Bicyclists sue Seattle over crashes on streetcar tracks
Six bicyclists have sued the city of Seattle, claiming that the South Lake Union streetcar tracks caused them to crash and that the city knowingly allowed the unsafe conditions.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Six bicyclists have sued the city of Seattle, claiming that streetcar tracks caused them to crash and the city knowingly allowed the unsafe conditions.
The South Lake Union streetcar opened Dec. 12, 2007. Even before service began, some cyclists fell.
The tires on a standard road bike can easily get stuck because they are narrower than the 1 ¾-inch groove that holds the steel streetcar wheels in place. Patricia Lenssen held a "Watch for Injured Cyclists" sign on opening day. She said she broke her jaw and two teeth in a trackway tumble.
That night, a group of 55 cyclists took several laps through the 1.3-mile streetcar corridor to protest the hazards. By early 2008, the Cascade Bicycle Club had heard more than a dozen reports of trackway bike crashes.
The lawsuit, filed last week, alleges that streetcar-planning documents alerted the city to the dangers — a bike ban or different track placement were possible responses, but were not taken. The city did add warning signs soon after the grand opening and several bike crashes.
Earlier, project manager Ethan Melone explained that tracks were put in the road lanes because a separate median would eat up too much space; Grace Crunican, then the city transportation director, said stations at curbside are easier than median stations for streetcar riders to use.
Besides the north-south tracks on Westlake Avenue, the suit says, curved tracks cause a hazard where Fairview Avenue North and Valley Street meet.
Plaintiffs are Lenssen, Joseph Pomerleau, Emma Levitt, Jason Dean, Laura Humiston and Amanda Currier.
Ninth Avenue has been re-striped and converted into the city's official bike route, but many riders still use Westlake, now a two-way street.
For the future First Hill Streetcar, to open in 2013, city officials including Melone are designing trackways toward the center, where possible, to enhance bike safety.
The cyclists' injuries included broken bones and "a whole spectrum of injuries," said attorney Stacie Bain, who with attorney Robert Anderton is representing the six plaintiffs. They sued when the city declined to compensate them for claims, including medical expenses, bicycle damage or lost wages, Bain said.
The city had no immediate comment on the lawsuit, spokeswoman Marybeth Turner said Tuesday
Similar controversies have arisen in Portland, which also has a combination of modern streetcar lines and growth in urban bicycling.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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