Twelve years after Portland Streetcar added its rails to city streets, it’s still a Portland rite of passage to crash your bike on its tracks — and it’s still a maddening problem for the handful of people trying to solve it.
“I just can’t believe that in a place like Amsterdam or any number of European cities where they have had girder rail — I can’t believe that somebody hasn’t figured this out,” Portland Streetcar consultant Carter MacNichol said in an interview Wednesday. “But apparently they haven’t.”
MacNichol, who occasionally researches the issue on his own time, said he’s currently hoping for an email reply from veloSTRAIL, a German company that makes plastic inserts for urban rail crossings designed to collapse beneath a streetcar wheel but not beneath a bike. But veloSTRAIL, he said, seems to be designed for T-shaped ballasted tracks — not the C-shaped girder rail used by Streetcar.
The essential problem for all such inserts, MacNichol said, is that they have to reliably bounce back into place after the streetcar passes by.
“If it doesn’t come back, it probably will be more dangerous, because people will think it’ll come back but it won’t be,” he said.
Meanwhile, the website Streetfilms yesterday shared news of a similar product being used in Zurich. Videographer Clarence Eckerson also made this video showing how skillfully many of that city’s bikers navigate the tracks:
Some of us, of course, are more skilled than others. I never thought I’d fall on the Streetcar tracks until the day I did, botching a right turn while southbound on Martin Luther King Boulevard. This summer, a doctor whose practice is in the Pearl District joked ruefully to me that he sees so many streetcar injuries that he should be offering the city a commission.
Steve Bozzone of multimodal transportation advocacy group Active Right of Way wrote last week that his organization’s streetcar crash reporting tool attracts 90 voluntary reports each year.
Art Pearce, a streetcar project manager for the City of Portland, said he doesn’t know of any active effort in the city to look for solutions to this ongoing problem.
Ted Buehler, also of Active Right of Way, said his own research has shown that the eastside streetcar tracks are more dangerous than the westside — both because the eastside tracks are on bigger streets with faster traffic, and because they were often set into the street with a bigger bump between the track and the pavement.
“They did a poor job of installation, and so the rail might be three-eighths or a half-inch above the pavement versus one-eighth to a quarter inch,” Buehler said of the eastside track, based on 20 measurements he’d taken during construction. “The higher the bump, the more likely it is to knock you off balance.”
MacNichol, the Portland Streetcar consultant, said he hasn’t given up hope for a plastic solution.
“It might be a great patent that you could get if you could figure it out. I wish I could,” he said. “Believe me, I think it would be a great thing if we could figure it out.”
Obviously people are of different riding skill levels, but if you can, bunny hop into the middle of them instead of trying to straddle the small space between the track and the painted lane line.
Our problem is filling the flange in the rail, the “Strail” product doesn’t do that, it fills the space between the rails, which we already do.
The photo from Zurich is much more interesting, since it shows a flange filler. I’m trying to connect with the folks doing the trial in Zurich.
Thanks Chris for your continued attention to this problem.
On a web search I came across this “Bike Plan Source” page
This stuff may be years old.
There was an answer to Jeff Smith’s question about this, that made a lot of sense. Glenn Grigg, PE (Curpertino, CA), wrote that the girder rail doesn’t have enough room in it’s flangeway for the rubber material to compress far enough to clear the wheel flange. When you’re using T-rail, you can have a piece of rubber next to it, and it can compress a long way. But not with Girder Rail, unless I suppose it was a really low-density foam, and then would not have a long life!
Sounds like the answer may be to not use girder rail on the next line, unless a girder rail with deliberate space for a flange filler is designed. Or, as Mike Ronkin points out on the same page, “bike riders should learn to ride more competently!”
Sounds like the answer may be to not use girder rail on the next line…
That’s a tall order. The type of rail determines the type of wheel. So if you switched to a new rail type, there’s a strong possibility you could not run any of our existing rolling stock on it.
The first MAX line in 1986 pretty much locked us in to the choice of girder rail. But I think that’s true of many/most light rail systems in this country. I don’t think we’re an outlier.
Doesn’t the MAX use T-rail in the open tie sections? It seems like there should be a compatible rail section out there. I understand that the wheels ride on the flanges when going through switches, but other than that aren’t they riding on the railhead, not the flangeway?
