City pays bicycle rider $25,000 to settle rail track crash lawsuit

NW 15th and Hoyt. Note the yellow caution sign in upper right.

The City of Portland has come to a settlement agreement with a bicycle rider who claimed that bumpy pavement caused them to crash and suffer serious injuries. According to KOIN, the person was riding near the intersection of NW 15th Avenue and Hoyt in June 2021. The city will pay out $25,000 as part of the lawsuit, instead of having the case go to court.

Here’s more via KOIN:

Court documents obtained by KOIN 6 News state that plaintiff Natalie King was turning left at the intersection onto 15th Avenue when she struck the uneven pavement surrounding a set of abandoned trolley tracks and fell to the ground. The fall allegedly broke multiple bones in King’s left wrist, which required surgery, and caused scrapes and bruises on her arms and legs.

“Unknown to [the] plaintiff, there were abandoned [trolley] tracks that ran parallel to 15th Avenue,” the lawsuit filed on Feb. 15, 2022 reads. “The abandoned [trolley] tracks had both newer and older asphalt that had been paved around the tracks, where some of the tracks end abruptly. The combined effect of the newer and darker asphalt, the older and lighter older asphalt, and the abandoned [trolley] tracks created a dangerous street condition, of which no warning was given.”

For their part, the city didn’t deny the existence of the hazard. Instead, they placed blame on the company that owns the old tracks and on the rider’s own negligence. In documents obtained by KOIN, the City of Portland said the bicycle rider, who was on an e-bike, failed to take necessary cautions that would have prevented her fall.

Notably, we raised concerns about these same exposed tracks on two occasions back in 2016 during our Northwest Portland Week. I was shocked at how dangerous exposed tracks on NW 12th were and I also pointed out risks of the tracks on NW 15th.

I know that the Portland Bureau of Transportation is aware of these hazards, but I’m not aware of any project or strategy to remove them. It’s quite expensive to remove all the hazardous rails, so — similar to the existence of streetcar and max tracks which have claimed thousands of victims over the years — the plan is likely to just encourage folks to use caution. That typically comes in the form of the (oddly) popular yellow caution signs that show a bicycle rider falling — one of which is installed on the corner where this crash occurred.

I’ve asked PBOT for a comment about this and will update this story when/if I hear back.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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maccoinnich
10 months ago

Being pedantic, but I believe the abandoned rails on NW 15th are old freight spurs, not trolley tracks.

Atreus
Atreus
10 months ago
Reply to  maccoinnich

Correct!

blumdrew
10 months ago

Pointless correction, but most of the old exposed tracks in NW Portland are not former trolleys but rather are remnants of railroad yard tracks. Prior to the 90s, the entire Pearl was a rail yard jointly owned by the major rail companies as the Portland Terminal Railroad. That entity does still exist, and the tracks that surround Union Station are still part of it (and is likely the company that owns the tracks mentioned). Interestingly, if they were in fact trolley tracks the company in question would probably be PGE – since they are the successor to the consolidated light, power, and railway company.

In general, trolley tracks in Portland were narrow gauge (3ft 6in) – though depending on your definition of trolley this may vary. The Sellwood/Oregon City interurban line functioned in the later years as a streetcar between Hawthorne and Sellwood and was standard gauge (4ft 8.5in). You can see these tracks exposed on Milwaukie in Brooklyn, and they are certainly a hazard. On SE 21st just south of Powell, you can also see paved over tracks (there are clear parallel breaks in the pavement) and they are noticeably narrower.

Anyways, here is a nice old map that illustrates the railroad nature of the tracks on NW 15th.

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Fantastic map! You can see the many trolley lines that existed in Eliot/Lower Albina before it was bulldozed for freeways. Here’s a map of the trolley lines in the 1940s:

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Jay Cee
Jay Cee
10 months ago

It’s amazing that not much has improved with those tracks since your 2016 story about them (7 years ago!). The city is completely liable for not paving or keeping up the paving on them. To suggest any fault against the rider is ridiculous and makes me wish they had sued for more money.

The double standards on how we treat road safety for cars vs cyclists in this town is disgusting – imagine a road that caused cars to crash and injure the driver unless they drove perpendicular to road traffic, that is not even apparent in low light situations, it would be fixed that very day

Fred
Fred
10 months ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

It’s amazing that not much has improved with those tracks since your 2016 story about them (7 years ago!).

Not amazing. City gov’t can’t get even the basics right. Removing these old RR tracks is clearly too much for them.

Atreus
Atreus
10 months ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

The City is not liable, the railroad is liable. They are required to remove them under the original franchise agreement and they have failed to do so.

