Woman who crashed along First Hill Streetcar route passes away

Desiree McCloud.

Desiree McCloud.

A week and a half after a bad bike crash along the First Hill Streetcar route, Desiree McCloud passed away Tuesday.

We send our deepest condolences to her friends and family.

A message on a fundraising page set up to support her and her recovery announced the sad news late Tuesday. Any funds beyond her funeral costs will be donated to the Girl Scouts, where Desiree was a troop leader:

As many of you probably heard, Desiree passed away this morning. I want to thank everyone who donated here; the amount of love and support shown here and elsewhere was amazing. Thank you.

As promised, the funds you donated here will be used to pay medical bills, help cover the costs of her funeral, and any remainder will be donated to the Girl Scouts.

Her friend Greg describes Desiree as an “amazing person and a great friend.” From an email to Seattle Bike Blog (see many more notes at the bottom of this post):

I learned to enjoy what life has to offer in ways I never would have if not for her. She was always ambitious, optimistic, and fearless in everything she did. She would do what she wanted, how she wanted, when she wanted and was never deterred by failure. She was quick to welcome new friends into her social circle without precondition.

Desiree regularly organized group day-hikes, large group camping trips, and social gatherings for her friends. She was also a Girl Scout troop leader and active at the Service Unit level. She loved Game of Thrones, Dr. Who, and all things Star Wars – she even had a Star Wars tattoo.

Desiree had a degree in Behavioral Neuroscience and worked in Bio Research. She had dreams of working at the Paul Allen Institute for Brain Science. She had recently gotten back into cycling for fitness and was excited about the improvements she was seeing in her endurance.

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.

SPD’s Traffic Collision team is investigating.

Looking westbound on Yesler towards 13th Ave S. The First Hill Streetcar tracks turn from 14th Ave S to Yesler.

Looking westbound on Yesler towards 13th Ave S. The First Hill Streetcar tracks turn from 14th Ave S to Yesler.

Though Desiree is the first person we know of to die while biking along the First Hill Streetcar route since it was built about a year ago, several people have been seriously injured. 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.

In June, Daniel Ahrendt crashed on the streetcar tracks at 14th and Jackson, just three blocks from where Desiree went down.

Like Desiree, Daniel had moved to the left to pass someone (in his case a stopped bus). His wheel hit the tracks and he fell, then the bus ran over him and seriously injured him.

UPDATE: A note from her friend Michelle:

Des was an amazing human being who created a whole community in Seattle. She was was an integral part of welcoming me when I arrived here three years ago.

She was always there to help someone in need. From helping her friends change out their wardrobes because she thought they lacked fashion sense to rescuing friends from the Midwest and helping them find jobs in Seattle. She was always there for us. She volunteered with the Girl Scouts as a troop leader and service unit manager. She taught Magic: The Gathering to many people with the Lady Planeswalkers Society at our weekly meet ups and at conventions across the region. She was ferociously intelligent and would debate you about anything and everything.

And her friend Tifa:

Today I lost a very dear friend. Desiree McCloud made a huge impact on everyone around her. She made a huge impact on The Lady Planeswalkers Society in many ways, being an active member and volunteer. She made a huge impact on me. I loved and appreciated how real she was. You always knew exactly how she felt and could always ask her for an opinion knowing you’d get an honest answer. I really loved that. She was so strong and confident and beautiful. I admired her for that. Desiree and I shared a lot of the same values about the importance of opportunities for young girls to get into things like science, tech, and gaming. The world will miss her inspiration, spirit, and the influence she made. I will miss her. I will miss her laugh, her face, her attitude. I will miss having her help, I will miss playing games with her, I will miss her friendship. R.I.P. Desiree.

And Amy:

Desiree was incredibly active and vocal about the things she was passionate about — science, feminism, and making the world a better place for everyone. Like most Seattleites, she was an avid hiker and bicyclist, and a loyal patron of numerous local breweries. She cared about her community, volunteering countless hours with the Girl Scouts of Western Washington. And she cared about her friends. I’m grateful to have known her and called her my friend.

And Will:

Half of knowing Desiree was seeing the happiness in your friends when she was present.  And she was present, a constant, stalwart friend in all of our lives. So much so that I never imagined a camping trip, board game, beer fest, comic con, or cat adoption without her.  I never thought any of our friends would make a decision that she thought was stupid without hearing her say so.  I never thought we would conquer some new goal without hearing her toast us.  I never thought there would be a move a project or some terrible time when we needed her help without seeing her.  I never thought I would find a great cider or take a great picture of my cat and not be able to show it to her.

UPDATE: Emails keep coming in. It’s amazing how many other lives one person can touch.

Des memorial dayFrom Ragan:

The world is a darker place today. This morning my dear friend and housemate Desiree McCloud passed away from injuries previously mentioned.

