Man injured in collision with Metro bus on tough road to recovery

Daniel Ahrendt has a long road back to recovery. But considering what happened, things could have been so much worse.

Ahrendt was biking westbound on Jackson and had just crossed the intersection with 14th Ave/Rainier/Boren when he fell under the wheels of a Metro Route 14 trolley bus. We reported on that collision shortly after it happened May 4.

He suffered a broken pelvis and shattered leg, among other scary injuries. But doctors believe he will recover fully, though it’s going to take some time.

Daniel and his mother Karrie were featured in a recent KOMO News story describing his struggles back to health. It’s remarkable how much better he looks in the more recent footage than he did in the hospital footage. Keep healing up, Daniel!

Sadly, Ahrendt is in no hurry to get back on a bike.

“I would really rather not do things that are risky right now and I really hate that cycling is on that list,” he told KOMO. I hate that cycling is on his list, too. It doesn’t need to be this way. Daniel’s collision didn’t need to happen.

Catherine Fleming, Ahrendt’s attorney with the firm SKW, wrote a blog post describing what she believes led to the collision:

A lifelong cyclist, Daniel saw that that Monday morning was dry and perfect for cycling. As he made his way westbound on S. Jackson during the rush hour, he was in the bike lane with buses lined up sharing that same lane. As he crossed the intersection, he knew that the sharrows would lead him to the right of a bus directly in front of him. Making the safer choice, he aimed for the left side of the lane. That’s when his bike tire got caught in the streetcar tracks. While he was down, the rear tires of a trolley bus ran over the the lower half of his body.

We reported on the dangerous and confusing conditions at this intersection in our original post and also expressed concern about it during the design phase. The streetcar tracks make for a dangerous crossing if you’re biking. Following the sharrows takes riders fully out of the lane, then back in again. If there is a bus stopped in the curb lane, passing it would require a merge across the streetcar tracks in the left lane.

Here’s a short video we put together to show what it is like to bike west through this intersection:

One possible very easy and fast change would be to make the right westbound lane turn-only except transit and bikes. This would reduce the stress and rush on the person biking, since there wouldn’t be someone driving behind them. But, of course, that wouldn’t fix the situation that may have injured Ahrendt.

The only complete solution is to declare a mulligan on the new Jackson design, go back and build bike lanes for the length of the street. This should have happened during the recent remake of the street, which was a huge missed opportunity to make the street safer for everyone. Jackson is very wide with plenty of space for bike lanes if safety is truly considered a priority.

And since Jackson is the only east-west street that bypasses First Hill and crosses both I-5 and the train tracks into Pioneer Square, it will be a major and vital bike route.

It’s going to be harder to retrofit the street with bike lanes now than it would have been to just include them during the remake, but without bike lanes people are going to keep getting hurt.

The main challenge for installing bike lanes would be keeping transit on time. But it’s exactly that: A challenge. It’s not impossible, and the city and county have enough smart people on staff that they can make this street both safe and efficient. No more excuses. This street isn’t complete yet.

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20 Responses to Man injured in collision with Metro bus on tough road to recovery

  1. JB says:

    My basic rule about biking in Seattle is that unless I plan on making multiple trips to a given destination, I will find another mode of getting there. For exactly this reason – it feels like so many intersections in the city have their own specific trick for getting through without undue risk, and it’s just not worth it to me to take that risk for a route that I’ll be biking once. Biking is still clearly an afterthought for Seattle transportation planners, and it’s time for that to change.

  2. Josh says:

    On the assumption that the streetcar has far too much political support to let safety get in its way, a few other solutions might include one or more of these:

    * Diverting the sharrows to illustrate a safe route across the tracks. Go all the way to the left edge of the lane, cut across the tracks at 90 degrees, veer back left, cut across the second set at 90 degrees. This is slower, and it can be confusing to drivers who don’t recognize the hazard the city has knowingly installed in this intersection. But it works.

    If this approach is taken, the route needs plenty of warning signs so people on bikes have time to get to the left edge of the lane, and plenty of warning signs for drivers so they know what to expect from cyclists crossing the intersection

    * A bicycle-only signal phase for the intersection, allowing people to cross the tracks slowly and safely, without conflicting motor traffic from any direction. Or, if that’s not politically feasible, an all-way walk signal phase.

