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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:

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34 thoughts on “Woman dies following bike crash along First Hill Streetcar tracks

  1. I knew Desiree. This has been terrible news to hear. She had a positive impact on many people’s lives, and everyone who had the pleasure of knowing her is having a rough time knowing that she’s gone now.

  2. I’m so sorry to read this. I wish someone would do a story on how many people have had bicycle accidents due to these tracks and combine it with a story of how many people actually use these streetcars.
    From one who knows only too well.

  3. Amsterdam has an order of magnitude more coverage of streetcar tracks and bicyclists. Why don’t we hear of the ridiculous amounts of cyclist deaths happening there?

    To be fair, I have fallen victim to the missing link railroad tracks myself, but never the streetcar tracks and my bike has super narrow tires.

    Moreover, why wasn’t she in the protected cycle track?

    • As noted above, the cycle track isn’t part of the Yesler design. There are bike lanes there — not a separated bikeway.

    • I see now that the bike lane design at 13th and Yesler is pretty poor. What would really help is a rubber insert on all streetcar tracks so bike tires don’t fall in. And a some warning signs for cyclists so that novices cross tracks with caution.

    • And I may not have mentioned it, but this is really saddening and scary for me as well. I really hope the city does something to prevent future injuries.

    • Amsterdam also has plenty of bike crashes on streetcar rails. But they’ve been having those crashes for generations, so they’re not “news,” any more than yet another car crash is “news” in Seattle.

      Dutch children learn safe bicycle operation in grade school, they build bike paths for the highest-risk locations, and they have socialized medicine for the people who crash anyway. (It’s still safer than driving in the U.S., anyway.)

      Bike crashes on the South Lake Union line got a lot of coverage at first, these days they’re routine, not news, just a steady stream of ER admissions every month, rain or shine.

    • “Moreover, why wasn’t she in the protected cycle track?”

      She was passing another biker.

      In general, there could be many justifiable reasons for leaving the bike lane. On Yesler, the main one might be avoiding an opening door from the parked cars to the right of the bike lane.

    • The reality is that a helmet can not really protect you from a severe concussion which is what I assume she experienced. The problem is rapid acceleration/deceleration makes the brain hit the walls of the skull and a helmet can only take a little bit of the edge of that.

    • Why do people leave comment and ask questions if they haven’t read the entire article?
      It clearly states that she was.

  4. Very sad. I watched a guy go down on tracks recently. I stopped to help him up and he said it was his first day ever of bike commuting to work.
    Beginners need to be made aware of how to cross these tracks safely.

  5. This is very sad, and I’m sure it’s difficult on Desiree’s friends and family.

    What I would like to see the city do is move bicycle traffic off of arterial streets like Yesler. The arterial roads are already too crowded and, while it would take some doing to move bike lanes to side streets, it would be safer to separate bike traffic from cars and trolleys.

    • The issue here is that the bike infrastructure was on Yesler before the First Hill Streetcar existed. The streetcar tracks should not be commingled with bike lanes on the same stretches of pavement. The bike lanes are on Yesler because it’s one of the few routes that goes continuously from downtown to the CD. Why the planners of the First Hill Streetcar needed to use those blocks of Yesler is beyond me – they should’ve ran it up Jackson and then onto 12th Ave and skipped Broadway entirely. As it stands now the whole installation is a complete mess and barely anybody uses it. All because we couldn’t put a light rail stop on First Hill like originally promised and didn’t want to give half a billion dollars back to the feds due to complications in light rail engineering and unstable soil.

  6. There’s a scooterist currently in the ICU because her tire also got stuck on the trolley tracks.

    Unlike bicycles, since scooters are motorized vehicles they are forced to travel down the tracks which is fundamentally unsafe. I’m upset beyond words that this unsafe design was build and now has started taking lives.

  7. This past Friday I crashed my bike riding to work after getting my tire stuck in the Streetcar track, despite being aware of the potential for danger and being aware to stay clear. As usual, I was riding down a pretty empty Jackson St in the bike “lane” with the tracks a lane or two over on my left. As I was taking a left onto 5th to make my way to the International District Station, even at an angle my tire got pulled into the track. A broken wrist, 5 face stitches and lots of reflection later I think my only move in the future will be to exit the road at 5th and cross Jackson in the crosswalk, completely perpendicular to the tracks.

    Living in the area I’ve already used the Streetcar a few dozen times (including to get back home after crashing) but it’s incredibly dangerous to cyclists.

    P.S. Thanks to the “Ride Everywhere” crew from Sound Transit who were out manning their booth in front of Union Station at 6:45am on Friday and assisted me after I crashed. I was a little disoriented and didn’t figure out until an hour later that my wrist had broken, but I greatly appreciated the help getting cleaned up.