Two important facts from the VeloStrail subsection of their product website:
(1) it is made of vulcanized rubber, mostly recycled tires. This would greatly enhance cycle life
…. [a] width wise, from outside the rail ROW to the opposite side, there are 5 basic pieces: 2 outside the rail, 1 piece that spans the whole width inside the rail and 2 pieces on top of the center piece touching the rail.
(2) the part that would be most worn by rail abrasion seems to be the smallest and easily replaceable.
Picture #7 from their gallery page for VeloStrail (http://www.strail.de/index.php?id=231&L=1#) seems to show this product completely flush with the rail.
Alas the video is Flash and I can’t watch it 🙁
To answer the question in the headline: no.
Fat tires, dammit. Size matters. Not necessarily a cure-all, but definitely a cure-lots.
I crashed on the NW streetcar tracks, with 47 mm (1 3/4 inch) tires.
Well crap, but at least we have a data point. I have a hard time with people claiming tracks are deadly, versus that video, versus knowing how many people are out there on 25mm tires, which are a complete disaster on tracks (you can fall all the way to the bottom). Hearing that a mo-ped wiped out is not so good, either.
For reference, for me, “fat” is 60mm — and slick. Tires with tread can be really obnoxious on linear road imperfections.
Your tires and tubes might weigh more than my road bike frame.
Or just avoid the streetcar tracks (ride a lane over or any other street) and when crossing them use caution. It shouldnt be that difficult to know that narrow flanges and narrow wheels dont mix. Streetcars arent new, bikes arent new, and streetcars and bikes together arent new.
Amen, but that’s apparently too much to ask of many people on this site.
Yes, seems a few advocate very expensive infrastructure “pillows” to protect them from every risk life has to offer. Active transporation has it’s risks. I have think of 3 dozen more dangerous things than a streetcar track on this cities roads. They’re avoidable or easily crossed if you choose to use basic mental capacity.
Please see Bill Cosby’s old stand up routine on why the removal of see-saws and other “dangerous” playground equipment is the cause of all social ills in our youth these days.
Mostly tongue in cheek but builds up to a reasonable argument.
Solution: don’t ride your bike on streets with rails. When people ride down streets with rails, they take a calculated risk. They think that the time they save is worth the risk of falling. Most of the time they save the seconds or minutes and don’t fall. Sometimes they fall. If people were better at risk calculation, they would stay off roads with rails.
So as more roads get rails, more roads are effectively closed to bicyclists. Is that what you want?
How many roads have enough rail installed that they are “closed to bicyclists”? I can only think of a few blocks on Lovejoy that fit that description. Every other street has an adjacent lane that you can ride in.
“How many roads have enough rail installed that they are “closed to bicyclists”?”
How about MLK and Grand?
Exactly. Thanks to the new tracks, MLK and Grand – LONG stretches of street – have become unusable by all but the most extremely Strong & Fearless types, at least if you accept the above rule about not riding in lanes with tracks. That would put cyclists into the second lane. But those who are uncomfortable dealing with tracks certainly aren’t going to want to ride an extra lane over! (And it would probably be illegal anyway, since Oregon’s keep-to-the-right law probably doesn’t provide an exception for streetcar tracks).
So in other words, MLK and Grand are now effectively closed to bicyclists under the rule proposed above. I’m often one to say “deal with it” (or “learn to ride”) when people on 23c racing tires complain about things like cobbles and potholes (I ride on 38-42mm tires specifically because of urban obstacles and traction issues in the wet, and as an experienced mountain biker consider myself quite skilled and dealing with technical obstacles), but I do avoid most roads with streetcar tracks on them.
And yet, it’s still unavoidable sometimes that you have to ride a brief distance on a road with tracks, or deal with an acute-angle crossing. Anyone who actually rides their bike around the Portland core is going to run into such situations regularly.
It’s worth trying to find solutions, and also to demand that Portland Streetcar, Inc., do a better job in the future of routing their lines to reduce conflict with established (and new) cycling routes.
It’s also worth advocacy of actually teaching people better ways to ride around tracks. It seems like there are a lot of people out there who don’t seem to know.
It is perfectly legal on a one way road to ride on the far left hand side. I do this for a two block stretch every day coming off Ankeny so I can get to the Burnside Bridge. No one needs to ride in the second lane as suggested.
Better yet, don’t ride on roads with cars. When people ride down streets with cars, they take a calculated risk. They think that the time they save is worth the risk of being hit. Most of the time they save the seconds or minutes and don’t get hit. Sometimes they get hit.
