rich people and tourists. I don’t know where you live, but it definitely isn’t this neighborhood if you claim we are all rich. *sigh*
The ‘rich and tourists’ argument always get played out by anti-streetcar folk. All it says to me is: that person has never or barely ever ridden the streetcar.
I still remember seeing the guy next to me crash on the WNBR 2011. We headed up Grand and he was riding in the track-less curb lane, which suddenly became a partially finished rail line. The tracks were built north to south on Grand, so as we rode north, his lane abruptly became the middle of the new rail line. No warning, and hard to see at night. About ten feet further he went down. His rear wheel flew right by my face. I’m lucky I didn’t get taken out too.
Issues arise when change comes to our formerly bike-friendly streets. It will be interesting to see where the city is with all this in a few years.
we don’t need more ‘no bikes’ signs; we need less new streetcar tracks.
at least two comments here suggesting a barrier between the bike lane and the track. i would like to voice a contrary view. even before they put the track in here, the striped bike lane was inappropriate, on a downhill and next to a not very wide travel lane. the safer position for a cyclist was always several feet out in into the right travel lane. with the second lane now ending in a forced left at the bottom of the ramp, this has become even more essential, though the rail does crowd you a little on the left. generally, if i am not heading north, i am crossing over into the left turn lane, and i need to be able to assert my space in order to do this. i do not have difficulty crossing the track safely on 28s. i am not inclined to use the copenhagen box at the bottom, which as others have noted is not well placed. a barrier would actually prevent me using this ramp in what i believe is actually the safest way.
Perhaps they should raise the bike lane here on both sides about 4″? This would prevent careless drivers from driving in the bike lane, and careless riders from trying to cross the tracks at a bad angle?
Rails are incompatible with bike tires!
I tended to blame riders crashes on their inexperience or sloppy maneuvers until my wife’s crash on rails. She suffered a compound fracture of her arm and a broken pelvis. She was crossing at nearly, but not quite 90 degrees, but there was a little condensation on the rails.
As for experience, my wife spent some time on the velodrome, ridden STP in one day, crossed the country by bike, and was a regular bike commuter. If it can happen to her, it can happen to any of us.
Streetcars are a development tool, not a mode of transportation and they are being prioritized over bicyclists, who are actually a form of transportation.
Fewer streetcar tracks = safer cycling!
I hope this guy makes a speedy complete recovery and returns to back to the saddle. Eating cement blows all around.
However, I was going to throw out this solution to tracks on the road: Build wooden ramps before all the tracks that way cyclists can do “RAD” jumps over the tracks. Then if this works you install these on the back of delivery trucks so that cyclists can jump over those too.
Can we widen the sidewalk to the south and convert the sidewalk into a 10 foot shared-use path? This will separate bikes from the tracks vertically and reduce crashes dramatically. Advanced riders will still have the option to ride in the car lane. (Apologies if this has already been suggested)
the downhill sidewalk is plenty wide enough already, and it leads out of an MUP over the bridge. uphill is not a problem.
Steve B. actually sketched out this change for PBOT in our long campaign to get them to fix some of this stuff. As usual they had some reason for not doing it.
YO! PLANNERS! Why not put the eff-n things on the opposite side of the road as the already established bike lane? Who knows, you might save yourselves a ton of money when the lawsuits come pouring in… Just a thought.
Forgot to say… I hope the rider’s up and about soon.
People, we’re missing the obvious solution here. If too many bikes crash, it’s because the riders aren’t licensed! If this guy had bothered to get a bicycling license and register his bike, this crash would not have happened, period–cuz if I say “period”, that makes it unequivocally true.
Is there any ideas of designing something that fits in the track that allows pedestrians, wheelchairs, and bicyclists to walk/ride over it, but sinks down under much greater weight of a train?
Just an observation: the common advice for how to ride across tracks always focused on the angle, saying that the closer to 90° the crossing angle the better. What usually gets left out and, in my opinion, is as important as the angle, is that you must make sure that you have completed any turning maneuvers before crossing the tracks, i.e. your bike and body must not be leaning. Getting caught in the tracks is only one problem with tracks; losing traction is the other major reason for crashes. Jan Heine had an informative post on the issue a while ago: http://janheine.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/crossing-tracks-safely/
With all this trouble, the streetcar should be free. Eliminates cars, and bicycles could just get on and ride the streetcar with bike, instead of suffering fractured bones and broken teeth because of the streetcar. at least this would improve the situation, but no…..
