Family calls for changes to First Hill Streetcar tracks after fatal bike crash

With her memorial “ghost bike” now marking the spot where she suffered her fatal crash on E Yesler along the First Hill Streetcar tracks, the family of Desiree McCloud is calling for the city to act to make the tracks safer.

“If they want to promote cycling in this town, then throwing something that is so hazardous in [bikers’] way doesn’t seem an intelligent thing to do,” McCloud’s mother told KOMO.

With McCloud’s death last week after 11 days of hospitalization following the May 13th crash at 13th and Yesler, CHS asked Seattle Department of Transportation officials what was being done to make the area where she crashed safer for bike riders. “At this juncture, we do not know if the streetcar tracks played any role in the crash,” a SDOT statement sent to CHS read. “The bike lanes are separate and outside of the streetcar’s trackway at this location on Yesler. Careful consideration about bike facilities occurred during the design of the First Hill Streetcar’s alignment, with bike lanes placed away from the rails and rail crossing points designed as near to perpendicular as possible.”

According to the police report on the incident, friends riding with McCloud the morning of the 10 AM crash told police that she appeared to wobble as they rode together westbound on E Yesler. One said she appeared to slip on or near the First Hill Streetcar tracks which run along E Yesler starting at 12th Ave. Two of the riders crashed and McCloud reportedly flipped over her handlebars and hit the pavement. Arriving medics found her face down in the middle of E Yesler, her body and her face scraped from the crash despite her helmet. McCloud’s family members and friends say her wheel got stuck in the track.

Any safety improvements by SDOT are unlikely to involve the actual track beds which are designed for streetcar train tires used around the world. But there appear to be several options for making the area where McCloud crashed safer. On E Yesler where she fell, 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. Removing street parking and creating a more robust bike lane for westbound riders could be one option — though we’re not sure how to squeeze in something safer for eastbound riders. Elsewhere on the First Hill Streetcar route, planners included the separated Broadway bikeway. For any new Seattle streetcar tracks, the incident will hopefully boost support for separated cycle tracks along new lines.

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27 thoughts on “Family calls for changes to First Hill Streetcar tracks after fatal bike crash

  1. The city is stating that the bike lane is nowhere near the tracks. What changes would they like exactly? Not much can be done when the person on the bike isn’t following the rules of the road.

    • Please understand that the cyclist was NOT disobeying any rules by not using a bike lane. To use or not use bike lanes is optional in this state – it is the cyclists decision. Many bike lanes – including the new one on Broadway are themselves quite hazardous. On street bike lanes should NEVER be bidirectional and/or against traffic – even the gurus in bike friendly Copenhagen have come to this conclusion) and to be avoided. Many others are placed within the door zone of parking areas, another situation that should be avoided and a very good reason to stay out of bike lanes. I believe the lane down Yessler is just such a lane – downhill in the door zone. While the city may have been well intentioned to put this bike lane here to prevent one kind of accident a seasoned cyclist might very well intentionally avoid it as to not get into a different bad situation, not realizing about the tracks until it is too late.

      If there was a problem here it was likely that the cyclist was unfamiliar with the area or was simply unfamiliar with how dangerous they can be to cross. I’m not blaming the city. I know they’ve put up a lot of warnings, but they can’t make people take notice or react quickly enough. I’m not sure it could have been stopped any more than if it had been because of a bad pothole, construction or even the seam in a concrete road bed (which can be just as bad as tracks about grabbing your wheel). As a cyclist these are things you simply need to be be very aware of because they are always possible on any roadway and can lead to a fall. Most falls like this do not result in a death. This was indeed tragic, but preventable… I don’t really know.

    • There should be a law compelling cyclists to use a bike lane where one is provided. Of course, they’ll ignore that one too.

    • They created a death trap between the tracks on the left and the car doors on the right. If one of those car doors opens, the biker will either crash into the door or be forced onto the tracks at a diagonal.

    • OK – you are crazy – or at least ill informed. Familiarize yourself with the actual laws.
      The rule is no MORE than 2 abreast, cyclists passing cyclists and cyclists riding side by side is perfectly fine.
      It is also only required to stay as far to the right as is safe (and that determination is by the judgement of the cyclist) and perfectly acceptable to take the entire lane when one is traveling at speed of traffic, which is quite easy when descending.
      feel free to read the RCW
      http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=46.61.770

    • Why do people walk side-by-side? Why do people sit in the passenger seat of a car when they have an entire luxurious back to recline in? People like to have conversations, and it’s easier to be next to each other and point your face at someone else’s face than it is to speak into the back of someone else’s head.