The “just don’t ride there” solution is a slippery slope. Really, there is no risk-free place to ride.
Treat all rails as if they were black ice or an oil slick.
Make your turns before your tires contact the rails or after your tires clear; same for braking maneuvers.
If you go in to the situation with the assumption that you have almost no control over where your tires go on a set of metal rails you are on the right track.
“…you are on the right track.”
I love abusive alliteration but you can never top that Oregon TV anchor from 1970: “the blast blasted blubber beyond all believable bounds”!
Tracks are a really long manhole covers with a tire-eating groove next to them. I have found that vertical angle matters almost more than angle relative to the tracks–at least when it is wet out.
If you get stuck crossing tracks at a shallow angle, my advice (what do I know, though?) is to get perpendicular (90 degrees between you and the ground), grip your handlebars deathily so as not to allow your front wheel to be influenced by the groove, lighten your front wheel if possible (bunny-skip?), and be prepared to fishtail a little if the rail tries to grab your rear wheel.
I treat the streets with the rails as abandoned minefields. “Feelin’ lucky?”, I ask myself, “yeah, I’ve made it through before…”
I also have no illusions this will ever be fixed. Just gotta take yr chances if you wish to bike these roads. But hey, I’m glad someone’s looking in to a solution other cities(not in America) would do.
It’s a rather simple solution. Don’t put bike paths along side train tracks. Where they do meet make sure the bike route crosses at a right angle only.
I live on 17th St in San Francisco California, between Church and Sanchez. The wiggle goes directly down my street, turning left from Sanchez on to 17th and then continuing east past Church. The street car tracks also go down 17th and turn both left and right at Church. The bike path is on 17th St. I have seen or heard a dozen crashes on 17th St in the past year, I called for an ambulance 4 times, and took someone to the hospital this month. I have seen 2 motorcycles crash on the tracks, one of which had at least a 200 mm rear tire and that was a dry day! One day the ambulance was picking up one crashed cyclist and while it was double parked, another cyclist crashed going around it. A USPS van was double parked (there is a theme here) and a cyclist crashed and broke his wrist. I asked the postal carrier to move closer to the curb. He did, moving the van to 3 feet from the curb. After driving the cyclist to the hospital I returned home to see a USPS van double parked in the street. I told the driver I had just taken a man to the hospital because of the double parked USPS van and could he move his van to the curb. He was very resistant to this, finally telling me he was not supposed to park closer than 3 feet to the curb and to never back up!
Until cyclists start making a fuss, traffic hazards will not be eliminated. Most changes happen when people die. Do we really want to wait until someone dies on the tracks to call it a problem? Every time I bring this up, someone tells me that they or someone close to them,has crashed on the tracks. Cyclist skill improvement can reduce, but not solve this problem. This requires road surface, routing, parking elimination, and other improvements.
Why is this story news? If we constantly chastise motorists for driving distracted and not paying attention to their surroundings (and rightly so), isn’t it only fair to ask the same of bicyclists to look out for static rails that are usually moving parallel to the direction of travel? There are only a few intersections that are truly hairy, and those are on Lovejoy or right by the streetcar barn. You know what I do on streets with tracks? I usually take another lane. There is no statute mandating that cyclists have to stay to the right no matter what. If you think a bike lane is so poorly designed that it causes a right hook or dooring hazard, don’t use it! Same goes with lanes that have streetcar tracks. People who insist on riding in the 2 feet of space between the curb and the track make me cringe.
The problem is that street car infrastructure overlaps bike infrastructure. That infrastructure is mainly for new riders and riders with kids. The same people who don’t feel safe “taking the lane” to avoid the street car tracks that are in the bike lanes are the people that are most likely to fall on them. This isn’t a cyclist fault problem, this is a problem with the city planners being blind to the needs of bicyclists. The only “real” solution would be to go back in time and ban streetcars in Portland. Streetcars tracks and bikes are INCOMPATIBLE. I hope to god they never come to Eugene and screw up our streets like they did Portland.