In corvallis the city added a pedestrian island but failed to paint it yellow or put cones up during the construction. Someone who was used to using the middle turning lane it was replacing slammed into it damaging their car. The city was liable for the damage to the vehicle. At some point, and maybe it will be this guy since he looks to have hospital bills the city is going to be sued over the track alignments and designs. Having to pay some big dollar settlements is probably the only thing that will get their attention since they are clearly aware of the problem but not taking any action.
Read the fourth paragraph of this article from Seattle…
Granted, it’s not Oregon, but still.
I’m sorry to say this but I cringe when you bring up this topic again and again. I understand the safety impacts of streetcar tracks on bicyclists and have wiped out once myself when I was riding negligent (not paying attention) so I am sympathetic.
I agree that more needs to be done to accommodate cycling in streetcar projects, I am just sick and tired of the usual knee-jerk anti-streetcar (“rip em out!”) vitriol from the usual people. Every single time. These comments are as unconstructive as you can get, considering that the rails are here to stay but they just don’t seem to ever get it. And I feel like you can encourage this sometimes with your writing.
I am no streetcar apologist, I understand how slow it is and want to do things to improve the service, like install signal priority and remove excessive stops, to make sure it serves as much of a transportation purpose as a placemaking one. Unlike what these commenters seem to have set in their minds, commuters depend on the streetcar as their main mode of transportation to get to work, school and other services daily. And Trimet cuts to ther neighborhood routes have made the situation with travel times even more pressing.
This is meant for these commenters and not yourself personally, but denigrating one form of sustainable transportation to build up another is very myopic, and honestly a waste of our time and resources.
I hear you Pacforth. But hey, people are pissed. Their friends are getting hurt and breaking bones and so far there has not been an adequate response from anyone at PBOT or Portland Streetcar Inc. If my writing encourages it, I would say look at the facts I am working with. The facts encourage it. 1) Many people are getting hurt 2) Streetcar folks are admitting that their tracks are bad for bikes 3) there are many design issues on the new eastside loop, and so on and so forth.
I’m not denigrating streetcar to build up bicycling. That’s not how I roll. But I won’t stay silent while streetcar is designing its projects without enough care and attention to this issue. I will also continue to call out the fact that we are spending a huge amount of money and political capital on streetcar projects… And that I think we should spend more of that on bicycle projects. The balance is way off and it needs to be fixed.
Bunnyhop. Recommended 3
I have a 1983 RANS Stratus modified to use 700c wheels on both ends, it’s about 10 feet long, weighs 40 pounds, and places the rider’s legs parallel to the ground. I’ll give it to you if you can bunnyhop it over the tracks without crashing within 3 tries.
Not if it was a fixie – I’m still curious as it’s clearly either a single-speed or fixed-gear bike in the picture.
It seems like every time a cyclist get hurts, whether it’s from a right hook at Wheeler or streetcar tracks on Lovejoy, it seems like so many cyclists feel the need to tell us why they are a better rider and why that would never happen to them. We’ve adapted so well to poor infrastructure that we blame those who haven’t done the same.
What’s especially frustrating about the tracks is that it’s a new hazard, and a completely predictable one at that, and yet the city didn’t do anything to prevent it. We don’t need bandaids. We need better design. It’s time to want and demand more, no matter how good our individual skills.
So what is your solution for the tracks, and if you want to get rid of them, are you willing to give up rail transit in the city? I don’t think people are trying to brag about their riding skills here, just trying to emphasize the fact that there are a lot of bad/poorly skilled riders out there, and every accident might not be the fault of infrastructure.
I 100% agree with your last statement. We do need better design, across the entire city. Heck, we need it across the entire country. In the story before this one someone made the comment that if you had more seperated bike paths or cycle tracks you would see the number of people on bikes grow to 50% wherever they exist. I’m totally on board with that.
