27-year old Seattle resident Desiree McCloud died yesterday from injuries she sustained from a crash on May 13th. According to reports she was biking with friends near streetcar tracks on E Yesler and 13th when she lost control and went down.
The incident highlights a major problem that has plagued both Seattle and Portland for years: Both cities have busy urban neighborhoods where streetcar tracks and unprotected bikeways mix and both cities have countless crash victims because of it. Track crashes are so rampant here in Portland that there’s an assumption among daily riders that it’s a matter of when not if you’ll go down on them.
Not only do these exposed tracks cause many broken bones and bodies every year, they are also just one more thing that scares some people away from cycling.
Here’s more on the Seattle case from CapitolHillSeattle.com:
If the investigation confirms that the tracks caused the crash, McCloud’s death will be the first involving a bicyclist and the new line that finally opened for service earlier this year. The tracks have been in place since 2014. The dangers for cyclists riding around streetcar tracks are well known. Seattle’s South Lake Union line has been notorious for crashes — though we’re not aware of any deaths involving that route. But the busy street environment can make the dangerous interactions difficult to avoid. On E Yesler where McCloud crashed, the tracks curve onto the street to and from 14th Ave and are adjacent marked bike lanes and yellow signs warn of the tracks. There is nothing to prevent a rider from inadvertently crossing into the track line where tires get easily stuck.
“According to the police report, Desiree was biking with friends westbound on Yesler Way approaching 13th Ave S in front of Bailey Gatzert Elementary May 13 when she crashed while passing one of her friends on the left. A friend told police Desiree started wobbling and fell hard, perhaps because of the streetcar tracks in the lane adjacent to the bike lane… Though it’s not currently certain that the tracks caused this crash, it is a very common cause of such crashes both along the First Hill and South Lake Union Streetcar routes.”
The Yesler/Jackson designs don’t work. Now you have your data. @seattledot & @SoundTransit need to fix them. People will keep getting hurt.
— Seattle Bike Blog (@seabikeblog) May 25, 2016
City transportation departments in Seattle and Portland have acknowledged safety issues of bikeways around streetcar tracks; but neither has made major progress to mitigate the problem. Both cities have faced lawsuits and, despite pressure from activists to do something about the problem, have responded only by making safety videos and encouraging people to simply bike more carefully.
Meanwhile, the problem persists. And now, thanks to deteriorating pavement in northwest Portland old freight rail lines are becoming exposed and they too have started to cause serious injuries to bicycle riders.
Despite all of this there doesn’t seem to be much political urgency to fix it. I’m not sure what it will take to move the needle. I hope it’s not a death. Our hearts are with the family and friends of Desiree McCloud.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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This is horrible to read about indeed and I hope Ms. McCloud did not suffer. I assume no helmet was worn at the time, but I did not see any mention in the article.
My only serious issue with tracks in Portland was when I blew a tire crossing the Union Pacific tracks on Columbia Boulevard.
article states she had a helmet, and was riding wobbly before they got to the tracks… 2 people crashed, and she could have been behind the one that actually got caught in the tracks…
You victim-blaming assumption is wrong and completely inappropriate.
I missed the victim blaming. Was it when he mentioned helmet usage? Is that victim blaming?
It has been confirmed that she was wearing a helmet.
since we have no real info on the nature of the injury, or even why she fell, we need to also hold open the possibility the helmet itself did harm.
I agree that is a poor choice of wording on my part and helmets are not a cure all.
“… I assume no helmet was worn at the time, but I did not see any mention in the article. …” teddy
I thank you for raising the question of whether she was using a bike helmet while riding,. The Capitol Hill Seattle story reports the police noted she was wearing a helmet.
Given what seems to be a lack of general public knowledge of the limited level of protection bike helmet designs are able to provide people wearing them, it’s not a surprise that when someone sustains a serious injury while riding a bike, assumptions that a bike helmet wasn’t in use, often follow.
Included with their products for sale, bike helmet manufacturers could easily include information based on the safety testing procedures bike helmet designs are subjected to, briefly describing the protective level bike helmets can offer. It may be worthwhile for each and every helmet sold new, to have that information included in a clear, easily understandable form.
More details on the impact and the nature of the injuries she sustained, may be helpful to ordinary people, towards more fully understanding the limitations on protection their bike helmet can offer them. According to the article reports, Desiree McCloud, the young lady that fell from her bike to the pavement, despite whatever injuries she sustained, lived a week and a half after the impact. Use of the helmet may in part, have helped allow her life to be sustained for that period, during which time chances for a recovery were active. Some people may possibly conclude that use of the helmet, contributed to severity of injuries sustained, rather than limiting them.
The potential for rotational injuries contributed to by helmet use, seem to be something helmet manufacturers continue to work to counter. Some of manufacturers’ helmet packaging displays the MIPS acronym referring to designs that seek to do this. With questionable results.