  8. Your “Safety guide for riding near the tracks” is “Get ready to roll your bike onto the First Hill Streetcar”.

  9. I am yet another street car track cycling victim. August 2014 I fractured my pelvis after slipping on the tracks at Jackson & Rainier/14th on a rainy morning. I am deeply saddened that this woman has died doing something that she loves; killed by something (the street car to nowhere) that is ultimately useless.

  10. My spouse has crashed with his bike tire caught in the streetcar tracks in the ID. My friend has crashed, same way. Both are veteran bike commuters. The city took the arterial road with the best grade for cycling, Jackson St., and made it dangerous – now fatal! – for cyclists with the incredible waste of money known as the streetcar. And they took a chunk of Yesler where this poor woman was killed. I am so sorry for her and her family and loved ones. The streetcar tracks are a death trap if you have to make a sudden move out of the shared car/bike lane.

  11. The city of Seattle has done some things to separate bike traffic from streetcar traffic, like the bike lanes on 9th and on Dexter. I wish more bike riders would choose those routes instead of taking chances with the rail gutter on Westlake.

    • How do you avoid them when they’re placed on existing bicycle routes with existing bicycle infrastructure?

      The routing of the mostly-pointless First Hill Streetcar was poorly thought out with respect to existing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

      When the SLUT was built, Westlake was a four-lane road with no existing bike infrastructure. Yesler’s had a bike lane & sharrows on it for years, well before the streetcar tracks were laid. So far we’ve had many incidents with it because there simply are no alternative routes for cyclists in that area – the streetcar could’ve been built along a better route.

  12. My wife used to commute daily on Yesler by bike from from home in the CD to work in Pioneer Square. Then she hit a pothole on the hill and woke up in Harborview with a cuncussion. She was lucky to only have road rash on her face for a couple of months.

  13. SDOT’s release is simply offensive in its lies.

    “Careful consideration about bike facilities occurred during the design of the First Hill Streetcar’s alignment, with bike lanes placed away from the rails …”

    Sure. Narrow, substandard, door-zone bike lanes, on a street with parallel parking, bus stops, and driveways. I’d call that a careful consideration of CYA window-dressing around knowingly making a major bicycle route significantly more hazardous.

  14. “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.”

    We don’t know exactly what caused her to fall. But this statement makes no sense to me. We all know that she was passing on the left and so was outside the bike lane and on top of the tracks.

    I just can’t believe that after “careful consideration” anyone would think it was a good idea to build a bike lane sandwiched between tracks and parked cars (door opening hazard). Any move outside of the lane could result in an entirely predictable and preventable crash.

  15. a previous commenter said “The issue here is that the bike infrastructure was on Yesler before the First Hill Streetcar existed. The streetcar tracks should not be commingled with bike lanes on the same stretches of pavement. ”

    This actually makes a strong argument for bikes not being on streets (since cars were there first) and for not commingling the bike with car on the same stretches of pavement. But we are where we are…

    Accidents do happen and nothing, no matter how simple, can be bullet-proof to be forever safe. Commingling is a fact of life, going to happen and awareness, personal responsibility, and the utmost in preventative safety are required to avoid accidents.

    Albeit extreme, maybe the best way for bikes to cross tracks is to get off, and walk across the intersection before continuing on. If you’re not willing to do that and take safety into your own hands, then you’re taking on and owning the associated risks.

    • Except that commingling bikes with cars poses no (or very, very little) danger to cars, while commingling tracks with bikes is very, very dangerous to bikes.

      I agree, at some point every activity carries a risk, and you have to weigh that risk and make your own decisions. But I also think it’s reasonable to consider how to prevent these accidents, particularly since they are so common (see all the above comments of previous crashes). Shrugging our shoulders and saying “accidents happen” doesn’t help anyone. Surely we can come up with some solution?

      Yes, nothing can be 100% safe, but in this case, I do think the city has created a trap for bikers, with the tracks one side and parked cars on the other. If a car door suddenly opens, a parked car suddenly moves into the bike lane, or any other common thing suddenly happens, the biker will be forced onto the tracks at a diagonal. This just doesn’t seem like an optimal design. Surely we can do better.

      • It’s dangerous to everyone. The problem isn’t just with bikes, it’s all two wheeled vehicles. The scooter rider who’s wheel got stuck is still in the ICU. (But getting better)

        Two wheeled vehicles have trouble stopping if both tires are on metal. A Vespa and rider would be a 500lb steel object… traveling at say 20 mph would be a fatal danger to j-walkers or any other vehicle that happens to be on the road (or sidewalk if it loses control) :(

  16. Alright, Well I’m not one to post anything on the Internet but i feel like it’s a must for what happened to me today on monday 8/1/2016. I was on my way home from doing bike bingo with my girlfriend when I went down that same hill where i saw Desiree memorial and got caught in the tracks going at a fast speed, i flipped over my handle bars flying several feet landed mostly on my back, spitting up blood. Luckily a few people saw the accident and a sweet lady drove me to the emergency room. I’m very blessed to still be a live. Please be careful and warn others of this dangerous area .