Thats ridiculous, one could easily say that about blindly banning bikes and unfortunately many do. There is no reason why they cant coexist like in many of the best bicycling cities of the world. This is a street design issue and an unwillingness to transform our streets away from the car with dedicated separated cycle infrastructure and separate transit lanes instead focusing exclusively on auto speed and throughput.
accidentally upvoted, but wish I could downvote… I hope you really aren’t a rep from webikeeugene…
the video clearly shows bicyclists having no trouble around streetcar tracks… a sight seen many thousands of times a day here in Portland…
“people who don’t feel safe “taking the lane” to avoid the street car tracks that are in the bike lanes”
I don’t know of anywhere that there are streetcar tracks in a bike lane AND taking the lane doesn’t also have streetcar tracks… maybe the tracks cross a bike lane, but you won’t be able to avoid the tracks by getting out of the bike lane…
Interesting info here: http://maxfaqs.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/rail-and-switch-review/
I was looking for info on the width of that gap, versus the width of the wheel flange that must fit in that space. And it appears that both styles of rail may be used, depending on circumstances.
And a second choice with a good cross-section picture: http://seattlest.com/2007/04/16/seattlest_urban_archaeology_club_the_seattle_municipal_railway.php
A third source of info on rail profiles, including measurements (PDF, see page 10): http://www.modernstreetcar.org/pdf/circulator_trackway_report_final_3_30_07.pdf
Based on this, again, I recommend fat tires. No need to ban bikes, no need to be incredibly picky about riding style, and at most commuter speeds (e.g., as shown in the video from Zurich) they have lower overall resistance.
I was just in several cities in Europe with lots of tram and light rail tracks, including Zürich and Montpellier. I saw very few people riding with tires skinnier than 32c, and lots of people were riding very confidently around and between streetcar tracks. In Montpellier at least, there were a lot of spots that were car-free areas, specifically meant for pedestrians, streetcars, and, judging by the presence of a few bike share stations, also bicycles.
If you’ve never been to Zürich, I recommend going into google maps and checking out just how crazy and comprehensive the streetcar system is there; Central and Paradeplatz are especially bewildering/amazing, with tracks and switches (!) going in about five different directions! Trams run as frequently as every 5 minutes during the day, 10-15 late in the evening, and they seem to go *everywhere*. That’s every 5 minutes on each *line*, and some of the downtown transfer hubs have up to ten lines meeting in one spot!
At the same time, bikers are accustomed to both dealing with streetcar tracks and cobblestones, I assume from a fairly early age. I think that part of the problem in Portland has been that streetcar tracks are being laid in areas with still limited* bike access, and that dealing with the tracks isn’t a normalized activity because there haven’t been a lot of them.
This is a rider skill and equipment (for cyclists) choice issue. 700 x 35 tires means less worry. We have a lot of relatively new riders on the road and many of them just don’t know what the hell they’re doing yet.
I’ve known people that have crashed on streetcar tracks…
I’ve never known any sober adults that have crashed on streetcar tracks…
they’re a stationary obstacle and you get no official sympathy for crashing into such things… you saw it coming, you need to plan accordingly… sure, we’re sad that you’re hurt, but use more caution next time…
I totally disagree.
My 60-year old mom nearly split her chin open on the NW Lovejoy tracks a few years ago. She was only guilty of riding her bike on a street with poor engineering and a lack of thoughtful accommodation of people riding bicycles.
And my friend’s young son cracked open his forehead earlier this summer in the NW Lovejoy area. He’s way to young to drink. Again, his only mistake was riding his bike in a place that is very poorly thought out for bicycle riding.
To me, this is a major problem of design and apathy from PSI and PBOT to really address the problem with the urgency it deserves. People are spilling blood and breaking bones on a regular basis and PBOT/PSI act as if it’s just a minor thing. It’s absurd to me.
We need mandated set-aside funds for all rail projects that go to enhancing/building high-quality adjacent bikeways and we need strong policy language that says no rail project can do anything that decreases the quality of the bicycle network.
People crash because of potholes and leaves as well. Budgets are limited, and we can’t remove all of the risk out there. It’s also a good idea to wear a helmet that fits and is properly strapped down, if you want to prevent forehead injuries.
What if an affordable solution for a rail development would cause a very minor inconvenience to bike facilities, such as a 1 block detour, but be otherwise considered cost effective by most stakeholders?
Until active transportation has the same political clout as freight, I doubt you will see any absolute rule making declaring that streetcars can never negatively impact facilities. And we see how shortsighted the freight version of such rules can be when applied already.
Portland Streetcar isn’t going to engineer a solution. The political will doesn’t appear to exist that would get your planning rule implemented. Maybe you can drum up that support, but even on your own site reactions appear mixed. Worth considering, IMHO.