It can be very easy and unexpected for people, even those experienced in riding a bike on city streets with rails, to have a tire slide on the tracks, causing them to fall. Concentration and safe crossing procedure is essential.
Those safety pamphlets will help a little if you jam enough of them into the gap.
Just wait until bikeshare opens. There are several Bikeshare stations planned at decommissioned streetcar stops, and the bicycle tires will be narrower than width of the rail flangeway gaps.
So I will add the missing link also ,
This is probably the most pathetic thing I ever seen. Literally this project has taken decades because of NIMBYS and the Seattle process.
Has a particular nasty track problem.
Cyclists in Amsterdam seems to navigate around tram tracks just fine. So what are they doing over there that we’re not doing? Can the bike infrastructure be designed to force crossing at a right angle? Could be worth looking into.
1) people in Amsterdam are much much better bicycle riders than we are.
2) they ride their bikes upright and at a much slower pace.
3) their bikes have wider tires.
4) none of this should take away from a city’s responsibility to create a safe street environment for all users – especially when clear dangers like tracks are present.
Sure, the city should create separated infra that forces crossing at a 90º angle. Door zone bike lanes are a terrible idea in general, but parallel to tram tracks, they are horrifically awful. But outside of that, there’s not much else the city can do. The tracks are still a predictable and fixed hazard and thus can be avoided with careful riding. I’d much rather the city focus on the far greater hazard of unpredictable motor traffic.
However, that bike lane in the photo is obviously crap and should be fixed immediately.
I’ve crashed on train tracks twice (both in the rail-rich Chicago area, both times on road bikes with 25-28mm tires), neither time riding hard. Maybe wider tires would have helped. I’m a pretty good bike rider (I’ve been doing it continually since childhood), and I don’t think being upright or slower would have helped unless I was literally going walking-speed.
In both cases I didn’t realize the rails were there until I hit them. The first crash was at night on a dark, empty road in suburban Elmhurst, so I just didn’t have a chance to see them. This was not really much of a public space, just a road passing between a rail embankment and a limestone quarry, and these rails were no longer in use or connected to anything, so there weren’t any warning signs. They curved across the street in a perfect way to grab someone’s wheel. That’s bad infrastructure, and also the result of land use patterns pushing my trips through these “between places” where not much thought is given to anything. The second crash was somewhere just northwest of downtown, also on decommissioned tracks curving across the street; this time it was broad daylight but I was paying attention to traffic. So, more bad infrastructure, plus I was paying attention to traffic instead of the road surface.
So from my experience I’d add a couple more factors. 5) We have much worse bike infrastructure. 6) We’re more likely to have to pay attention to traffic, or to ride through “between places” (poorly lit, not thoughtfully designed).
For the crash on Yesler, the terrain probably made it harder. 14th/Yesler is a saddle-point; a rider along Yesler (in either direction) descends to the intersection and climbs away from it (IIRC Amsterdam is even flatter than Chicago). It’s reported that the rider here was wobbling. Perhaps due to the effort of climbing, or the speed of descending, or some problem shifting? Good lane position approaching the intersection westbound on a descent is well out of the door zone, in the middle of the lane… then the tracks turn right into that position and you have to get right of them, then the parking starts and you have to stay left of it. What do y’all think this is, maybe a 4.5′ or 5′ bike lane? Wedged in between the tracks and parked cars, so a foot or less of usable width (you probably won’t see that layout in Amsterdam)? So she’d be aiming for that narrow target between two dangers while riding in a group, which can cause all sorts of problems (distractions, more restrictions on lane position).
“Good lane position approaching the intersection westbound on a descent is well out of the door zone, in the middle of the lane… then the tracks turn right into that position and you have to get right of them, then the parking starts and you have to stay left of it.”
Given that the story states Ms. McCloud was westbound on E Yesler, I think your description is likely very close to what may have happened. On the westbound descent from 15th, the lane is marked with sharrows and there is adjacent parking, making a central lane position nearly unavoidable. If that position is maintained while crossing 13th, a deleterious track encounter is almost as nearly unavoidable.
Would a painted-on-the-pavement warning of “TRACK HAZARD/BICYCLISTS MOVE RIGHT” be of any use? Although there is (according to Goodle) a wordless warning sign up near 15th that has a bike symbol over a RXR symbol, there is no indication of the type of hazard the rails will present.
Maybe we need to have multiple types of track warning signs, with different symbols for how the tracks are going to appear in your path: curving to the right, curving from the left, perpendicular crossing, etc., just like we have to indicate different types of road curvature or side street configurations to motorists.
Yes…rider skills and equipment are big differences on the fact of it. It is pretty rare to see an urban rider on 23 mm tyres in Amsterdam commuting or running errands. [Though on the weekends they will take their racefiets our to the country…away from the city and the trams track gaps.]
But the design folks in Portland and Seattle should by now (14 years ? into the US experience with modern streetcars) know how to better design and maintain track crossings for the local conditions…I would think…assuming their bosses are not holding them back.