Where I think we get lost is when we fixate on one single problem, like the street car tracks in this case. When we cry and bitch about this one issue we get a band-aid solution. Then a new issue pops up, we cry and bitch about that (as we often have a right to) and then we get another band-aid solution to that one problem.
As a community I think we need to take a step back and focus our voice on the bigger picture.
Well said, Daisy. Thank you.
There’s an old man riding in the middle of the tracks in the background of the top photo, and he seems to be doing just fine.
“So far, they seem to think people should just “figure it out”. ”
Not a winning strategy.
The west side streetcar tracks are all on calm streets, 2 lanes wide or less, not on busy commute routes.
The east side tracks are on hellishly busy streets, high speeds, commuter and truck routes. Lots of bikes, cars, trucks, traveling at high speeds, with tracks running willy nilly all over the place, where even experienced riders familiar with the route get tripped up.
A separated, high speed bikeway system parallel to the streetcar routes is needed.
This is a good point. On busy roads, it becomes necessary to maneuver more, which is dangerous when you’re near streetcar tracks.
If the powers that be fail to take action, then we can take care of the problem ourselves alone by taking DIRECT ACTION. Organize a midnight paint bucket brigade and paint (yellow?) those damn streetcar lanes. Also, paint words of warning and arrows to make cyclists aware of the tracks. I almost went down a while ago, on NE Grand, and with 80,000 miles of urban riding experience, I’m a bit of an expert, so it can happen to anyone. I was very fortunate that it was my rear wheel that got caught. For a split second, I was preparing to go down, aware that a car was coming up behind me on my left, so I’d need to dive/roll right. Then, just as suddenly and very luckily, my rear wheel simply popped out of the track. Whew!
I hope the injured rider recovers quickly.
The only way to get attention is for a B.A.L. to be filed. (Big *ss Lawsuit). I’m not normally one to suggest suing as a spectator sport, but the only way that Portland Streetcar and the City are going to take this issue seriously. You put a serious hazard in the roadway, in the lane that vulnerable users are supposed to use, and you ignore the inevitable crashes? All I can say is that I hope I get called to be on that jury.
Fortunately, out in the Beav, there aren’t too many tricky rail alignments people riding bikes have to deal with…yet. The WES train, Lombard to Farmington is about it. I favor light rail and street car as mass transportation, but especially because I so infrequently have to do it, crossing the tracks on a bike where they run with the street does leave me uneasy.
Rather than something that can be assumed will work out without much thinking about it, it seems that crossing streetcar and other street aligned tracks safely is an acquired skill.
I realize El Biciclero in a comment earlier was going for a big sarcastic hee-haw…and it was kinda funny…in connecting this bike on streetcar track crash with the Huckaby bike license-registration controversy, but in so doing, a point was brought to mind: If people were encouraged to study up and test for a riders ‘license’…’certificate’ …whatever ultimately the nature of the beast might be if it were to become law, instruction in crossing in-street tracks could be an important part of the procedure.
Better of course, to come up with some ingenious idea for a flange filler, which so far hasn’t happened, but seemingly not for lack of wanting or effort. Until some viable good idea does come forward, looks like everyone riding is going to have to figure out how to get over the tracks without dumping. Considering the wide range of different types of people riding, bunny hopping probably isn’t going to work for all of them.
5t Street. Eastbound. The track for the siding that services the industrial area east of 217. The track crosses the bike lane at about 30 degrees. My wife crashed there once.
PBOT still hasn’t done one of the simplest things they could do here to reduce that merge: Put up a sign showing the Copenhagen left. They don’t have one up at Multnomah and 7th either.
Time to harass SAFE again, I guess.
(BTW, sorry for the snark in some of my other comments. I just get really tired of hearing people say that this problem would be fixed if only everyone was as awesome a rider as them.)
Yes, & we should note that AROW asked for that about 18 months ago, we made some sample signs on their whiteboard for them. There are some obvious things like this that would make a big improvement…
There should be signs. That could help tremendously.
A rider doesn’t need to be awesome to cross the tracks safely.
Thousands of people do it every day and I doubt that all of them have awesome riding skills.
Thanks Alexis. I’m really tired of all of the victim shaming. I expect more from fellow bike advocates.
