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Originally published April 11, 2012 at 8:13 PM | Page modified April 11, 2012 at 8:14 PM

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Judge tosses out bicyclists' lawsuit over SLU streetcar tracks

A King County judge has dismissed a suit filed by six bicyclists who said the city of Seattle was negligent in the way it built the South Lake Union streetcar tracks.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A King County Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by six bicyclists who claimed the South Lake Union streetcar tracks caused them to crash and that the city of Seattle knowingly allowed unsafe conditions.

Judge Harry McCarthy last week agreed with the city that the cyclists hadn't proved the city fell short of any design or engineering standards when it placed the streetcar tracks on the right side of the roadway, where bikes were likely to travel, rather than in the center.

Another part of the lawsuit was dismissed last year when a different judge ruled the city was immune from liability in its decision to build a streetcar and align it in the right-hand lane.

"We never disputed the tracks were a hazard," said Rebecca Boatright, assistant city attorney who handled the case. "The legal question was whether we fell short of any engineering standard in designing a road with a streetcar. The judge concluded we did not."

An attorney for the six cyclists said they will file a motion to reconsider the decision.

The bike riders, all of whom were seriously injured along the streetcar line, argued that planning documents alerted the city to the dangers but that possible precautions, such as a bike ban along the route or different track placement, weren't taken.

The cyclists sued when the city refused to compensate them for their injuries.

Bob Anderton, one of the attorneys who represented the cyclists, said that although the plaintiffs won't be compensated for their injuries, the lawsuit did prompt design changes in the planned First Hill Streetcar. That project includes about a mile of bike lanes separated from the roadway. Where there is not a separate bike lane, the streetcar tracks will be toward the center of the lanes.

"We believe that this litigation has resulted in safer streets for bicyclists in Seattle," said Anderton.

The city did add warning signs soon after the streetcar line started operating. It also re-striped Ninth Avenue to add bike lanes.

Accident data since the lawsuit was filed in 2010 indicate that there have been no new bike-only accidents along the streetcar route, said Rick Sheridan, spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation.

But Anderton said the police do not always file accident reports or even respond to bike-only accidents. He said bike riders continue to be injured along the streetcar route.

Lynn Thompson: 206-909-7580 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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