THEN DON’T RIDE THERE – the occupants of Portland cannot be tasked with wrapping each biker in bubble wrap!!!!!
I was going from one meeting downtown to another near PSU, taking a route I had not ridden before. I had taken the lane adjacent to the streetcar when a car came up beside me and basically moved into my space, forcing me over into the streetcar. It was wet, I couldn’t stop in time. My commuter is heavy enough that I couldn’t bunny hop over the tracks. I got my front wheel over, but my back wheel caught and I got slammed down. Trashed my wheel, hurt my wrist, but probably better than being sideswiped by a car. I was not drunk, and I have been riding as my primary transportation for about 20 years. It only takes a split second to forced into a bad situation. I normally avoid riding parallel to tracks, but sometimes it happens. I resent the implication that only incompetence or drunkenness explains wiping out on tracks.
and your example sounds like a rare situation that is irrelevant to any attempts to “fix” tracks at intersections or crossings.
This is a non-problem.
Do not ride parallel to tracks.
Cross tracks as close to a perpendicular angle as possible.
Slow down before you encounter tracks.
Be extra careful if it is wet out.
Finally! Someone mentions that you should cross tracks as close to 90 degrees as possible!!! I’m willing to bet this makes up a pretty large percentage of the rail-related crashes in town. I rarely see cyclists trying to do this, most just seem to take the tracks like a normal turn. Is this not taught to people anymore? It was very common knowledge when I was growing up riding bikes. I learned it from multiple sources and then it was reiterated again when I started racing bikes and commuting.
90 degrees people!!!!
Can’t always cross at a 90 degree angle, duh.
There are MANY instances where people can and choose not to. I get there are places where you probably can’t reasonably cross at 90 degrees, but you should get as close to it as absolutely possible. And slow down. If you know you can’t cross at 90, slow down.
Thanks for the duh, completely necessary! I think it is a duh moment that I see so many people that don’t have the respect for the tracks that they should.
ODOT looked into it… PBOT looked into it… not Portland Streetcar is looking into it…
what’s changed in the last two years?
I ride on SW/NW 10th regularly, and, especially in the Pearl where it’s only two lanes, I notice that a lot of cars avoid the lane with the streetcar tracks, too. I’ll see cars 4 deep at a stop sign in the Pearl while the lane with the tracks is empty. I notice I avoid the streetcar lane when I’m driving my car over the Broadway Bridge. So the tracks are difficult for two modes (though actually dangerous for cyclists).
For all of you who think it won’t happen to you, consider the following:
My wife crashed on the tracks and suffered a compound fracture of her forearm and a broken pelvis.
She’s not a newbie. She’s spent some time on the track at Alpenrose, ridden the STP in one day, and biked across the country. All it takes is a momentary slip, a bad angle or a spot of oil on the track at precisely the right (wrong) place.
And, there are lots of places where, due to multiple tracks, it’s impossible to cross them all at a right angle. The intersection of Holladay and 11th is one example, though it’s Max not the streetcar.
Rails and bikes are simply incompatible.
I’d like someone to start collecting data from hospital visits on the number and severity of crashes – I think it would demonstrate how serious of an issue this is and accelerate a solution – Right now if there is no data -there is no problem – Hey anyone with connections to the Oregon Health Authority – Injury Prevention Section to help get the data
We have been collecting injury data. Basically anywhere from bruises and scratches to serious broken bones, cracked teeth, $10k+ medical bills and the like.
(this is through 2011, we have to catch up!)
We also should not be considering expanding streetcar until a solution has been found
Shouldn’t the headline ask the question – “Will cyclists ever learn how to ride across tracks so as to prevent bike-rail crashes”.
It’s really not that hard.
For folks advocating use of wider tires, that can help a bit but tires still compress into the gap which can seriously affect steering control. Also if there’s a lip at the rail that’s 1/4-inch to 1/3-inch higher than the concrete track base, that compounds the problem.
Last week I witnessed a crash that occurred about two blocks ahead of me. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was at first but when I got up to the person I saw that it was a moped with about 6-inch wide tires. He had been between the rails after making a turn and tried to move out of them at a shallow angle. He hit the deck quite hard but had a full-face helmet on and was scraped up but otherwise okay.