The other tangibles that also play a part in the lower crash rates in Amsterdam per tram tracks conflict would be:
– the Netherlands has a much shorter street lifespan (sinking ground / water table) and higher road maintenance budget than most urban areas in the US…thus the state of the track conditions are better overall; and
– the high volume Dutch bikeways tend to have the design and lower traffic speeds that help minimise putting cyclists in these threatening roadway scenarios (to feel confident and safe while zig zagging across tracks at a 90 degrees while keeping out of the wheel tracks of cars).
Dutch riders are generally not trying to scoot across arterials with tram tracks and 45 mph car traffic (with drivers texting or eating a grand royal burger).
Perhaps a better (or more apples to apples) comparison would be the US (Portland or Seattle) to Belgium (Brussels) comparison on track injuries just based on my gut instinct about the state of roadway and track maintenance. [Calling all PSU students looking for a transportation study topic…and travel possibilities.]
Brussels is a better comparison.
I have never understood why users of this blog keep referring to Amsterdam, as a comparison to Portland, in anything. Is it because both are seaports not on the sea? Is it that Portland’s only direct link to Europe is to the Amsterdam airport?
Portland and Seattle could not be more different from Amsterdam. Amsterdam is flat and boggy; all new development requires years of drainage before anything can be built. Amsterdam is a national capital, so it gets more funding per person than most other Dutch cities, and thus nicer stuff and things, certainly much more than Seattle or Portland, neither of which are capitals of even their states. Amsterdam is old, medieval, while Portland was founded in 1845, and Seattle even later.
Portland and Seattle are very hilly. In hilly towns, both bicyclists and rail tends to go along the flattest, most level areas, going up hills on the most gradual slopes available. Both modes will always be in conflict.
So when comparing European cities to Portland or Seattle, look for hilly cities with seaports and a rectilinear street grid – which there are very few, mostly on the Mediterranean. Barcelona perhaps? Naples? Marseille?
None of which are particularly well-known for their bicycle infrastructure.
The reason we compare to Amsterdam is because they do dramatically better than us in almost every way. Health, disposable income, cycling, transit, very low auto-dependency, etc., etc., etc… the list goes on long. Simply put, Amsterdam is a high level goal of what Portland and any city should hope to achieve for its citizens.
Brussels might be more comparable in auto-dependency, health, traffic jams, etc, but that isn’t what Portland or anywhere should aim for. It isn’t an aim to make an apples to apples comparison in this case because we want a better city, not the same thing. Improvement, not mediocrity. That’s the reason we compare to Amsterdam (or Copenhagen, etc)
Amsterdammers rarely have to interface w/ tracks at a parallel, unlike many of the situations in Portland. The real advantage is Amsterdammers are indeed vastly superior cyclists.
Too bad to hear this chronic design and operational problem continues…
I’m not sure that track design has anything to do with this.
The article stated that “Desiree was biking with friends westbound on…”
I don’t know about you, but when I’m biking in a group, I’m not diligently looking out for the usual hazards as much as when I’m biking alone. I’m more likely to be focused on the bike tire ahead of me, while listen to conversation with friends. You don’t need a smart phone to be distracted.
I find it interesting to read 35 stories from other bloggers about crashes they or their friends have had involving tracks, but not one of them was in a group. And yet most of us ride the Bridge Pedal or the Sunday Parkways series at least once in a while, with thousands of bikes ahead of us. Don’t y’all ever get distracted?
My guess is that Desiree’s last thoughts had nothing to do with track design, but more so about the tire in front of her and the conversation she just had. I can think of many worse ways of making the final exit.
“Both cities have busy urban neighborhoods where streetcar tracks and unprotected bikeways mix and both cities have countless crash victims because of it. Track crashes are so rampant here in Portland that there’s an assumption among daily riders that it’s a matter of when not if you’ll go down on them. ”
A lot of statements without any backup, “countless” “rampant” “not if but when” Are there any numbers to actually backup the statements? How many incidents per year? How many per mile ridden? How do these numbers compare to other crash types involving cyclists?
You are asking some good questions. I should definitely try and get some stats to back up these statements. Unfortunately there aren’t numbers on this kind of crash. If bike advocates relied on numbers to make their case, we wouldn’t have any case at all because part of the problem is that bike-related stats are not as good as they could be.
For now I am going on what I know from being around this issue for a while, from talking to a lot of people about it and from basically following my hunches. Sometimes I do that. This is one of those of times.
Do you disagree that this is a big problem that impacts a lot of people and that isn’t being taken as seriously as it should be by those in power?
Is it a “big” problem? Your choice of words, make it sound like it is a “big” problem, but without any numbers your words come across as hyperbole.
I doubt we have accurate statistics of how many bikes crash on streetcar tracks, because most crashes – even injury crashes – are probably not reported as such, in a way that can be readily tabulated.