    • Riding two abreast is unwise, and unsafe in many places. Cycling on a busy urban street is not a time to have a “conversation”…..that would be a distraction, just as texting while driving is a distraction…and compromises safety.

    • They weren’t riding side by side! She was passing on the left, and crashed as she was moving to get back into the bike lane.

    • What part of having a bike lane on 12th, which runs north-south would make it possible to get down the hill from CD to the ID – east-west… This is yet another reason I dislike designated bike lanes… it gives people some strange idea that cyclists only need to go to places where there are bike lanes and that they should only use streets that have them… Lots of us are just like you who are driving. We are going to work, to appointments, meetings, shopping – all the normal things one does in the course of one’s life. We need to use whatever street gets us to where we are going, not just the ones that someone decided to paint lines on…

  2. “If they want to promote cycling in this town, then throwing something that is so hazardous in [bikers’] way doesn’t seem an intelligent thing to do,”

    What the hell are these metal lines in the street anyway and all these metal boxes with people in them not being drawn by horses? The world has gone mad. Ban it all!

  3. I am sorry this accident occurred, but navigating this area on bike, motorcycle, car or on foot requires attention. I ride the streetcar. I get off in the middle of the street. I could easily “slip” on the tracks, or get hit by a vehicle if I am not careful. I am responsible to keep myself safe and out of harm’s way. The city is not responsible for my lack of citizenship in regard to my and other’s safety.
    I appreciate the city’s effort to reduce the carbon footprint and provide transportation which benefits future generations. It is an ethical thing to do. Should there be reasonable care in construction? Yes. Was there reasonable care in the construction of the bike lanes in this situation? Yes.

    • I agree. Even though there is some risk for a cyclist in the designated lanes (car doors opening, mainly), that still is alot safer than venturing out into the car lanes, especially where there are streetcar tracks. Obvious measures to increase safety are for cyclists to stay single-file, and to always be on the lookout for an opening car door.

    • Look – I don’t disagree with taking some personal responsibility for one’s safety. There are many, many things that are hazardous about streets and tracks are just one of the things you need to watch for *but*
      there is absolutely *nothing* about staying single file that increases a cyclists safety when you take out the crazy person factor… this a a myth that drivers like to perpetuate to keep us “out of the way” In fact not riding single file and taking more of the lane is way safer in terms of visibility and maneuverability. The only thing that is less safe is the possibility of irrational, rager drivers who have some crazy idea that they have some right to plow through everyone and everything that is “in their way” on the road. The best way to stay out of the way of an opening car door is to not position yourself where it can happen in the first place. There’s way more car doors in this city than there are trolley tracks – my solution do my best to avoid BOTH.

    • Bob – “some” risk? Depending upon which data you use, 10-20% of reported crashes are doorings. That’s a pretty sizable risk, and it’s the same kind of risk that you face with a streetcar track; you will suddenly be flipped over your handlebars and land head-first on the ground.

      Riding in the door zone is not safe, and that is exactly why pretty much every education campaign by cycling organizations tells people NOT to ride in the door zone. When SDOT builds facilities that encourage biking in the door zone, that flies in the face of all of these educational campaigns.

    • Point taken, Andres. It makes you wonder, then, why SDOT is building (at great cost) so many dedicated bike lanes next to parking areas. Are you and others advocating avoiding bike lanes all together, unless they are separated from traffic and parked cars?

    • They created a death trap by placing the bike lane between the streetcar tracks and the parked cars. If any of those doors open, the biker will either crash into the door (a common way for bikers to die) or be forced at a diagonal across the tracks. That’s poor planning on the city’s part.

  4. From the article: “There is nothing to prevent a rider from inadvertently crossing…”

    It could also be written that on a freeway, there is nothing to prevent a driver from inadvertently crossing over lane markers, and horror of horrors: on many roads away from cities, there is nothing to prevent a driver from inadvertently crossing over the shoulder line then driving off the road.

