while a concerned citizen looks on.
(Photos © J. Maus/BikePortland)
This morning a man was taken away on a stretcher with serious injuries and numerous cuts and scrapes after he lost control while bicycling down the NW Lovejoy ramp.
A witness who was driving his car up the ramp, saw the spill and called 911. I happened to be biking by and rolled over to get a closer look and find out what happened. According to the witness, the man was riding down Lovejoy in the bike lane, then as he started moving to the left across the adjacent streetcar tracks, “he started wobbling and then face planted.”
I was unable to make a definite confirmation that the streetcar tracks caused the crash; but given what I know about riding in that area and what the witness described, it seems pretty clear that the tracks were a contributing factor. The man’s bike had skinny, road-bike style tires.
The tracks on the Lovejoy ramp are relatively new. They were installed as part of the eastside streetcar line that is set to open on September 22nd. They run parallel and just a foot away from the bike lane. People riding bicycles gain speed going down Lovejoy and many people merge over the tracks (to the left) in order to make a left turn onto NW 9th at the bottom of the ramp (PBOT has installed a bike box to encourage a two-stage left turn (a.k.a. “Copenhagen Left”) that would avoid this movement but not everyone uses it).
Streetcar tracks are a major bike safety issue in Portland. Thousand of people have crashed and been hurt over the years, and the new eastside streetcar line — with a design that has raised many concerned eyebrows in the community for its lack of attention to bicycle access impacts — greatly expands the threat.
Pearl District residents have raised a red flag on the issue because they see so many people falling on the tracks.
A volunteer activist group, Active Right of Way, has created a streetcar crash reporting tool to document where and how the crashes happen.
The tracks scare people so badly, it prevents many — including one of the stars of Portlandia — from riding at all.
Just nine days ago, someone posted on Reddit about a bad wreck on NE MLK Blvd:
“… I rode west toward MLK and the took a left and headed down toward Burnside. It’s downhill the whole way and a really fun, yet scary ride, for an amateur urban cyclist like me… I ended up behind a group of maybe 5 cyclists… an unfortunate rider ate shit right in front of me… I stopped to see if everything was OK… I hopped on my bike and headed back down the hill. It only took about 5 more seconds before I thought I was weaving into a bike lane and my front wheel became locked in the new street car tracks. I was thrown down to the ground instantly. It wasn’t serious, but it knocked my front breaks loose and gave my elbows some gashes.
This is going to happen again. People are going to crash on their bicycles on these tracks. They aren’t marked and they look like bike lanes. they are dangerous and when there is bus and street car traffic they could be extremely dangerous.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the new street car addition, but holy shit, we need to get some NO BIKES signs or something. It wasn’t marked at all, and bike tires just slide right down into the grooves. VERY DANGEROUS. People are going to keep crashing in MLK traffic unless something is done.”
Even with growing signs that this is a major public safety problem, local leaders, planners, and policymakers do not seem to be taking it seriously.
The solution here is to get PBOT and Portland Streetcar Inc. to actually devote themselves to a solution. So far, they seem to think people should just “figure it out”. They have also reacted to this problem by saying that they’re still learning and that they’re doing better and that they’ll continue to improve bike access issues in the future. But it’s very clear to me and other people who care about public safety that streetcar planners are not sufficiently concerned about this issue.
I don’t think a City that is trying to increase bicycle ridership, with a Mayor who says safety is his number one transportation priority, should continue to ignore this problem.
I have said for years now that it will take a legal and financial obligation for PBOT and Portland Streetcar Inc. to finally work to solve these issues. I think one solution would be to require, through Oregon law, that all federally-funded streetcar projects include a 1% set-aside fund that must be used to address bikeway access issues. This is the same thing our vaunted “Bicycle Bill” does for highway projects. Absent a financial set-aside, the legislature or the City of Portland should pass a law that requires streetcar plans to be signed-off by a bicycle safety committee before they are finalized. In addition, the City of Portland should be required to fund a public education campaign about how to operate a bicycle around the tracks.
What are your thoughts?
— For more on this topic, see our “bikes and streetcar” story tag.