But I think few who are in tune with the Portland bike community would question the use of the word “rampant”. Nearly all of us know someone who’s crashed on the tracks and been hurt.
Anecdotal evidence is not fact. I ride with a group of 20 people, we all know Bob. Bob had an incident with a trolley track. Twenty people know someone who has had an incident with at trolley track, but it’s the same one person. Twenty people “knowing” something doesn’t equate to 20 incidents.
It’s like the retail adage, a happy customer tells 3 friends and unhappy customer tells 30. It’s human nature to expound on the horrors in our lives.
No, but knee-jerk dismissal of anecdotal evidence is not critical thinking either.
We collected some data, one of the older sets is here:
Happy to share more up to date #’s with folks who are interested.
Just checked– there have been 207 self-reported bike crashes related to streetcar tracks in Portland over the last 5 years.
very sad. On a random note, I can run faster than the streetcar in downtown Portland.
And yet 15,000 people ride it daily. The NS line is one of the most productive routes in the region. And they’re not all tourists.
How many more cheap shots will you take at the $treetcar?
And bystanders can run faster than the pro peloton on steep climbs, but they can’t do it for very long. Your point?
“There is nothing to prevent a rider from inadvertently crossing into the track line where tires get easily stuck.”
The only way to get stuck is to approach tracks unsafely. However, hitting inadequately maintained tracks even at an optimum angle when traveling at speed can be dangerous, especially where a number of tracks intersect while they curve.
Many features such as grates, utility covers, tracks, etc. present inherent dangers. We should try to find ways to make things safer as things are built and repaired, but just as we expect motorists to drive appropriately for conditions, cyclists also must ride appropriately for conditions.
It’s a lot harder to approach tracks safely when you’re also trying to deal with traffic. The intersection where this crash occurred is not as bad as this one, a couple blocks south, where good lane positioning and a good track crossing angle are constantly in conflict, and where there’s a completely insane amount of things to pay attention to. But it’s not a totally different situation. Here a rider never has to cross the tracks, but is coming out of a shared-lane descent, and has more to pay attention to than just the tracks.
Heck, just riding straight in a five-foot bike lane between parked cars and street car tracks is far from ideal — you lose every possible reaction to seeing something unexpected in the parking lane except slamming the brakes!
21st Ave has a decent blog post about Streetcar Tracks:
The tracks in question are adjacent to a door-zone bike lane, which forces cyclists to choose between riding precariously close to the tracks or riding in the deadly door zone. In my opinion, the problem is not the presence of tracks on the street but the fact that the door zone of parked cars impinges on most of the bike lane, by design.
This life may well have been yet another lost simply because we value on-street car storage higher than the safety and lives of people on bikes.
This exact thing happened to me on South Waterfront 2 years ago. A young fella opened his car door into me & couldn’t get out of the lane bc of tracks to my right. Luckily there was no traffic & no streetcar, or I’d have suffered a lot worse than a broken collarbone.
A broken collarbone is awful. 🙁
Hey maybe I am missing some major info but as far as I can tell from the links given:
1) It is unclear if the tracks caused the accident
2) There is no mention of cause of death (internal bleeding, blunt force trauma, etc).
So what is everyone talking about in regards to the street car tracks?
Given that she was wearing a helmet and “riding wobly”, I’m pretty curious. There is a lot of information in there linked articles, but nothing specific about the cause of death. It seems important if we are going to start blaming this on steel embedded in concrete.
This is tragic and my thoughts go to Ms. McCloud’s friends and family.
The gradually-curving tracks are almost impossible to navigate on a bike without crashing. I’ve crashed on NW Lovejoy in the Pearl at a set of these gradually-curving tracks while looking right at them and trying to avoid them. It happens.
To support Jonathan Maus’s inference that these crashes are frequent, I’d try to get a roll-call of Portland riders who *haven’t* crashed or bailed at least once because of these street car tracks. Anyone? How often does your route take you over or near the tracks?
Secondarily, although perhaps more rigorous formulations of causality are available, bikes don’t generally wobble and go do down for no reason, even for a novice rider. Motion makes them stable. I think the speculation that the tracks were involved is more than warranted.
I have never crashed on streetcar tracks in Portland or even Chicago before that. I always slow way down and take the rails at 90º. I have also never run tires smaller than 32c.
Yep, I agree and have said the same for decades…the 32 should be the minimum sane tire choice in urban conditions…off the race track.
i experimented with wider tires a few years ago and was unhappy with the road feel, the deflection when cornering, and grip during wet conditions (tread is the last thing i want). i’ve slid out while cornering multiple times but have never crashed on a streetcar track.
That’s funny because I recently upgraded to 45c tires and a leather sprung saddle and it’s like riding on a cloud. To each their own I suppose.
Oh and I run those tires at the lowest possible pressure.
If tread is a problem, know that you can get treadless tires (e.g., Schwalbe Big Apple) as wide as 700×55.