    • Andres Salomon says:

      I am really hoping your base assumption is not true. :(

      • Josh says:

        The streetcar has support from developers who are rapidly building housing in the area — enough housing that driving to work will simply be impractical for the majority of residents.

        It has support from new urbanists who see fixed rail as a commitment to permanence that buses don’t provide. (Though the cost of overhead trolley bus wires is high enough that they should also be seen as enduring infrastructure without the need for slotted streets.)

        It has a mantle of public support from the voters having approved funding. (Not that they were given an alternative of funding rapid trolley bus service with dedicated platforms instead…)

        I really don’t see streetcars losing their political support over issues of safety, not in a society where personal cars are considered adequately safe for daily commuting.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        I see streetcars losing support not in terms of safety, but in terms of utility. People have seen how terrible the SLU streetcar is (with trips often taking longer than it would have taken to walk). If the Roosevelt High Capacity Transit Study can pull off real, true bus rapid transit, then that means any future streetcar lines are in serious jeapardy. We may suffer from the sunk cost fallacy with existing streetcar lines, but we’ll see.

        Also, Licata’s pushing an amendment into the Move Seattle Levy to not allow for streetcar funding. If that ends up making it in, that’s a huge pot of money that could be spent on BRT, but not on streetcars.

    • Al Dimond says:

      You’re starting out even with the left edge of the lane for the current sharrow maneuver, and this basically works because you’re coming from a bike lane aligned with the left edge of the lane east of there.

      But I’m not so sure about wiggling around, in the middle of the intersection, between the train tracks. Your two wheels are in different places… misjudge and you could end up steering one wheel or the other right into the tracks instead of perpendicular to them!

      • Al Dimond says:

        (The lane markings have changed a bit recently… one iteration of overhead imagery on Google Maps shows lane-line dashes through the interesctions and the sharrows starting as far left as they could physically be painted within the right lane. In Tom’s video and some Street View I don’t see lane-line dashes in the intersection except for left turns, so it’s harder to determine the lane position of the sharrows. The first sharrow within the intersection looks like it’s “pointing” at the lane line past the intersection. It’s well to the right of a seam in the pavement, giving the appearance that it’s in the middle of the right lane, but that seam isn’t on the lane line, it’s in the middle of the left lane.)

  3. lance says:

    Seattle seems to be putting some effort into bike facilities as of late. However, in my experience, they are so poorly executed it may be better if they stopped trying.

    Sigh.

    • Karl says:

      That’s certainly true of the Sharrows. Most of them that I encounter are painted far to the right, completely opposite to their intended purpose and encouraging dangerous far to the right riding where it isn’t appropriate and exacerbating conflicts between drivers and cyclists.

      • Josh says:

        The 2014 BMP Update contained language specifically calling for sharrows to be centered in the travel lane, and late last year SDOT officially changed policy on where sharrows will be painted going forward.

        But most of the sharrows already installed in the city were placed to meet bare-minimum compliance requirements, not best practices, and SDOT is not actively upgrading past mistakes. Existing misplaced sharrows will remain misplaced until they wear out or are wiped out by street work that requires new striping.

        The good news is that poorly-placed sharrows end up under the right tire track of trucks and buses, so they wear away relatively quickly. But SDOT policy is to leave them where they are until more than 60% of the sharrows on a street have been worn away, so we’ll be dealing with deficient legacy sharrows for many years to come.

  4. TR says:

    The sharrows look to mark the safe angle to cross the tracks, thereby preventing exactly what happened to this cyclist. It seems like this gentleman made a calculated move to pass the busses queued up in his lane on their left, putting himself at an acute angle to the tracks and a heightened risk of snagging a tire.

    It raises an interesting question of how to limit cyclists to a certain path or segment of the road for their own safety. The city tries to create safe places for people to ride, with the knowledge that more experienced/fitter riders may choose to ride out in general purpose lanes, but in this instance it seems like all bike traffic should be restricted to perpendicular crossings of streetcar tracks.

    • Josh says:

      The sharrows mark a very poor route across the tracks.

      They don’t go far enough left before crossing the tracks, so if you follow the sharrow route you end up looking like you’re turning right at the intersection. That leads drivers behind you to speed up as if you’re about to go away, before the sharrow route has you veer sharply back in front of them.

      If you want to end up in the right lane, without getting rear-ended, you should ride well to the left of the sharrows before you hit the tracks, so that when you straighten out you’re still in the lane, not half-way turned onto Boren.

