Wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit filed over First Hill Streetcar bike crashes

The family of Desiree McCloud, who died in 2016 after crashing her bike on a track of the First Hill Streetcar, and a rider who survived her crash a year later at the same E Yesler trackway are joining forces to sue the City of Seattle.

“The Defendant City knew there were other bicycle crashes occurring when bike tire were caught in streetcar rail grooves before DESIREE’s injuries and death and SUZANNE GREENBERG’s injuries,” the lawsuit filed just before Christmas reads.

Suzanne Greenberg was injured when she crashed her bike near the spot at 13th and Yesler where McCloud had fallen a year after the deadly incident.

McCloud, 27, died following her May 2016 crash that led to calls for safety improvements near Seattle’s streetcar tracks. The city’s investigation was unable to determine if the First Hill Streetcar tracks had caused the fatal crash.

Their joint lawsuit reads like a project list any street, bicycling, and pedestrian planner would be familiar with in Seattle.

Lawyers from the firm Campiche Arnold contend that the city neglected to include a laundry list of street safety measures in the area of the crash including the lack of a separated bikeway on Yesler:

The Broadway Bikeway, derided by many for its lack of bike traffic, runs parallel to Broadway’s portion of the First Hill Streetcar route and provides riders with a way to travel the artery without negotiating the tracks. Opened in January 2016 as part of a transportation mitigation plan after Sound Transit cut its planned First Hill light rail station, SDOT’s First Hill Streetcar runs 2.5 miles between Pioneer Square and Capitol Hill. With ridership below expectations and pushback from the business community concerned about the construction and loss of parking, plans to extend the route north on Broadway — and the Broadway bikeway along with it — have been axed.

In the suit, the plaintiffs say they will seek financial damages to be determined. If the case proceeds, the trial is scheduled for December of 2018.


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12 thoughts on “Wrongful death and personal injury lawsuit filed over First Hill Streetcar bike crashes

  1. Yes, the death of one woman and injury of the second woman is tragic. But, when does personal responsibility play a role in these accidents? I learned when I was about 9 that when you riding across tracks, you need to be close to 90 degrees. I also learned that you can’t follow too closely behind something that may stop unexpectedly. When we ride we must accept some risk. These are unfortunate accidents. No one has to be at fault.

    • These people rode their bikes, which is one of many varieties of transportation and one that should be made as safe as possible by those who manage the streets and street signage. You would not accept an intersection that had no stop signs or traffic lights or lane markers. Those are safety methods. The lawsuit is saying there were not enough safety methods present. Certainly there is a large amount of personality responsibility by bicyclists at that intersection, else you would see a crash with injury or death every day. On the whole, safety measures may or may not have prevented these incidents, though the one with the bike lane fully separated from the tracks would have (barring the train jumping the tracks or the cyclist not riding in the assigned bike lane). Yes I get that that last bit references personal responsibility and in that case that separated bike lane would have made it potentially easier to identify the cause. But that separated bike lane, safer track grooves, etc. were not there. The courts will determine if this lawsuit has the rationale to move forward. They may indeed find there is no fault. Your judgment of same is premature and shows a bias against bicyclists in relation to perception of personal responsibility, unless of course you comment the same on every car accident that results in a lawsuit. But you don’t.

    • @Max… a large sign or even better marking on the roadway for RR XING would be best if you ask me.

      It is NOT law that a cyclist must use bike lanes (in fact it’s totally opposite..) and there are *a lot* of reasons to not use them – especially when travelling downhill. Thinking that putting a lane there will cure the situation is incorrect, as plenty of experienced cyclists will rightly avoid using them, but in this particular case the way the tracks turn at the bottom of the hill means that a cyclist who does not know the area can blunder into riding parallel to a track, which is the worst situation possible.

    • Yes Max, heaven forbid someone doesn’t think cyclists hung the moon and stars and has a differing opinion – certainly accusing them of outgroup bias is a good way to have them see your side of the story. Eish. The attitude against cyclists in this area seems to coincide with the attitude OF cyclists in the area.

      Probably hundreds of people bike on the road with those tracks every day without incident. This was an accident – those do happen. Inattentiveness will do that. So will unfamiliarity with the area. It’s cool though, maybe we’ll all get to foot the bill for 2 out of many many thousands who had an accident.

    • There is a marked bike lane along that stretch of roadway, but it is not physically separated from the vehicle/streetcar lane. As I recall, Ms. McCloud made the mistake of moving out of the bike lane in order to pass another cyclist in front of her, and that mistake turned out to be a fatal one. A tragedy for sure, but one which was the result of an unwise decision, and not some design flaw.

    • Wouldn’t it be relevant whether this was the first time she rode that stretch? If she had biked that stretch before, it would seem like that would somewhat lessen the effectiveness of the “she had no way of knowing” claim. She would, because she would have traversed it before, and either knew or “should have known”. We all take lots of chances every day, and we usually don’t expect every bit of risk to be removed from our experience to survive it. If it was gross negligence on the part of the city to build the path that way, wouldn’t we see far more frequent accidents there? Does this raise the same kind of question for that I-5 ramp at Harvard Ave? If it doesn’t, whynis that not a double-standard? If you don’t know where you’re going, shouldn’t you be more careful? And if you do know where you’re going….

    • There are many VERY GOOD reasons for a cyclist to leave the bike lane, especially the one on this street. It is sandwiched between parked cars and the trolley tracks and car traffic. If either of those encroaches on the bike lane, you have to leave it. For example, if a car door opens, you either swerve into the tracks, or you crash into the car door and go head over heels. This bike lane is a death trap, and it’s obvious to anyone whose ridden on it.

  2. I drove past the trolley today and noted two people on it. It was close to Yesler. It is a disgrace that our tax dollars spent so much money on such a long and slow, tedious, unnecessary ridiculous mode of transportation in 2017. Shame on Seattle.

    • And I walked past it the other day and saw that it was almost full, with even a few people standing. And the other day I got onto the #8 bus and there were only 2 people on it. So….um….what was the question?

  3. That stretch of Yesler is narrow and dangerous, and there aren’t better options. It’s a marked bike lane, between parked cars and the trolley tracks. The tracks are confusing for drivers. I see cars drive down the bike lane (every single morning in one place, when eastbound drivers go around cars waiting to turn left onto 12th). I don’t like riding my bike down that road, but Jackson has trolley tracks as well and more traffic, so is no better. You can’t cross the curving tracks on Jackson at 90 degrees, either. I know two people, both very seasoned city cyclists, who have had their bike tires caught in the tracks when they thought they were crossing safely. Luckily they weren’t hurt badly, nor killed like poor Desiree.

  4. I will not comment on the lawsuit itself. The deaths are tragic. It is quite sad that ST and SDOT chose to make our streets more dangerous for so little purpose. The transit funds could have been put to much better use. Transit mobility is best provided via service frequency and not through monuments or urban bling.

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