First Hill Streetcar
(Above KOMO News story aired June 20, 2016)
What does it take to make this treacherous stretch of the First Hill Streetcar tracks safer for cyclists? A few weeks ago, we mourned the tragic death of cyclist Desiree McCloud, who crashed her bike only a few blocks away from where our client, cyclist Daniel Ahrendt, crashed his bike and survived after a Metro bus ran over him. Now, we have Jessica Hicks, who crashed on her scooter a few weeks after Denise Chew, a Tukwila nurse, crashed in the same area. To add insult to injury, Denise’s scooter was auctioned off, while she was unconscious and on a ventilator at Harborview. Really. I’m not making this up.
There are a number of ways that we can make this area safer for those riding two wheels. Bicycle advocates have frequently pointed to flange-fillers (used in a less trafficked area of the First Hill Streetcar line in the International District) or a covered-track system such as VeloStrail (currently used in Europe for curved tram tracks that intersect cyclist/pedestrian paths). As much as I would love to see solutions like those embraced, we also have a number of other less dramatic options. Let’s look at what the City has done on the Second Avenue corridor, soon after the horrific death of young attorney and friend Sher Kung.
We should look at options that keep cyclists away from the tracks with bollards, signalization, bright paint, and education–among other ways. In a future post here, I will share more insights with a transportation engineer, who is well versed in the area of cyclist safety along light rail lines.
A little over a year after my client, Daniel Ahrendt, caught his tire at the intersection where First Hill Streetcar tracks curved onto the bike lane. I’m saddened, but not surprised to learn about 27 year old Desiree McCloud’s death. She too crashed along the same tracks, close to where Ahrendt was run over by a Metro bus. Witnesses apparently saw her flip over her handlebars and hit the pavement.
The South Lake Union cyclist crash cases were dismissed because the City argued that bicycles were not considered “ordinary travel” along the South Lake Union route. In fact, the City had planned to ban bicycles there.
However, in Daniel’s and Desiree McCloud’s cases, the City included bike lanes along the First Hill Streetcar line. The argument that bicycling is not considered “ordinary travel” cannot pass muster for our injured/killed cyclists who were invited to ride their bikes on this hazardous portion of the streetcar line. We must not blame cyclists, when the City developed this new streetcar line with eyes wide open regarding the extraordinary hazard that the curved tracks pose to cyclists and those on wheelchairs.
Note, there are rubber flangeway fillers along this streetcar line in the International District by 8th Avenue. Why there aren’t flangeway fillers or something else that will prevent cyclists from unintentionally falling into these curved tracks escapes me. Excuses about the cost in replacing the rubber or maintaining them is absurd. How many lives and serious injuries does the City need to see, before it does something like it did in response to the injuries and deaths from cyclist crashes on Second Avenue?
Please visit the donation page that Desiree’s family put up, which will go to cover medical costs, etc.
Last week was National Protected Bike Lane week. Just a few hours south of us, in Portland, a coalition of businesses and residents conducted a one-week test that redesigned nearly a mile with marked crosswalks, a hand built floating bus stop and extra sidewalk space for cafe seating. On the block with the bus stop, the design included a parking-protected bike lane. The interesting point is that, by slowing traffic down a bit, not only does this increase pedestrian and cyclist safety, but it also benefits the local businesses. Freeway-style roads do not encourage people to look around them.
Understanding that protected bike lanes aren’t always feasible, there are a number of other options. Take, for example, timing the traffic so that bikes and other vehicles can alternate on the same roadway. SKW client Daniel Ahrendt is a seasoned cyclist commuter. But last year in May, his bike tire hit a portion of the First Hill Streetcar tracks, causing him to fall. That morning was clear, dry and partly sunny. The issue was not slick roads/tracks, but that he had to compete with the Metro bus that was “sharing” the lane with him and other cyclists headed in the same direction. I cannot help but imagine the difference that a timed light, which would have allowed Daniel to proceed before the bus, allowing him ample time to cross the intersection and avoid the fall that resulted in nearby bus to run over him.
When reading a Seattle Weekly article (“Five things we learned about Second Ave Bike Lines) earlier this week, I was struck by a few of the main points that writer Daniel Person made. I believe that the most important takeaways is that SDOT has shown that it is surprisingly flexible. Indeed, this certainly seems the case given how it has pivoted and adjusted the infamous 2nd Ave corridor after a few minor bicycle vs. car accidents. Namely, it addressed the vulnerable spots for cyclists, where cars wanted to pull into parking garages. Raising the curbs outside the parking garages slows the drivers down before they enter/cross over the bike lanes.
Also, take a look at those planters. So SDOT can be creative and nimble. Why not address the dangerous spots that compromise cyclists at the First Hill Streetcar line? If SDOT can make changes after a few minor bike/car collisions on the Second Ave bike corridor, it should take a long, hard look at that dangerous intersection where our cyclist client Daniel Ahrendt was run over by a bus.
With the quiet launch of the First Hill Streetcar this weekend, I am reminded of client Daniel Ahrendt‘s amazing recovery from his bicycle crash at an intersection, where the streetcar runs. A seasoned commuter cyclist, Daniel was riding his bicycle on the clear and dry morning of May 4, 2015. However, the streetcar tracks posed the same hazard as they always did for cyclists who wanted to ride on that commuter facility at the intersection of Rainier Avenue South, Boren Avenue South, Jackson and 14th Avenue South.
This past Christmas, KOMO TV aired a “Special Report” on Daniel’s road to recovery, after a horrific incident, where he fell, after his tire was caught in the streetcar tracks and a Metro bus ran over him. The story reveals the strength of Daniel’s character and the amazing family that he had that supported him throughout the most challenging year of his life.
Worth noting is that there are international best practices that could have prevented this catastrophic incident. More to come in future blog posts.