Personally, as a Portland commuter I ran a wider front tire (at least 42-45mm) in the winter, primarily due to streetcar and train tracks. When things are wet you’re a lot more likely to slip between those metal rails than when it’s dry.
But even in the summer I’d never go below about 35c in front, again because of all the tracks. That’s a width you can still pump up to 100psi, and assuming you have chosen a relatively fast-rolling tire I think the speed benefit of going narrower gets to be pretty marginal.
Personally, I like a front tire with moderate tread but still a rounded profile (i.e., NOT a semislick with tread along the edges, like the popular SpeedMax), because my commute over the West Hills often included stretches of gravel roads or even Forest Park when I felt like taking the long way home. The idea of running a slick 25mm tire for commuting was not even comprehensible to me, given the conditions I dealt with.
If I were going to try large tires again I think I would go for something like the compass cycles line up. I’ve heard from multiple people that they are very grippy and roll exceptionally well.
I have a bike with 42 mm 650B Hetres and they roll marvelously, comfortably, and swiftly at 35-40 psi. Lots of traction in the wet, cushy ride, fairly light weight, can be easily mounted without levers. Not the cheapest tire.
FWIW I pump up my 42c tires up to 90-100psi.
“I pump up my 42c tires up to 90-100psi.”
Holy crap! What kind of tires are those? I use 32s and 90 is the highest max (not “recommended”) psi I’ve seen on decent tires (Shwalbe Marathon Supremes). Most 32 tires I’ve used have a max around 80, recommended 60-75.
I actually run my front tire at 70 these days after a couple of adverse traction loss events; don’t you worry about having tires that are too “bouncy”? Prematurely wearing out the tread? I’ll bet you get some incredibly low rolling resistance, though.
Most tires can be pumped up much higher than their sidewall rating. In fact, I believe most manufacturers’ tests require them to stay on the rim with at least double the rated psi. I don’t go anywhere near that high, of course, but I’ve never had problems taking a 65-75psi rated tire up to 90-100. 40-42c tires I’ve done this with recently would include the Ritchey SpeedMax, Schwalbe Marathon Winter (studded) and 38c Maxxis OverDrive.
In fact, I frequently run 2″ tires at 80psi, and am doing so right now. Examples: Maxxis Cross+Mark LUST (my favorite heavy-duty semi-offroad touring tire), Geax Evolution, Kenda Khan. The Cross+Mark and Marathon Winter have ridiculously thick casings, and I’m absolutely not worried about the high pressure doing damage – and despite the thicker casings they roll wicked fast considering their tread patterns.
That said, I only run such high pressure on my rear tire, and I will lower the pressure for offroad riding. I usually keep my front tire closer to the rated psi, exactly for a smoother ride and less bounce as you mention.
Not sure about wear. Car tires actually (which unlike bike tires are toroidal, and may or may not be analagous) last far longer if you run them at the maximum pressure, as opposed to the pressure recommended on cars’ door jambs, which is much lower.
Huh. Sounds like you use the same strategy as I (now) do with higher rear/lower front psi, but I’ve never felt like pushing it that far. I noticed that before I lowered the pressure in my front tire, the center tread wore out really fast. Maybe that was a crummy tire, but I replaced it with the same kind of crummy tire and at lower psi the tread has not seemed to wear as fast. Not a scientific study, but perhaps with better tires, center tread wear wouldn’t be a problem.
I’ve never crashed due to any tracks in the road, be they streetcar, train, or elk tracks…
I’ve known 3 people that crashed… a novice 5 year old trying to get through Orange Line MAX construction on SE 11th/12th… an experienced cycling adult who had a few to drink and didn’t realize there were old tracks embedded in NW 15th… and a novice cycling adult who was crossing SE Grand…
I run 23’s and have never crashed. I ride parallel to tracks which I cross laterally every single day. I think cyclists should avoid riding along tracks, but I do so anyway just because it’s faster. If traffic is moving, I’ll ride alongside or between the tracks on Moody since it’s way faster than the bike lane.
The closest I’ve come to crashing is I’ve double flatted crossing the track junction area near Moda at speed. But that’s on me — if you do bonehead things like hitting narrow rigid things at speed, you’re going to get flats.
Blaming the road for crashes makes no more sense on a bike than in a car.
Once or twice I skidded to a stop when about to cross tracks since I did not have the right approach angle.
I ride on Lovejoy, Northrup, and other streetcar routes regularly. I usually ride 25 mm slick tires. I have never crashed on a streetcar track. That’s about ten years of riding those streets. So there’s a data point for you.
A streetcar track doesn’t sneak up on you. You know it is there, in the same place that it is every day. If you regularly ride that route, and crash on something stationary, that you know or should know is there, the fault is yours.
(Granted, there can be unusual cases – a rider completely new to the area, at night, no lights, warning signs absent – but those are definitely exceptions.)
