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.
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.
Weather conditions were ideal and McCloud was traveling about 20 MPH, according to the report. McCloud and three friends were biking to Alki Beach at the time of the crash. Officer also inspected the bike after friends returned it to the scene as a memorial. He said there did not appear to be any obvious mechanical issues with the bike.
Medical examiners later determined McCould died as a result of blunt force head trauma.
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.
“We haven’t seen any action from the City on the conflict between cyclists and streetcar tracks on Yesler or elsewhere,” said Brie Gyncild of Central Seattle Greenways. “We haven’t forgotten about it, and we’re working on ways to address streetcar track issues throughout Seattle.”
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.
City officials met with McCloud’s friends and family as well as safe street advocates in June to take feedback on the area. Many called for separating the bike lanes, something not on the current workload of the Seattle Department of Transportation.