Motorcyclists and motor officers often comment that they’ve had close calls with rail, have fallen themselves on it, or heard of another biker who’s crashed. In at least one jurisdiction, I was told by a Lieutenant that track crashes result in the highest cause for disability leave among motor officers.
Agreed, this is a rider “education” issue, not an urban design issue. Video clearly shows that when riders are proficient at riding a bicycle in an urban environment, tracks are a non-issue.
I dunno. I’ve ridden on both MLK and Grand since the trolley lines were put in and, aside from not having any trouble with the tracks (on streets like that I ride down the middle of the tracks,) really don’t see why anyone in their right mind would /want/ to take those insanely crowded streets instead of the many available alternatives.
I’d rather see bicycle lanes on I84 than make your stand that MLK/Grand are the bicycle boulevards of our dreams.
TriMet is not perfect, but at least knows how to design street rail systems.
PBOT seems not to have a clue about systematic technical design; if someone draws a pretty picture (lots of trees in the cross-sections) they will build it.
And look whom they hired to run the show–a traffic engineer from Amsterdam?
Streetcar tracks are not exactly a molehill but they certainly aren’t a mountain. Look, here is what you do.
(1) Don’t space out; pay attention; notice where the tracks are.
(2) When you observe yourself approaching said tracks, swerve to cross them at at least a 45 deg angle; no, you do not need a 90 deg angle; if in doubt, hop your front wheel over the track.
(3) Stop blaming everyone but yourself, for your own inattention and/or lack of necessary bike handling skills and/or bad luck.
(4) Recognize that the streets have to accommodate all modes: cars, buses, bikes, pedestrians. The streetcar tracks inconvenience bicyclists. Bike lane inconvenience drivers. Cars inconvenience streetcars (and Max). Pedestrians inconvenience, and are inconvenienced by, all. We can all whine all the time, or we can learn how to ride our bikes competently.
John — have you tried this with 35 mph traffic on MLK and Grand?
And this applies to the 0.0001% of cyclists who actually ride in the street on MLK and Grand.
There’s lots of bicyclists on MLK and Grand. I’ve never counted, but I see them on there all the time.
And, just because they’re not riding there doesn’t mean there’s no demand to ride there. Folks are taking longer routes. Or, like me, driving down there on trips I used to use a bicycle for.
I once crashed on the tracks along SW 11th Ave. I was coming off of Columbia, and made a right hand turn. My wheel landed in the track, and I crashed and got a big cut that required 12 stitches. I cringe every time I have to deal with the Streetcar tracks.
However you slice it, MLK and Grand are very dangerous for bicyclists. And the alternate routes are lots longer and have problems of their own.
In 2010 I’d ride down them regularly, from Tillamook to places as far as Clay, with a cargo trailer, to buy building supplies at all the ma and pa contractor supply shops in the inner SE. Not much traffic in the right hand lanes of either street. And a free 20mph coast down MLK, and a gentle climb back up Grand.
Now it sucks rocks. It’s as dangerous of a road as I’ve ridden anywhere. I usually take the center of the tracks, it’s not too bad going down MLK, except where the tracks change lanes. But coming up Grand (did it today, on a road bike), it sucks. Lane change near I-84, traffic not giving much space behind, to the side, or ahead, as they swerve around me.
The alternate routes are just plan long, and somewhat arduous. The Esplanade is okay for south of Salmon St., but there’s a lot of steep hills between the Steel Bridge and Broadway, lots of traffic (hard to get a cargo bike through the bikes and peds), those gnarly bumps on the ramps down to the floating section, and out-of-direction-travel on the switchback to get up to the Rose Quarter.
The other alternate route, NE 12th, is a long way out of the way, and it dumps you at the Lloyd Center, where you need to wait for long traffic lights, deal with skimpy bike lanes on NE 16th/15th and a hill, or zig zag over to 7th and Broadway.
It’s dangerous as heck riding down MLK and Grand. I keep trying to not do it, but then I’m going somewhere and its the place to go.
I’ve never crashed on streetcar tracks, 5+ yrs in greater Portland, and a lot of riding. I’m pretty careful. But if I keep riding MLK and Grand I’ll probably break my collarbone at some point. And, hopefully, not get run over by a pickup truck after I hit the ground.
I probably ought to quit while I’m ahead…
“Will Portland Streetcar ever find a way to prevent bike-rail crashes?”
Reduce significantly? They could, but they’d need to buckle down and do it. They’re not trying.
* 2-stage left turn boxes at places like Broadway and Larabee, Williams, Grand.
