Streetcar tracks have claimed many victims over the years. (Photos J. Maus/BikePortland)
After years of activism and untold amounts of carnage, the Portland Bureau of Transportation is finally making an attempt to address the dangers that streetcar tracks pose to people riding bicycles.
PBOT has filed a grant application with the Transportation Research Board that would give them $150,000 in funding to work with Portland Streetcar Inc. and Portland State University to identify best practices and improve the safety of cycling around streetcar tracks.
While Portlanders continue to suffer physical injuries and property damage due to falls on streetcar tracks and our local agencies put out safety videos and erect signs warning about the hazards, cities in Europe are actively trying to solve the problem. In the past few weeks we’ve come across word of new technology being tested in Zurich while at the same time hearing new first-hand accounts of the treacherous cycling conditions around the (relatively) new streetcar tracks on Northwest Lovejoy Street in Portland.[Read more…]
German product veloSTRAIL might offer promise for safer urban rail crossings. (Image from Strail.de.)
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 video features (and is narrated by) Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) Advocacy Director Gerik Kranksy; but it doesn’t just focus on bicycling. Titled, “When I Ride,” the video is made for all road users, from skateboarders to walkers and even drivers.
Location where MAX tracks cross E Burnside. Crosslin was traveling from the right side of the image to the left.
This morning, the MAX tracks on East Burnside just east of I-205 (at SE 97th Ave) caused Portland resident Thomas Crosslin to crash his bike. Thomas crosses these tracks every day on his commute from East Portland to downtown and says he’s an experienced rider. He shared a letter with me that he wrote to TriMet in hopes they might do something to fix what he sees as a serious safety issue.
I decided to share Thomas’s letter to raise awareness of this crossing and to show that it’s not just novice riders who have trouble navigating around streetcar and MAX tracks. It’s also important to note that this specific set of tracks has been on our radar as a safety issue for over five years.[Read more…]
There’s been a big development in a legal battle up in Seattle that has similarities to an issue we have here in Portland. As we shared back in June 2010, several Seattle residents who crashed while bicycling across streetcar tracks filed a lawsuit claiming that the City of Seattle, “knowingly allowed unsafe conditions.”
According to the Seattle Times, that lawsuit has been tossed out by a judge who says the City is not liable. Before you jump to the conclusion that the plaintiffs are just whiners who need to figure out how to ride their bikes (a common reaction whenever this topic comes up), what’s important to note is that the case didn’t center around whether or not the tracks posed a danger to people on bikes. All the City had to do in their defense was prove that they followed existing engineering standards.
On the Cherry Ave Bridge in Chicago, the tracks are filled with rubber so bicycle riders can roll over them without worry. (Photo: Steven Vance)
As we continue to discuss the ongoing problem of streetcar tracks causing people to crash while bicycling in Portland, I thought it might be helpful to share some potential solutions.
Many of the current issues (track-straddling on the Lovejoy ramp, tracks in the curbside shoulder (former bikeway) on the MLK/Grand couplet, the craziness in the Pearl District) have to do with a new streetcar line not that’s not even slated to open until fall of next year. However, much of the track is already in the street and has already claimed a lot of bike-riding victims.
The way I see it, PBOT and Portland Streetcar Inc., (the private non-profit that builds and operates the streetcar under City contract) must look to some interim fixes in the short-term and a more permanent solution in the long term.[Read more…]
The Eastside Streetcar project has radically altered vehicle access to the Pearl District. If you ride a bicycle, the changes have been especially acute (as I shared back in July). NW Lovejoy has been decommissioned as a bike route and the Bureau of Transportation now urges people to use Marshall as the main east-west street. [Read more…]
According to a 2008 report by Alta Planning, bike crashes on streetcar tracks are a “major and underreported problem for Portland-area bicyclists.” Even so, the issue struggles to gain official attention because the vast majority of crashes do not get reported.