$44,000,000 and they couldn’t afford to make it safe. That seems disingenuous at best.
Someone please name a hazard–built into the roadway–that can cause skilled drivers to crash their cars unless they employ precision driving techniques to avoid crashing.
How about this: let’s line both sides of driving lanes with steel, retractable bollards that pop up and retract at random times–no, let’s make it regular intervals–to create a channel that is about 6.5″ wide. We can space the bollards on each side about 10′ apart. This would give drivers two choices: time it just right so none of the bollards pop up under you (that would flip your car), or drive precisely down the middle of the channel so if one pops up, it does so an inch or two from your fender, but doesn’t flip you. I think the 10′ spacing on each side would allow for 70- to 110-degree crossing/turning angles without the risk of getting flipped. Well, OK, three choices; third choice being “use a different street”.
Or this: we could make driving lanes exactly 7′ wide and separate them with foot-deep, foot-wide channels cut into the pavement (for drainage, you know). Each channel would be covered by a series of spring-loaded metal grates that would each support about 400 lbs. Drivers would be able to cross these channels if they lined their tires up precisely so that each wheel was supported by two adjacent grate panels (that should give enough support for a 1600-lb front end/back end), but could not “drift” across a channel without dropping wheels into it. We could separate bike lanes like this, too…
We could make driving down streets like this part of the driver’s test to be sure all drivers had the skills to deal with them.
All roadways for cars could be like driving into Oilcan Henry’s garage.
“he started wobbling and then face planted.”
First off, I really do hope that the rider makes a full recovery and he is back on his bike soon.
But, when I hear that he was wobbling, it really makes me wonder what was going on to start with. I wasn’t there so I won’t speculate. But, I did get caught in the tracks once (with at least 26×1.5″ slicks no less) and I do not remember a lot of “wobbling.” I remember a sudden jerk of my handlebars and remember smacking into the fender of a small pick up that was waiting for the light to change (was going slow, no damage thankfully).
Just makes me wonder if the tracks were only part of the problem. I have said all I am going to say abuot using caution on tracks since they are a known hazard in previous posts.
While I haven’t had an issue with the Streetcar tracks, I have run afoul of the old freight tracks in the NW industrial area and I think this points to a future issue that we need to make sure we are preparing for and mitigating now.
After long term use, the rails in the NW (and I bet the streetcar will see the same in the future) were sunk into the ground from the cumulative weight. This creates a lateral slope into these tracks that simply sucks in round wheeled vehicles (bicycles, as opposed to square sidewalls like on a car with much larger surface area of the contact patch) and drops our narrow tires into the tracks.
I ride across and parallel to streetcar tracks every day, and I am already concerned for when these settle down into the roadbed. For now the ground is generally level, but it won’t take much to start creating the same things we see with the more extreme wear in the NW.
While this particular crash seems like a high speed + ride discretion issue, with the amount of parallel riding to tracks we are expected to take, i can only see this happening more and more.
The tracks don’t ever move so you can SEE them and always know their location. If you can’t see them you are out riding your lighting or not paying attention… be aware and take the tracks in a manner that doesn’t ruin your pants.
Ride a bike long enough and you’ll wipe out on the tracks. I’ve slammed a few times and I’ve had awkward recoveries in the best of times.
I had a nasty slam on tracks in lake oswego, moving fast across tracks in a rain storm 50 miles into a century ride – I’m still shy around tracks after that one. I was cocky and bunnyhopped the tracks forgetting that the big rubber mat was also super slick – SLAM! Not the stationary objects fault – my fault for not being sensible about the obstacle – easy.
Roads. Are. For. Cars. Right, wrong, or otherwise… In a world where it’s roughly ten thousand tourists vs. over a million residents, I remain surprised, still, when the folks at BPDO muster dismay enough to become incredulous at being ignored.
I can’t count how many readers here have called other readers names for even asking questions about urban, narrow-gauge rail, let alone criticizing the dang things. You wanted it, now ya got it; and now you’re gonna whine that it sucks. O. M. Effing-G. Priceless.
What are you gonna do now that La Hood and his ilk are gone?
Take your concerns to the board of Portland Streetcar, Inc…but wait…you can’t, because they don’t talk to anyone but themselves.