  5. Al Dimond says:

    If there’s traffic behind you do you really want to abandon your lane position to follow the sharrows to the right? Drivers often try to make in-lane passes when we move right; if that happened you’d have to deal with that and the tracks at the same time. If there’s traffic in front of you heading to the curb do you really want to follow the sharrows out beyond the extension of the curb? If you slow down to wait out right you’re at the most risk of having people come in from behind and take your place; if you start to pass on the right you obviously have no place to go, especially if the vehicle is a bus.

    I don’t think there’s a MUTCD entry for a sign indicating that drivers must not pass cyclists while they pull out to pass the tracks at a good angle… and even if there was, most drivers barely register most signs (especially unfamiliar, wordy, complicated ones). Even with the best signage, can we really trust drivers on this, will enforcement keep them in line? I have my doubts.

    On Jackson you’re mostly using vehicular cycling techniques, and if you’re driving you probably should hold up behind the stop line if you’re behind slowing traffic and you aren’t sure you’ll have room on the other side of the intersection, but on a bike it’s riskier (the consequences of being rear-ended are much worse at every speed) and harder (you can’t accelerate as fast — an obstacle to strict vehicular cycling in a lot of real-world situations). That’s especially true crossing a long intersection on a major thoroughfare.

    You could divert to King… if you could get across Rainier. You could divert to Yesler… if you wanted a climb. You could divert to Dearborn if you had a thing for interchanges. There’s certainly a reason people take Jackson.

    Maybe this is a place where we need a sidewalk-level treatment around the bus stop like the one heading east just past 8th Ave S (just under the freeway). But that isn’t so easy here. For one thing, there just isn’t as much space, and there are driveways to deal with. For another, this one is downhill, not uphill; it’s easy to type, “People should slow down,” but they’ve just been taking the lane down a hill, and the deceleration would take place in the space of a single intersection while navigating over streetcar tracks.

    Looks like all that’s left is converting a westbound general-purpose lane to a bike lane, with an island bus stop taking up part of it. Compared to the sidewalk-level solution it puts the bike-ped conflict in one consistent place (as on Dexter) and moves it farther from the intersection, so the narrowing lane can slow cyclists down before they hit the conflict point. Maybe set it up even with the streetcar stop.

    • Josh says:

      On Shilshole, there’s a graphical sign of a bicycle swinging wide into the lane to cross tracks at 90 degrees — not perfect, but it might be a good addition to this intersection, centered over the travel lane, in the largest size MUTCD would allow.

  6. Harrison Davignon says:

    looks like we have 4 different problems on our hands. One is all us bicycle riders want different infrastructure and safety features. I for example do not fear bicycle riding on streets and would like to see more u shaped bicycle racks throughout Seattle, yet others will want to focus primarily safer places to ride. Two is america has not has not fully embraced the bicycle. A lot of people still think the car belongs to america and bicycles are for poor people or for people 15 and under and or a sport rather than a form of transportation. 3 big oil companies. They don’t want people on bicycles because they would lose money and are paying congress who are in charge of the transportation bill to be on there side. 4 smog. We are trying to be healthy by bicycle riding, but smog can ruin that for sure. We need to clean air If we can fix these problems, bicycle riding would be heavily funded and much safer. Come on Seattle we are the number one bicycle state in america and its your turn to catch up. We have a long way to go to catch up to other bicycle countries.

  7. Jonathan Mark says:

    Wishing the best to Daniel!

    I am sorry to see that Daniel is discouraged from riding a bike for now, but I sure can’t fault his reasoning. Indeed, this is a repeating pattern: a streetcar track crash causes someone to think of bicycling as less safe and possibly stop doing it.

    Today’s news provides another example: KIRO reports on radio reporter Don O’Neill crashing his bicycle on the Westlake streetcar track. His takeaway is in the headline:

    Crashing on a bicycle in Seattle is not a matter of if, but when

    If Seattle gains a widespread streetcar network, this headline may be justified. This 2011 article discusses findings in Portland that “nearly 70 percent of Portland cyclists crash on the tracks at some point”.

    Sizing up the Streetcar

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  9. He may be on tough road to recovery, but he will surely get there – he has all the support he could possibly wish for. Thanks for the article, keep up the awesome blog!

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