Woman dies after crashing near streetcar tracks in Seattle

Woman dies after crashing near streetcar tracks in Seattle

Screenshot from Capitol Hill Seattle.

Screenshot from Capitol Hill Seattle.

27-year old Seattle resident Desiree McCloud died yesterday from injuries she sustained from a crash on May 13th. According to reports she was biking with friends near streetcar tracks on E Yesler and 13th when she lost control and went down.

The incident highlights a major problem that has plagued both Seattle and Portland for years: Both cities have busy urban neighborhoods where streetcar tracks and unprotected bikeways mix and both cities have countless crash victims because of it. Track crashes are so rampant here in Portland that there’s an assumption among daily riders that it’s a matter of when not if you’ll go down on them.

Not only do these exposed tracks cause many broken bones and bodies every year, they are also just one more thing that scares some people away from cycling.

Streetview of E Yesler Way near 13th.

Streetview of E Yesler Way near 13th.

Here’s more on the Seattle case from CapitolHillSeattle.com:

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.

And from Seattle Bike Blog:

“According to the police report, Desiree was biking with friends westbound on Yesler Way approaching 13th Ave S in front of Bailey Gatzert Elementary May 13 when she crashed while passing one of her friends on the left. A friend told police Desiree started wobbling and fell hard, perhaps because of the streetcar tracks in the lane adjacent to the bike lane… Though it’s not currently certain that the tracks caused this crash, it is a very common cause of such crashes both along the First Hill and South Lake Union Streetcar routes.”

City transportation departments in Seattle and Portland have acknowledged safety issues of bikeways around streetcar tracks; but neither has made major progress to mitigate the problem. Both cities have faced lawsuits and, despite pressure from activists to do something about the problem, have responded only by making safety videos and encouraging people to simply bike more carefully.

Meanwhile, the problem persists. And now, thanks to deteriorating pavement in northwest Portland old freight rail lines are becoming exposed and they too have started to cause serious injuries to bicycle riders.

Despite all of this there doesn’t seem to be much political urgency to fix it. I’m not sure what it will take to move the needle. I hope it’s not a death. Our hearts are with the family and friends of Desiree McCloud.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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