Art Lewellan
Art Lewellan
10 months ago
Reply to  Jay Cee

The Rose Quarter I-5 widening debacle now proposes to locate the “Green Loop” bikeway from NE Clackamas (between NE 7th and the Moda Center) with a ped/bikeway bridge across I-5 to a couplet on Broadway & Weidler. The Clackamas route is SAFER and provides SAFE access to the Vancouver/Williams bike lanes plus access to both Broadway and Steel Bridges.

Moreover, cancelling the Clackamas ped/bike bridge relocated the southbound I-5 exit from Broadway to the Clackamas where exiting traffic must make a “blind” hairpin right turn into stopped traffic. From ODOT idiotic drawings of this new exit, the on-ramp there appears to remain as if the one ramp most needing to be replaced will remain. ODOT is a murderous agency working for PBA and Portland Prosperity for the already prosperous Development Commission pulling the same dirty tricks they did when I-5 through Albina was constructed.

KC
KC
10 months ago

I never fully understand lawsuits like this. If I were to fall because of tracks, I’d think “wow, I shouldn’t bike near tracks”, I wouldn’t think “whose fault is this?”

Not saying this isn’t a hazard that should be dealt with, but cyclist are absolutely capable of doing things that cause themselves harm.

idlebytes
idlebytes
10 months ago
Reply to  KC

Law suits like this take that into account and apportion blame. For instance the woman a few years back who ran in front of a max train and lost her leg was found 42% at fault, trimet 43% for not installing safety features they knew would decrease the likelihood of this occurring and the operator 15% for not sounding their horn or breaking sooner.

So if this went to trial they would like the fault the city for knowing that this was a road hazard and doing nothing to remedy it or warn people. I mean yes you’re right to think you should be careful around train tracks but also the city needs to address hazards with its infrastructure in a timely manner.

dwk
dwk
10 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

What is the difference between these tracks and the city trolley or max tracks legal wise? I don’t really know but it seems they are the same hazard so the city can’t really accept fault or the lawsuits with their own tracks would never end.
I have fallen on the trolley tracks years ago.

KC20
KC20
10 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

I did not blame could be apportioned, very interesting, thank you for the insight.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  KC20

Having served on a jury for two civil cases, apportioning blame trips up a lot of people.

EEE
EEE
10 months ago
Reply to  KC

An important effect of lawsuits is not thinking or figuring out who is at fault, but the ability to address damages.

Fred
Fred
10 months ago
Reply to  EEE

Causes are not mutually exclusive. You can wish you hadn’t gotten into a bad situation but the situation can still be the fault of someone else.

John
John
10 months ago
Reply to  KC

And, we could remove all stop lights and all signage and paint, and it would be perfectly possible for drivers to navigate without running into other drivers. But we rightly recognize that that would be stupid and expect more of our government that is literally the only authority capable of doing anything about this.
It is the government’s job to make public spaces safe. They are ultimately responsible for hazards and maintenance of these spaces. It’s their fault. It doesn’t matter that most of the time, a person is able to avoid the danger.

Pockets the Coyote
Pockets the Coyote
10 months ago
Reply to  KC

To add to the commenters above, these suits are almost always pushed by Insurance companies in the name of the insured, and not by that individual.

We pay the company a premium, which they consider a capital gain and treat as such, then when required to pay out per the contract they experience a “loss” and as they feel they are entitled to that money. The side-effect of this is that the root-cause of these incidents may be addressed by whomever is found to be at fault/responsible of the conditions that caused the issue may be held accountable to address or repair said conditions, either through settlement terms or through fear of additional legal action. In the above case the city may have settled to that their insurances legal team can pursue action against the party they determined to be at fault in hopes for yet another settlement, as a judge may disagree with the legal teams assessment.

It is important to highlight that in these instances, getting something repaired or addressed is secondary, and may often lead to things being managed or addressed poorly.

Chris I
Chris I
10 months ago
Reply to  KC

Lawsuits like this are important because they can drive action. With as much as we pay towards PBOT every year, there is no excuse to have 100 year-old abandoned tracks sticking out of our streets. They have been slapping bandaids on this for decades. Just pull up the tracks and then asphalt the street. It’s going to be cheaper in the long run.

KC20
KC20
10 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

The context for forcing action that otherwise would not have happened does make a lot of sense. I think if I ended up with substantial medical bills, perhaps I’d end up doing more than just submitting a PBOT report.

Tracks fall into the same category as potholes, poorly painted speed bumps, cut through speed bumps that are so narrow you could clip a pedal on them, sidewalks raised by roots, curbs at intersections that suddenly end instead of taper…the list for how you could hurt yourself just by navigating a city is endless.