* Advance notice signs for all left turn boxes, like 7th and Multnomah.
* Go back and fix the concrete on the east side lines where the rails are raised an extra 1/4″ above the pavement.
* Research how to get a rail profile that has the guardrail and traction rail at the same height for installation in all future routes (This will take a couple years, so get going on it now).
* Put up signs for the Lovejoy Viaduct that tell bicyclists that all traffic should turn at 9th.
* Put in sharrows on the left lanes of NW 10th and 11th.
* Put in curved skip line trails for bikes turning left fro southbound NW 9th to the Lovejoy Viaduct, so they don’t get trapped in the tracks.
* Hand out maps of the best ways to get around the Pearl District.
AROW asked for these things in Winter, 2011. We got a little action. Not a lot. And folks have been breaking bones ever since. I’d like to think there’s a few intact bones in this town because of the mitigation that we got. But people keep breaking bones because they’re riding bikes. & they’ll keep on breaking bones until some group takes them to task. That’s the way it works.
There’s 3 outcomes here:
1) People keep breaking bones at the current high rate, but since there’s no reporting system it never warrants action by PBOT.
2) A group gets together and does a public call for PBOT to mitigate the bicycle issues with streetcar tracks. & gets some action. & fewer broken bones.
3) One or two people are killed when they fall on streetcar tracks. Head impact on concrete, or getting run over by a car after they fall. Then we’ll get some action. Not a lot, but some.
Great list, Ted. I’d amend it by saying “put sharrows in all lanes except the streetcar lanes on 10th and 11th”.
AROW should consider asking for a meeting with Treat and Novick to review this list.
Clearly some serious number of accidents are caused by streetcar rail. But my first question is, following up on half a dozen posts up above, what are the actual comparative stats on accidents where the proximate cause is rail versus drains, wet leaves, cracks in the road, bad/misleading signage, expansion joints, driveways, and other factors that are arguably also addressable by ODOT, PBOT, and the various other authorities that determine conditions and regulation of our rights of way?
I destroyed the wheels of my beloved Nishiki Olympic on a bridge expansion joint. Took quite a fall. Frame never felt right after either. But I didn’t after that say “let’s get rid of expansion joints on bridges.”
Yes, let’s keep looking into this. But as for what do we do now, my first concern is to, as much as we can, apply our attention and funding in proportion to risk. First show me how the risk factors rank. Show me the anticipated cost of means of reducing each of those risks. Then and only then will I be interested in conclusions about how to spend our very limited resources to make things better.
Are the Oregon Technology Transfer Center or Oregon BEST taking this on? How about other parts of the Oregon State engineering program?
On a related note, we keep hearing about how we need more hands-on internships and challenges that encourage people to pursue STEM careers. Spiffy. Howsabout we start a competition among Makers and students in Willamette Valley technical programs to come up with ways to address this problem? Maybe have a twenty foot length of track inset into roadbed with room enough on both sides for somebody on a bike to get up to speed. Some sensors and cameras oriented at ground level to take some 100/frame per second video of the intersection point. Maybe a few bike wheels with sensors built in that can be attached for the day to a bike used by a group that wants to do testing. Seems to me that if this were made available to any group that can show that they’re serious, we might have plenty of people taking on the challenge. And that we’ve got plenty of empty locations (say, one of the lots in the Pearl that’s not yet built on).
I hereby offer up Streetcar Press’ facilities and at least a modicum of organizing and cash. Any of you in? Chris? Michael? Steve?
Here’s my modest effort at making minor sense of the tire size contribution; it’s clearly not a full solution (see reports of 47mm crashes and moped crashes), but it seems (to me, anecdotally, not statistically tested) to help. I took a measured drawing of a rail cross section, blew it up to size, then superimposed various tires on it to see how they would sink into it.
Real world tires will only be worse than the diagram because of tire deformation — I only know that in my experience big (60mm) slick tires make it much easier to ignore most of what is in the road. Treaded is worse than slick; every winter when I put on snow tires I curse their handling till I can take them off in the spring.
I would also vote for experience and practice helping, but that’s the second-to-last line of defense (just before helmets and other protective armor). Roads should be safe(r) by design, bikes should be safe(r) by design. “Experience” is no help to new riders.
So tire choice trumps experience, common sense, and making good decisions?