I think most of the bike crashes on streetcar tracks are due to a rider who is not paying attention and/or lacks basic urban riding skills. As exemplified by the comment above, that those gradually curving tracks are impossible to avoid: yes, and so are painted lines, driveway transitions, rain slicked roads, but there are safe ways to cross all of those hazards.
It isn’t, perhaps, surprising that a certain portion of riders don’t have those basic skills. Most bike riders head out onto the streets with absolutely no training in how to ride a bike. Yours truly, included. We have to learn in the school of hard knocks. During that learning process, there are accidents.
So, there are a few things that could be done to improve the infrastructure. Routing bike lanes away from streetcar tracks, street markings, aligning crossings at a larger angle to crossed tracks. There isn’t a magic infrastructure bullet. Maybe someday they will invent something that fills the groove in tracks, and makes smooth wet steel not slippery.
The larger thing would be to improve rider education. Is that so terrible a statement?. We complain all the time about insufficient driver training. But bike riders are wholly untrained. Pot, meet kettle.
It’s not beyond our capability. It was stated above that, in certain European countries, the average skill level of cyclists is much higher than here. Presumably Portland cyclists can learn what Amsterdam cyclists know.
I agree. There’s this stupid idea that we should care about making biking accessible to non-experts. The fact that lots of folks actually crash on tracks and that streetcars are essentially decorative amenities to make rich developers richer as opposed to useful forms of transit is obviously of no account. I mean, it’s not like you see guardrails and road dividers and raised lane indicators and breakaway sign mounting on car infrastructure right?
Ooops. Forgot – of course you see all of these things for “normal” people. But sorry, city DOT’s in Portland and Seattle care a lot more about rich developers than they care about cyclists (or pretty much anyone else).
And for the record, whether people do or do not crash on the tracks in Amsterdam is irrelevant to our circumstances. *Here* they are constantly causing crashes. If you care about cycle safety in the NW, you should advocate for the removal of these devices for maiming and killing cyclists. And new ones should be anathema to anyone who cares about active transportation.
Haven’t crashed on rails. Figure I cross tracks fifty times a week typically. I have crashed on a bit of gravel – I was salmoning real slow and turned suddenly when I saw a car coming. Guy was real nice about it and asked if I was okay. I only hurt my pride on that one. Another time a couple kids were throwing a ball around, it got away from them, they chased after it off the grass into the MUP. I swerved onto the grass, crashed on the lip/curb of the MUP trying to go back to pavement. Scraped my hands badly. Not sure if I should put my hands up when falling. But it’ll probably happen anyway, so I started wearing gloves. I’ve also crashed on a wobble in asphalt when I was focused on the moped I was trying to catch up to for fun (I was gaining on him!). Fortunately I had passed a red light a bit before so there weren’t cars around when I went down. Just some bad bruises. Was not a fun one handed ride home that day. But it was nice that my hand was only bruised and sore, not scraped and bleeding.
I biked as a kid. Then I didn’t for years. All the crashes I’ve mentioned were shortly after starting again. Paying attention, developing some urban riding skills, and respecting the dangers inherent in riding a bike might not prevent all crashes. But it helps a lot.
And as a follow-up to the above, I crashed trying to get over the tracks into the protected bike lane , as is visible in this inset photo:
That’s a tricky spot. I’ll usually ride straight over the tracks, then make as sharp a left as I can into the bike lane. I would never cross the tracks in the manner that those people in that photo are. Hopefully PBOT can fix this area as part of the Post Office site.
Cross tracks at 45 degrees then continue turning left into bike lane. Easy. Unless you’re going 20 mph, there is nothing tricky about it.
What sort of fix do you propose?
I rode down that during a group ride doing about 20 mph and crisscrossing the tracks about 5 times while I was doing it… but I had 2″ wide tires and did a slight hop each time I went over a track…
Yikes, that’s a terrible spot.
I’ve never crashed on the tracks, but my commute was completely perpendicular to the MAX tracks. And now I’m perpendicular to heavy rail tracks.
Uhhhh. Johnathan, I crashed on the trolly tracks this week. I am sure there are plenty newbies in Amsterdam.. I for one am a former Cat 2 racer. Lifelong cyclist, and former multi category motorcycle racer with emphasis on GNCC off-road. Needless to say I’ve ridden across many a slippery obstacles all my life. Sometimes people crash, here and in Holland. My sincere thoughts out to this woman’s friends and family.
Once again we have people commenting that “it will never happen to me because I ….”
I used to believe that, too. Several years ago my wife crashed on RR tracks in Portland. She was crossing within a few degrees of 90; was not going terribly fast (maybe 12 – 15 mph); during daylight hours; both hands on the hoods. Pretty much everything that is considered important to avoid crashing. She suffered a compound facture of one forearm and a cracked pelvis.
As for her bicycling skills: she commuted to work daily for years; rode the STP in one day; spent some time on the track at Alpenrose; and rode across the country. If it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone.
