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.

McCloud's friends and family held a memorial service around her ghost bike. (Image: CHS)

McCloud’s friends and family held a memorial service around her ghost bike. (Image: CHS)

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.

The cyclist riding along side McCloud, who crashed into her after she went down, told police she thought the tracks may have caused the accident. Here is the investigator’s final conclusion: screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-10-41-52-am

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.

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7 thoughts on “Investigators unable to determine if First Hill Streetcar tracks caused fatal bike crash

  1. I still think about her whenever I pass by this intersection. I was surprised to learn she was riding in between the tracks. Any experienced biker knows that this is very dangerous and essentially makes you trapped because you can no longer swerve right or left if anything is in the roadway.

    Even in the Seattle times article a while back the writer was making dangerous decisions when riding up Jackson street and then was complaining that he didn’t feel safe at times.

    People always blame the tracks, but never the riders for making bad choices. There is a dedicated bike lane for a reason, I wish people would start using it and realize that tracks can be dangerous. If you can ride away from them, do so, and never ever ride between the tracks!

    • So what part of the headline “Investigators unable to determine if First Hill Streetcar tracks caused fatal bike crash” don’t you understand? As it also means they didn’t determine that it was the fault of the cyclist.

    • Bob – it’s mostly because they can, vs whether they should. Entitlement in our cyclists is ever present in what they do. Irony is they complain about the traffic, yet many times there’s a cyclists in the travel lanes causing more traffic back up.

      I think there ought to be a law compelling cyclists to use a bike lane where one exists. We all paid to put it in, now use it.

  2. something that i find interesting is that, although she had a helmet on during the crash, she still died of a head injury. i always stress the importance of a properly fiting helmet is certified for bike use. i cannot tell you how many times i have seen people on bikes using skate boards helmets, those helmets are ment for low speed crashes and cannot absorb the impacts from bicycles.

  3. The one period of my time in Seattle where I spent a year and a half being a bike commuter I fashioned my own QUIET routes through side streets and away from the sort of arterials where I’d heard a steady enough stream of stories of more bold riders getting sideswiped by a car or eating dirt due to something about the road. I never felt I was adding an undue amount of time to my commute. Safety, safe routes, and not riding as fast as possible expecting pedestrians to flee out of the way or ignoring traffic laws would go a very long way in biker longevity.

  4. This is so sad, I missed this news when it happened and the other day I saw the white bike and started wondering what had happened.
    My heart goes out to her family and friends.
    I grew up in a city that has over 100 miles of street car tracks that more often than not are in the same lane as cars and bikes. After I fell a couple of times when the thin wheels of my bike got stuck in the tracks I decided to buy a mountain bike with fat tires, that helped a lot.