Tire choice is easy, and your fat tire never fails to be a fat tire, and that really helps a lot. And safer bikes is not just tires — a safe bike for traffic ought to have a hub dynamo and always-on lights, to increase your chances of being seen.
If you have experience and common sense that is great, but not all riders have that, and the human element is always fallible. What’s your plan for them? I don’t have much patience for the idea that somehow we’re all supposed to be ultra-skilled and that will solve our cycling problems. If safe cycling requires that we learn all this stuff first, we’re not going to get much traction with the general public.
The same way you have common sense when you walk (or drive) down the street or sidewalk. You don’t aim for a hole and just assume you’re going to be fine. You slow down, you correct your direction. You avoid the hole. This is not a lot to ask of people. Slow down around tracks, cross them add sufficient angles. Walk the bike if you absolutely have to and don’t feel safe.
Tire choice is not easy if you have a buy a completely new bike. 60mm tires are not going to fit on a vast majority of road or even commuter bikes out there.
Don’t buy those bikes for commuting, and don’t recommend them either. Eventually the manufacturers will get a clue. All those hazards, fat tires make better — not perfect, but better. And your approach assumes no mistakes, no “oops, crowded by a car”, etc. Speaking as a skilled rider who has tried both, fat tires are better; you have all the skills you ever did, but many more options, and many fewer worries.
One thing you may not know is that a decent fat tire has a lower rolling resistance than a skinny high pressure tire, and at most commuting speeds that is what matters. Racing, wind resistance dominates, but for most commuters (good) fat tires are faster. Before you declare that clearly I don’t know what I am talking about, allow me to point out that I have personally measured this in two different real-world experiments, and both times, fatter was faster, and this was not at all what I expected to find, because I too used to believe the widely-parroted dogma. But encouraging people new to bikes to use skinny tires “because they are fast” does them a tremendous disservice — those tires are slower, less durable, require more frequent inflation, less safe, and more finicky about the road surface. The only real downside is that it’s hard to find a frame lock that fits a 60mm tire — 50mm is a better fit there.
One “good fat tire” is a Schwalbe Big Apple. There may be others, but I have not tried them yet.
Why is it so difficult to believe that someone from a bicycle advocacy organization would be against a city creating hazards for bicyclists? Just because the BTA is silent when it comes to objecting to additional tracks in streets that might otherwise be rideable, doesn’t mean that every bicycle advocacy organization would be similarly silent.
BTA’s silence on this issue is one reason why I let my membership with them lapse.
“Solution: don’t ride your bike on streets with rails.”
wrong. these are all local public streets that should be safe and accessible for all users, regardless of transportation mode.
Even skateboarders? Just sayin’. It seems we as a society expect skaters to deal with road hazards because they aren’t supposed to be skating there, right? Well, it’s as valid a mode of transport as any.
TriMet and New Flyer just settled a major wrongful death suit over the two deaths from the left turn tragedy at Broadway and Glisan several years ago.
Oregon’s legal standard for, say, a streetcar killing a cyclist, is “comparable negligence.” Once I served on a jury where the split was 49-51, so determining fault can be dicey.
Portland Streetcar, Inc., which has 20 board members, two part-time employees, no shareholders, owns nothing, so the City of Portland and United Streetcar/Skoda would be the only deep pockets.
Even then little would change, unless politicians get off their streetcar kick.
80km is not bad, but Bucharest has 332 km of tram lines, and almost 80 km of metro underground lines. Now THAT’S extensive! 🙂
I once heard that Amsterdam trams have narrower gauge with shallower grooves; not sure about Zurich, but they have a ton of tram lines.
re the Eastside line here, on Broadway and Weidler Streetcar tracks are on the left, bike lanes on the right…can we do better than that?; on 7th, generous buffered bike lanes with clear marking for 90 degree crossing; on Grand and MLK, nothing for bikes. But note that these are official “Freight” routes and have never been on the list for bike lanes, etc. Ted’s post is a strong argument for the 7th Avenue Bridge.
Thousands of folks ride Streetcar every day, it has contributed to the Central City’s having more destinations closer together, and streetcars and their tracks are so much more predictable than buses, not to mention cars and trucks.
That said, I’d love to see a fix for at least locations where bike routes cross tracks and would guess, so would most other Portland Streetcar CAC members. Many of us bike a lot!
Learn more about who rides, etc. at Portland Streetcar.org Tourists are less than 5% of the 15K who ride everyday.