J-R… If your comment is inspired by mine, I believe you missed the mark on my point.
I don’t believe it was inspired by that one, but this topic does tend to draw comments from chainsaw jugglers and style fascists.
I’ve ridden along rails for miles without incident, but have fallen twice making simple crossings. I only got road rash, but my sister tore an ACL. The tracks are a mercurial thing and you can do the same thing with them the same way 99 times, but the 100th can still throw you a curveball.
And then there are the unhelpful people preaching fat tires. The implication is that it’s substandard equipment—you practically deserve to drop dead because you don’t ride a bike suitable to their tastes.
If she was really riding as you described, I don’t think it is physically possible for the bike to go down. Something doesn’t add up.
so you don’t know if the tracks had anything to do with it, but yet still find a way to blame them? biased much?
Unlike cars, trolleys and streetcars are something we will need more of in the future so we must figure out how to arrange bike safety with regards to them. First of all is to have good bike lanes etc in streets that parallel those streets with tracks so no one is forced to ride parallel to the tracks on the same street. I ride on Marshall every day and you could not pay me enough to ride straight down Lovejoy. Then in places where well trafficked bike routes cross the tracks install the best technology to minimize the crash risks, especially if either the tracks or the bike lanes curve or intersect at an angle. Compared to the cost of a highway overpass this is all cheap stuff. In trying to reduce our dependence on Demon Karz, the devil is in the details.
Actually, given how amazingly slow and inflexible and expensive they are we don’t need them today and certainly won’t need them tomorrow. They’re essentially a very expensive form of decorative street art, not a transport system. And we really really don’t need expensive, useless, inflexible (albeit shiny and attractive) street art that kills people.
How hard is this to understand? Bus lines (electric trolleys are fine if you love fixed routes that much), grade separated light rail, heavy rail – all those we need lots more of – but streetcars are worth having people constantly crashing? How can our cities even pretend to care about Vision Zero when they pull this kind of stuff?
I admit, I am completely ignorant on this point: how is a streetcar better than a bus?
The rails signify more of a sense of permanence, which sparks more development than just a bus line. They are cheaper to operate than a bus, being powered by overhead catenary power rather than diesel fuel. They can fit more people than a non-articulated bus. They look nicer, so they attract more riders than a bus. Streetcars are more predictable than a bus to people walking and cycling, since they can’t exactly leave the rails or swerve like a bus can.
I ride my Fargo with 2.2inch wide tires w/ some pretty good knobs.
I took a fall on the north section of Front Ave last weekend…
there are a bunch of RR crossing there that are some odd sweeping angle…
It was wet out and my front tire got caught in a track, bike went one way, I went another…hit the ground like a 6′ 260lbs guy does..hard..but just a little road rash..
You think here would be some type of filler that can put in track depressions. sand, rubber insert, gravel…
I much prefer the electric buses i see in Seattle..no rails needed just the 2 overhead lines…
I crossed those a lot when I worked at Gunderson… I would always use the entire lane to cross so that I had a perpendicular approach…
fast cars and heavy trucks constantly flying by was the greatest of my worries though…
Thanks all for your anecdotes. Entertaining reading.
Since there’s a bit of chest-beating here, I’ll add that I didn’t “crash” on NW Lovejoy, per se – the front wheel chucked into the track; I dumped the bike and as it clattered to the ground, I landed on my feet and ran out of the fall somehow. While wearing flip flops. I may have been drinking; not sure I how I saved the day on that one.
I’ve crashed other times doing dumb / novice / clumsy things though.
Life is so dangerous. Bodysuit airbags should be mandatory. I ride over tracks everyday…23’s too. Sometimes 25’s…oh my. Horrible story, but infrastructure did not kill anyone. So, the streetcar can take me to the mountains, uh? Cars are needed. Less people…needed even more.
I have crashed on light and heavy rail lines on all kinds of bikes (including ‘bents) with a variety of tire widths from 23 to 45 mm. The one thing that was common to all the wrecks was I had to split my attention between riding the road surface and riding in traffic with cars. One of the most salient features of Dutch infra is how they have tamed motor vehicle traffic that has to mix with cars. I’m not saying that’s the totality of why there are so few bike wrecks on tram and train tracks there, but it doesn’t hurt.
Poor woman. 🙁 It really can happen to any of us. I haven’t crashed crossing rail lines but despite routine hyperalertness, I’ve had my moments (including chipping a vertebra because I didn’t duck low enough rolling into the very familiar bike corral in the parking garage at work. Safely out of traffic, five feet away from getting off… Doh).
It is always very sad to hear of the loss of such a young life, of any still thriving life for that matter.
Growing up we heard the story of my late mother’s crash on the tram tracks in Edinburgh in ’35…that was her last ride, but my father claimed the cause was her poorly balanced bike. Regardless, she happily patched me up after several bike crashes in my youth.
