Investigators unable to determine if First Hill Streetcar tracks caused fatal bike crash

In the moments before Desiree McCloud fatally crashed her bike near 13th and Yesler, she crossed in between the tracks of the First Hill Streetcar to pass a friend. After a police investigation, it remains unclear if it was the track that ultimately caused McCloud to flip over her handle bar and land headfirst on to the street.

“That question appears impossible to resolve,” said a SPD investigation report obtained by CHS.

According to investigators, all signs point to “operator error” in McCloud’s May 13th crash which led to her death a week later. Security camera video obtained by police show McCloud passing her friend while riding in between the tracks, but does not show the actual crash. McCloud was riding westbound on Yesler when she crashed shortly after passing through the 14th Ave intersection. Continue reading

Woman dies following bike crash along First Hill Streetcar tracks

Family and friends are mourning the passing of Desiree McCloud. The 27-year-old died Tuesday of injuries sustained the morning of Friday, May 13th when she crashed as she rode with friends near the First Hill Streetcar tracks at 13th and Yesler.

Investigation of the now deadly crash is underway.

The people riding with McCloud the morning of the just after 10 AM crash told police that McCloud 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 face and body scraped from the crash. UPDATE: Police say McCloud was wearing a helmet when she crashed. McCloud was unable to provide a statement to police and was rushed to Harborview where she died Tuesday after more than a week of hospitalization.

If the investigation confirms that the tracks caused the crash, McCloud’s death will be the first involving a bicyclist and the new line that finally opened for service earlier this year. The tracks have been in place since 2014. The dangers for cyclists riding around streetcar tracks are well known. Seattle’s South Lake Union line has been notorious for crashes — though we’re not aware of any deaths involving that route. But the busy street environment can make the dangerous interactions difficult to avoid. On E Yesler where McCloud crashed, 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.

Elsewhere on the First Hill Streetcar route, planners included the separated Broadway bikeway to reduce bicyclist interactions with the tracks. The Seattle Bike Blog published this safety guide for riding near the tracks.

McCloud’s friends and family have been raising funds to help cover her medical bills. “As many of you probably heard, Desiree passed away this morning,” the latest update reads. “I want to thank everyone who donated here; the amount of love and support shown here and elsewhere was amazing.” You can give here.

UPDATE: The Seattle Bike Blog has posted several remembrances of McCloud sent by friends. Here’s one passage:

Des was an amazing human being who created a whole community in Seattle. She was was an integral part of welcoming me when I arrived here three years ago. She was always there to help someone in need. From helping her friends change out their wardrobes because she thought they lacked fashion sense to rescuing friends from the Midwest and helping them find jobs in Seattle. She was always there for us. She volunteered with the Girl Scouts as a troop leader and service unit manager. She taught Magic: The Gathering to many people with the Lady Planeswalkers Society at our weekly meet ups and at conventions across the region. She was ferociously intelligent and would debate you about anything and everything.

UPDATE 5/26/2016: Seattle Department of Transportation spokesperson Rick Sheridan said SDOT does not know “if the streetcar tracks played any role in the crash.” “Our review process will help determine if any modifications to the roadway are warranted,” he writes. The full statement is below:

The Seattle Department of Transportation was notified of the fatality at East Yesler Way and 13th Avenue by the Seattle Police Department (SPD) on May 25. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Desiree McCloud.

SPD informs us that their investigation is ongoing at this time. Following our standard protocols SDOT will undertake a fatal collision review process, which includes gathering data and conducting a site check. Our review process will help determine if any modifications to the roadway are warranted.

At this juncture, we do not know if the streetcar tracks played any role in the crash. 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.

UPDATE 5/27/2016: A friend of McCloud — and others — posted some strong reactions to the SDOT statement on streetcar track safety:

Adam also shared an image of the “ghost bike” that now marks the spot where McCloud suffered the fatal crash:

Broadway Bikeway gearing up for May opening — Yesler Hill Climb ahead

The future Yesler Hill Climb

The future Yesler Hill Climb

The First Hill streetcar might not have its cars finally manufactured until the fall but the (mostly) complete Broadway Bikeway could be open as early May. Meanwhile, Seattle Bike Blog also has news of a potentially excellent addition to the area’s biking infrastructure — the under the radar Yesler Hill Climb.

First, SBB reports that the bikeway is likely to be fully open by May:

The Broadway Bikeway is getting so close to being paved all the way to Yesler, but it may not be fully opened until project work wraps up in May. This late opening is to avoid situations where people encounter unexpected closures due to continued construction, as has been a problem at the north end of bikeway.

In January, CHS reported on the ongoing construction on the Capitol Hill Station pedestrian underpass beneath Broadway that will lop off the northernmost reaches of the bikeway even after the possible May opening. Still, as the Bike Blog notes, the opening of the bikeway will still create “a protected space to bike all the way from Yesler Way to Seattle Central Community College.”

And, when yet another swarm of area construction and development project is complete, Seattle Bike Blog says there will be a new connection to the bikeway and streetcar route’s southern reaches.

Here is what the future home of the Yesler Hill Climb looks like today. The image up top is how planners hope it will look in the future. You can learn more about the climb from SBB.Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 4.56.30 PM