Lawsuit filed against city for streetcar tracks deemed ‘unsafe for bicyclists’

Lawsuit filed against city for streetcar tracks deemed ‘unsafe for bicyclists’

NW Lovejoy streetcar-1

Track warning sign just a few yards from
where the crash happened.
(*Note that the sign wasn’t there in May 2012.)
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

The Oregonian reported last week that a Portland woman named Leslie Kay has filed a lawsuit against the City of Portland after she crashed her bicycle on streetcar tracks. She suffered a bad injury to her foot and is suing the City for $49,999. The incident happened back in May 2012 on NW Lovejoy just west of 13th (map).

According to The Oregonian, the lawsuit, “faults the city for the bicycle path’s design; for building streetcar rail lines that are “placed in a way that make them unsafe for bicyclist(s),” and for “creating a bicycle path design that did not look out for the safety of the bicyclist nor the pedestrians…”

Here’s more from The Oregonian about how the crash happened:

NW Lovejoy streetcar-4

Bike lane used to route onto the sidewalk.

“… she was riding her bicycle along Northwest Lovejoy Street in the Pearl District. As she approached Northwest 13th Avenue, she encountered a bicycle lane that directed bicycle traffic off of the road and into a streetcar shelter and waiting area, where a crowd of people were standing.

“Because the crowd of people in the shelter blocked the bicycle path, (Kay) was forced to remain on the street of N.W. Lovejoy,” reads the suit, filed Friday in Multnomah County Circuit Court. “(Kay) proceeded slowly over the Portland Streetcar rail lines when the bicycle front tire got caught in the rail.”

As regular readers know, the impact these streetcar tracks in the Pearl District have had on bicycle riding is a topic we’ve covered many times in the past. While countless people have crashed on these tracks over the years, this lawsuit is the first we’ve heard of.

It’s important to note that the City of Portland actually decommissioned the bike lane on NW Lovejoy in late 2010 as part of the eastside loop project. Prior to that, Lovejoy was a main bicycling thoroughfare through northwest Portland because it connects directly to the Broadway Bridge. Also worth remembering is that even when it did officially exist, the bike lane between 13th and 12th (where Kay’s incident occurred) was widely unpopular because it routed people up onto the sidewalk directly through a streetcar stop.

Here’s how the bike lane in this location looked prior to November 2010…

Conditions on Lovejoy-3

Here’s how it looks after the bike lane was removed…

NW Lovejoy streetcar-2-2

And in this photo, the green arrow shows where Kay says she was forced to ride…

It was a very rare move to remove a key bike lane on such a primary street in the bike network and it has had consequences. Not only was a direct connection to the bridge removed, but many people continue to use Lovejoy despite its increased safety risks. We raised these issues via the strong concerns of a local resident back in August 2011.

After PBOT decommissioned the Lovejoy bikeway, it took a long time for them to add new signage warning riders about the risks of using the street. They now direct east-west bicycle traffic to NW Johnson instead (or NW Marshall to the north).

Even though there are clear and present safety issues with PBOT’s streetcar track designs — a fact they themselves now acknowledge — this will likely be a very tough case for Ms. Kay to win. The case will likely hinge on whether or not the design of NW Lovejoy is up to current engineering standards.

A recent lawsuit in Seattle might be a good comparison. In April 2012 a judge ruled the City of Seattle was not liable for a bicycle rider’s crash on streetcar tracks. “The legal question was whether we fell short of any engineering standard in designing a road with a streetcar,” said an attorney for the city, “The judge concluded we did not.”

We plan to follow this case closely. Stay tuned for updates.

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