I used to ride up NW Northrup between the tracks when Streetcar was under construction as it was the smoothest street around. Exiting was a delicate matter, but doable. On Swan Island we had several experienced riders go down on the Ash Grove Cement Road which has 5 diagonal track crossings; always tricky…and illegal to boot, but a beautiful ride!
NE 7th Avenue is a good example of bike/Streetcar design that helps keep crashes to a minimum, but several track crossings are necessary. Future Streetcar projects will be designed with both Streetcar riders and cyclists in mind. The two modes can and should complement each other! Broadway/Weidler keep the two three traffic lanes apart.
Its worth noting that the trams in Amsterdam are narrower gauge and have narrower and shallower troughs (not sure of the technical term here) in the rails. That along with generally wider tires on most Dutch bikes, make for a better mixing of the two modes. My first tram ride there left me gasping twice a minute at all the near misses I thought I was seeing. Never saw a crash.
Keep in mind that 15K people of all sizes, shapes, colors, levels of wealth, abilities and so on ride Streetcar every day…try it sometime!; and since several stops were closed, I dare anyone to try to beat Streetcar on foot.
I proudly serve on the Streetcar CAC and am proud of the almost $10 million in bike/ped/transit access improvements I helped bring to Swan Island between 2003 and 2013. Go Streetcar, Go bikes! Always with care!
Portland needs to work for everyone. Many people use the streetcar. Most people do not ride bikes. Those of us who do, should take on the responsibility of learning to ride them skillfully and attentively (and not when drunk).
Saying the city should remove streetcar lines to avoid inconveniencing cyclists is no better than saying the city should remove bike lanes to avoid inconveniencing drivers.
Who is talking about removing streetcar lines? What I’ve seen is calls for streetcar streets to include protected bike lanes away from the tracks to encourage bikers to not ride between the tracks. And for major bike routes to cross streetcar tracks only at pretty much a 90 degree angle. Those ideas seem like far more practical public policy than a mandatory education and licensing program for bicyclists, which is the only way to get high compliance with your idea that bicyclists should all learn how to ride with streetcar (and MAX) tracks safely on streets that don’t help bikers ride safely with the tracks.
Bike lanes and routes should be positioned to cross streetcar lines at 45 to 90 degrees, yes. And paint or other markings should warn riders to the track crossing. Bike lanes should not be located to require cyclists to brake to a stop on top of tracks, even at 90 degrees.
Where bike lanes parallel streetcar tracks, they should be separated by an adequate buffer, a couple of feet at least. A curb separation isn’t necessarily a good idea for all the usual reasons: makes it hard for riders to enter/exit the bike lane (doesn’t anyone here start or end their rides mid-block?). Nor it is necessary. I think it is reasonable to expect a rider to be able to stay inside a 3 or 4 foot lane. If the street is not wide enough, then locate the bike route on an adjacent street (e.g. Marshall not Lovejoy).
There will be situations where streetcar tracks curve from one street to another, there isn’t enough room to angle bike lanes to achieve a 45 to 90 degrees angle crossing, and for whatever reason there isn’t an alternative routing for the bike lane. Warning markings will help, but riders will simply have to use their skills. When you cross such tracks, simply make a slight swerve to achieve a 45 degree angle between your wheels and the tracks. (Or, if you have foot retention and a light bike, bunnyhop). If you don’t feel confident doing that, then pick a different route.
Even with all these measures and precautions, some riders will somehow manage to fall on tracks. Crossing them at 90 degrees, in dry weather, etc. Well, stuff happens. Pedestrians trip and fall, drivers suffer fender benders, and bike riders sometimes fall. That’s life. Accept the risk or don’t ride.
There were a few comments on the linked article suggesting this.
I don’t think many people here are advocating for streetcar removal. What could happen is more careful design of facilities where bikes and streetcar tracks interact.
*Unused* streetcar rails should be removed or buried. Deeply.
riding a bike is something most people can do relatively well with only a small amount of informal practice. i realize that bike enthusiasts are proud of their “skills” but arguing that these are necessary is the last thing we need if our goal is wider adoption of transportation cycling. moreover, claims that bike “skills” improve safety for everyday transportation cycling are entirely anecdotal. speaking for myself, none of the skills i have developed would be of much use if i were to ride to work at a slow and cautious pace.
The design of these intersections is hazardous to riders regardless of their abilities.
No one needs to die because of a street car track. The streetcar’s overall utility (while slight) is a separate issue and not under discussion in this article.
Mentioning Amsterdam and such, it’s actually amazing how much more flush tram tracks are there and how rarely one actually does cross tracks in AMS on a bike. Most of the bikeways, etc are not anywhere parallel to the tram tracks. Most are on what we’d consider sidewalks and few put cyclists in a position to ride parallel, on or even across at dangerous angels. I’d almost bet with the few rail transit options and roads we have we actually verge on having more dangerous spots than the entire city of AMS because of our less than stellar design practices and inconsistency in all of this infrastructure.