SunBreak: City was warned about Fairview staircase hazard in 2008

Did the city know that the staircase on Fairview Ave N was a hazard years before Brian Fairbrother died after crashing his bike there? At first, the city said they had not previously received any complaints about the stairs. Indeed, a quick glance at BikeWise.org, a website where people can self-report crashes, does not list any similar incidents on the stairs.

But as soon as it became clear to everyone where Brian’s crash occurred, the stories started to come out. Here’s a comment from Kevin, for example:

Ohhhhhhhhhh so that’s where he died. I almost rode down those the first time I explored safer alternatives to Fairview.

Here’s a comment from Loren:

I came extremely close to riding off those stairs the first time I rode down that way, so I can easily understand how this happened. That is a very confusing switch from side-walk to road. I hope the city takes notice and does something to make sure that this type of accident does not happen again.

From J:

The second I read Fairview and stairs I cringed – that is a tricky spot…

Now, the SunBreak reports that an email chain from 2008 between a concerned citizen and the Parks Department/SDOT has emerged that eerily describes the staircase as a hazard shortly after the sidewalk was declared a “trail” and part of the Cheshiahud Loop.

From the SunBreak:

As the Parks Department had put up a sign soliciting feedback, Hoffman responded with an alarming prescience:

It was nice ride in general but there were a few places that were a bit confusing or even dangerous for an unfamiliar rider. I’m not sure if the loop is considered finished yet but I thought these comments might be helpful. […] There is a bit on the east side where the trail seems to go down a lot of steps and then back up. It is not apparent until you are near the steps that they are actually steps rather than a ramp. I think this is dangerous currently. I would strongly recommend some warning signs here. If cyclists are meant to instead travel on the nearby road against the traffic flow, the trail needs signage and road markings to indicate this.

David Graves, a senior planner with Seattle Parks & Recreation, wrote back, saying: “Due to the traffic flow, the counter clockwise direction is more challenging to navigate on a bicycle than clockwise! As we work on drafting a Master plan for the loop, we will keep your comments in mind.”

When I first asked Seattle Department of Transportation spokesperson to comment on this, she referred me to Parks spokesperson Dewey Potter. Potter confirmed via email that Hoffman’s comments had been received and shared with SDOT:

It was one of many comments received during that process. Parks did share it with SDOT, as the planning team included staff from both departments. It is my understanding that SDOT intends to install signage at the site next week…

Parks Spokesperson Dewey Potter said the comment “was one of many comments received during that process,” and that it was passed onto SDOT.

Was the city at fault for not doing something about this? Did they have adequate hazard warning before the incident? I’m no lawyer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up going to court.

But perhaps a more useful question for the rest of us at this moment is: What can we do to help prevent something like this happening elsewhere?

Commenter Asherah posted this sound advice:

I read the comments on here a few days ago, and three separate people said they’d fallen at that same spot, and that it wasn’t well marked or that there used to be a sign there and then wasn’t. Then I read in the Times that the city had received no complaints about it…..No sense blaming or second-guessing now, but PLEASE bikers when you find a particularly unsafe, unmarked spot in a Seattle bike trail or lane, let the police and city know.

Here’s how you can report hazards (bookmark and/or add to your phone books):

  • Report the incident to SDOT’s online Street Maintenance Request Form. Even if it doesn’t seem to fit with their options, just choose whatever fits best (SDOT, updating that form to allow for bike-related hazards would be awesome)
  • Call SDOT at 206-684-ROAD
  • Report the hazard at BikeWise.org. Not only will your hazard report be public, but the site attempts to forward your concerns to relevant departments in the city, county and state. Pretty cool!
  • If you have a smart phone, download the slightly buggy but also pretty cool BikeWise app (search your app store for “bikewise”). The app lets you start a hazard report where you are, marking the location and type of hazard. It then emails you your started report so you can complete and submit it at the BikeWise website. Maybe it’s a little roundabout, but it’s still pretty cool.
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7 Responses to SunBreak: City was warned about Fairview staircase hazard in 2008

  1. Steve A says:

    That is the relevant lesson from all this. Program your cell phone. If you see a dangerous condition – report it. A traffic signal that will not trigger by a cyclist – report it. Debris that makes a facility dangerous – report it. A policeman that harasses a safely operating cyclist – report it. A policeman that excuses illegal cycling behavior – report it. A dangerous dog – report it. And it will get fixed. Even in Seattle.

  2. Kevin says:

    Pending since 2009, and just yesterday council member Sally Clark berated cyclists for not using a deathtrap.

    Yeah, bikewise won’t solve safety problems. Nor does attending/kvetching at Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board (SBAB) meetings as I’ve discovered.

    I sent a note to Sally Clark inviting her to ride the 2nd ave bike lane downhill with me a few times to see what it’s like, she hasn’t responded.

    • Gary says:

      left hand side bike lanes are death traps. The one on 4th going North through the city also comes to mind. I won’t ride in it either.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Yeah, the 4th Ave bike lane needs help. But it’s not the same kind of death trap as the 2nd Ave lane b/c the 4th Ave lane does not go downhill. I ride in the lane on 4th, then switch to the far right lane once I’m at the top of the hill.

        We need modern protected bikeways through downtown. I don’t care if it’s a rad, super-wide two-way bike lane on 2nd or 4th, or one-way lanes on 2nd and 4th (or two-ways on both, I don’t care). They can be protected by barriers or parked cars, whichever SDOT deems most fitting.

        But they must be the real deal (no cutting corners) and they must happen soon. They are years overdue at this point.

  3. RachaelL says:

    Bikewise has an app! And I have an account now — it never seemed like I would bother using that site on the go, but maybe I will now.

  4. merlin says:

    For what it’s worth, I reported a couple potholes in the past few months and they got fixed very fast. And at Madison and Lake Washington Blvd, a sign appeared saying that bikes can go straight along with buses after I reported this issue (right lane must turn right except buses … bikes were added). I had noticed the weird stairs on the Cheshiahud loop but didn’t think to report that (not a pothole…).

  5. Vancouver WA says:

    Honestly, with all the great hills and staircases in Seattle, I’m surprised the city doesn’t already have a policy of placing some sort of barrier atop drops of more than a step or two, and placing “sidewalk braille” pads atop all stairs in a sidewalk. Stairs are dangerous hazards to tots in strollers, wheel chairs, Rascals, kids on wheeled toys, blind people and runners, as well as bikes. Such barriers are already common at the top of escalators. Something as simple as a single bollard in the middle of the path, a few feet before the top step, would deter crashes such as Fairbrother’s, or a similar one in Fremont in March 2010. Maybe some situations even call for a full maze to prevent direct access, as this one in Vancouver BC, mentioned in a previous comment on this blog.

    Really, that Fairview stretch of the Cheshiahud Trail should have both sets of stairs replaced with ramps for both safety and accessibility, but that’s a longer-term solution. Bollards could be installed relatively quickly (weeks/months). Signs are a good stop-gap measure but tend to disappear or be defaced over time and don’t give as strong a physical message as a post in the middle of path.

    @Kevin – Oh, you’re talking about the 2nd Ave bike lane, yeah, bad design, but good idea on reporting this Fairview hazard on Bikewise.

    Condolences to Brian’s family and friends.

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