I don’t think I have the stamina to see a lawsuit through, it’s just easier to blame myself and move on.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
10 months ago
Reply to  KC

And “the car was traveling too fast for conditions”.

Karl Dickman
10 months ago
Reply to  KC

The probability that someone will fall and hurt themselves on these tracks is not zero. Therefore, someone will inevitably fall and hurt themselves on the track. Therefore, leaving those tracks in place is a deliberate choice to allow people to get hurt. That’s a cold hard fact. You can’t hand-wave it away by talking about personal responsibility. People make mistakes. You make them, I make them. These tracks will continue to hurt people. It’s a mathematical certainty. Arguing about who’s to blame won’t prevent a single one of those injuries. They will keep coming until the tracks are removed.

Pockets the Coyote
Pockets the Coyote
10 months ago

I’m a big fan of what I’ve now decided to refer to as crowd sourced cation signs, aka shirts and stickers.

I’m not a fan of relying on the litigious nature of insurance companies attempting to recoup “losses” as a mechanism to hold the city/PBOT/ODOT accountable to prioritizing safety when it comes to maintenance and repair. I’m not surprised that the city feels they’re not responsible for the tracks or a cyclist’s due diligence, but it would be worthwhile to discuss where that line should actually fall.

i bike pdx.jpg
Fred
Fred
10 months ago

Where can we get those stickers?

Pockets the Coyote
Pockets the Coyote
10 months ago
Reply to  Fred

I’ve reached out to where I got my sticker for permission to share them here, but have yet to hear back. If we’re lucky, they’ll show up at one of the happy hours Gorges hosts. I don’t know who did the shirts.

John
John
10 months ago

By that logic, what could the city possibly be responsible for? We can “want” the city to fix and maintain things all day, but when they don’t, it is their fault (i.e. monetarily) if someone gets hurt on it. If someone loses control on I-5 because of a pothole, you better believe the government body responsible for maintaining it is getting sued for damages and forced to repair it.

I simply do not understand this “whelp you better just be careful” attitude. Do you not live in a city? Should it be individual actors that go around and fix ADA compliance issues, paint lines, fix lights? Just because?

I understand it being a pain, and if I’m not severely injured I’d probably just go about my day (I have, for example when I scraped up my knee after hitting something hidden in the leaves). But if nobody does anything about it, nothing will be done about it.

Pockets the Coyote
Pockets the Coyote
10 months ago
Reply to  John

To clarify, while I like the shirt and stickers because it’s a playful way to say “hey this sucks right?” I should be more transparent that I do not have a “whelp just be careful” attitude. I think the current system of relying on a loss of profits is a poor way to address issues and find root cause. We need ways to be proactive in addressing issues like accessibility and safety for the sake of making things accessible and safe. Some of this exists in our 311 system, pot hole hot line, and the PDXreporter app, and I’m sure the creation of these systems was fraught with the myth that we can overly sanitize public spaces. I think we need more of them, and I think we need to empower the public with simple and accessible tools that help us to say “Hey we should address this thing I’ve noticed”

John
John
10 months ago

I believe that if there was a hazard that caused a high chance of rolling your car over while driving around the city normally, they would do more than put up a sign.

Charles Ross
Charles Ross
10 months ago

On May 15th I reported a hole in the ground, not a bump, or a crack but a hole to the ‘Portland Pothole hotline’. It is located at the north end of the Vista Ave Bridge at the end of a long downhill runway for cyclists. This section is listed on Portland Bike Map as: ‘Shared Roadway with Wider Outside Lane.’ It is a route used by dozens of cyclists daily. If a cyclist hits this HOLE at any significant speed it will either kill them or significantly injure them, with a possiblity that they could be thrown into oncoming traffic. If you call the hotline you will be told to report the pothole and ‘we’ll get to it, don’t call us again’. I would suggest to the City of Portland, the ‘City that Works’, that they should get on this as they are on track to owe a significant amount of money to an unknown cyclists heirs or to the costs of lifetime care should they survive falling into THE HOLE IN THE GROUND THAT IS AT THE NORTH END OF THE VISTA BRIDGE!!!!!!

dan
dan
10 months ago
Reply to  Charles Ross

It’s been awhile since I rode there and I’ve never seen that hole, but I know that location and I agree that hitting a large hole there would be disastrous for a cyclist.

Charles Ross
Charles Ross
9 months ago
Reply to  Charles Ross

I realize this is a ‘note’ that’s going to reach just about nobody, but the hole on the pavement at the north end of the Vista Bridge has been fixed! Thank you City of Portland!