  5. I do feel bad this happened, and the outcome is not desirable. Most folks who ride near these rails just face plant, Ive seen it happen many times. Bike Lanes are there for your safety. Like crosswalks. Is the next thing calling on the city to make streets safer because people are jaywalking and crossing against the red hand signal? No. While you can jaywalk, ride in between the streetcar rails and more, you are responsible for your own safety. In this case there are bike lanes, they steer you clear of the rails, and direct you to cross perpendicular at the crossing locations. If you choose not to use the bike lanes and flirt with the rails, thats a risk you take.

    • Unfortunately the bike lanes are poorly designed and often as much of a hazard as anything else…
      It is no surprise at all to me that people avoid the bike lane down Yessler. Downhill bike lanes within the door zone of parked cars are the absolute most ill conceived “facility” ever and it seems obvious to me that whomever decided to put them all over the city hasn’t actually ridden a bike down one and certainly has never had anyone suddenly throw open a door into one anywhere near them. It is easy for me to see how someone who is unfamiliar with the area could be thinking they were using best practices by not using the bike lane there, only to be caught through inattention by the tracking. I’m not saying that the cyclist is absolved here – you do have to pay attention – to multiple things, the traffic on your street and on side streets, pedestrians, road surface conditions- everything, but keep this in mind, most streets in this city don’t have trolley tracks – but most of the bike lanes are hazardous. Which do you think people learn about first…

      To fix it? Remove the parking. Widen the travel lane, widen the bike lane (or make 2 travel lanes – as far as I’m concerned, I’m not a huge bike lane advocate if you haven’t noticed). Make it safer and more desirable for a cyclist to stay far away from the tracks even if they haven’t seen them.

  6. My deepest condolences to this poor woman’s family. When I first read about this I wondered how this could have happened to any cyclist that is paying attention to the road. I know Yesler. I ride it often, and I am very able to keep well away from the tracks that I know are there.

    However, if you look at where this accident happened, it is pretty easy to see how it happened. She and her friends were headed westbound, and the crash happened just before 13th. This also happens to be where the streetcar tracks curve in and join Yesler. If a group of casual cyclists are toodling down Yesler at a time when there is minimal traffic, they will be riding side-by-side. And they may not notice the tracks that, prior to 14th, were not there. I could easily see how anyone would make this mistake. I think some signs warning cyclists there are tracks ahead, and painted street warnings, would at least help.

    • What a condescending and insensitive comment. They weren’t riding side by side, “toodling down Yesler.” She was passing another biker, moving quickly and safely (there was very little traffic) to get past someone who was biking slowly. They were all riding responsibly, wearing helmets and following the rules of the road. And if you have a problem with bikers ever leaving the bike lane, a) it’s perfectly legal and b) the parked cars to the right on Yesler will often necessitate it.

    • number one, I’m a cyclist myself. i probably have 6,000 miles on my two bikes, so don’t lecture me about the rules of the road. I know you like to think that this road is designed with the pure purpose of killing cyclists; it’s not. there is a standard bike lane, and to the left of the bike lane is untracked pavement of equal width to the bike lane. But, as i stated (I’m sure you missed it because you were too busy being outraged), this area goes from no tracks to having tracks, and unless you’re paying close attention or know the area, you can miss it. hence my suggestion of painted street warnings and more obvious signs. Also, we all know the potential for doors to be dangerous, but that didn’t happen here, so get off it. It’s an awful, tragic situation, but at least i offered some small solutions. all you did was yell.

  7. Amazing how many of these comments either say “Sorry for the loss, but…” and then attack cyclists or just go straight in to attacking cyclists without even acknowledging that someone died. This community bums me out at times like these.

  8. Many of these comments are ignorant and hurtful. People, the bike lane on Yesler is very poorly designed. It’s impossible to argue otherwise. Once the tracks enter Yesler, bikers are sandwiched between the tracks to the left and the parked cars on the right. Every experienced biker knows to stay far away from parked cars; a door suddenly opening has caused many, many deaths. On Yesler, if a car door opens in front of a cyclist, they will be forced to either crash into the door or to move out of the bike lane and across the streetcar tracks at a diagonal. Her family has every right to protest.

    And to clarify once again because so many people seem confused: she was PASSING ON THE LEFT. She wasn’t riding “side by side.” She was out of the bike lane for only a few seconds, was wearing a helmet, following the rules of the road, and riding in an entirely safe and reasonable manner.