We went on a couple of dates around the time I first moved to Seattle. We didn’t quite click romantically but we got along really well and I happened to live above a bar she went to with friends every week, so she invited me to come along. I showed up once or twice and had a good time but was in a pretty dark place and had a difficult time getting out of my apartment. But over the next year or so, despite not talking much between, she popped up periodically. She’d invite me to some event, usually when I happened to be struggling with something or other. Thanksgiving, camping.

This picture was from almost exactly one year ago, when she invited me to an annual Memorial Day camping trip. It was after that camping trip that I finally realized I belonged with these people and really believed I could make a home in Seattle. Later that summer she invited me to move in with her and Mikey, with Jaki rounding out the group.

So really without knowing it, Des had a profoundly positive effect on my mental health and depression the past couple of years. I only wish I could have made that more clear to her.

You made a family here, you brought us together, and we love you for it Des. Take it easy.

IMG_0128And Alli:

My dear friend Desiree was in a bike accident a week and a half ago. Since then, she was in the ICU in critical condition. Things were not looking good, but we were optimistic until this morning. She passed away, still unconscious.

I am not the only person distraught by this, not even close. But I am very much not okay, and I don’t know when I will be. Losing a friend is never easy (she said, understating things).

She loved hiking and her Girl Scout troop. She was loving to her friends and brash at almost all times. She had aspirations to work at the Allen Institute, and I enjoyed hearing her stories of working with lab rats and their brains.

She also just really loved rats. When we played Magic, or a new Magic set came out, she only cared about one thing and only asked me one question: “Alli, am I going to like this set?” This meant exactly “Are there any cool cards with the Rat creature type in this set?” She was the only person I know saddened by Pack Rat rotating out of Standard.

We had a running gag, where I would hit on her every time we saw each other. The one time I didn’t, she thought I was sick. And she really worried about me then. I never actually had romantic feelings for her, but I did love her as a dear friend. And I take solace in the fact that she knew that unambiguously.

A week before the accident, a mutual friend, the boy she liked, and I went hiking with her. At the summit of Oyster Dome, I took this. It’s not the greatest picture of her, but it was the last.

I don’t know where else to eulogize her. She had some pretty negative feelings about religion as a whole, so I won’t offer any prayers. Instead, I’ll settle for this, and I will never forget my friend.

I miss you, Des. Always will.

And Vijeta:

Desiree started Girl Scout Troop 42071 a couple of years. It was something she had been talking about for a while. When she was young, she was upset her Girl Scout troop didn’t do as much as her brother’s Boy Scouts troop. And so, her intention was to have a troop that went hiking, camping, learned to build fires, and was very much girl-driven. She always made sure the girls voted on the badges they wanted to work on and was always open to their ideas.

Not happy with just running her troop, she then decided to become the Service Unit Manager for our area (Service Unit 530). As part of this role, she managed troops in our area (I believe it was about 90 troops but I can get an exact number if needed), helped coordinate cookie sales, and planned events. The most recent event she planned was a blanket making party where all the blankets were donated to the Seattle Children’s Hospital. She told me she wanted to be involved in GS for the rest of her life.

I was one of her fellow troop leaders and I would often get emails late into the night outlining the Girl Scout plans for the next few weeks. She loved doing it and coming up with fun activities. she encourage the girls to get along and talk about their conflicts. She encouraged their curiosity for science and answered their questions as best she could.

UPDATE: And Aaron:

I met Desiree just over a year ago, she was one of the first friends I made when I moved to Seattle. She was an amazing person. From talking with her about science and politics and girl scouts, to going camping and hiking, she made me feel welcome. She helped me feel at home.

She would invite me to pretty much every game night, every event she had, even when I was out of town. Even if she didn’t remember that I was out of town it made me feel missed. I remember getting a phone call at 2am when I was in New York from Desiree asking why I wasn’t there (she knew), and to tell me how awesome the party was. If it weren’t for her my time in Seattle would have been very different, I’m better off for knowing her.

I can only imagine what this summer would have held. I wish I could have celebrated with her when she finally got her dream job. I wish I could have shown my little cousin the amazing things she does at Girl Scouts. I wish we could have gone hiking more, partied more, and played more games. I wish I could have gotten to know her even better. Desiree, I wish I had more time with you, you will be missed.

And Jade:

Desiree was one of those rare people that could energize a room with her presence. A force of nature who was tenacious, intelligent, kind and integral to the community as a whole. She poured herself into everything she did and I could count on her to always be there for me if I needed her. Words fail me with how much I am going to miss her.

UPDATE: And Eowyn:

I’ve struggled with what to say about Des, because her loss has come at such a shock and it is so immense and raw. We’re like any other group of young people living in Seattle — most of us moved here after college during the Great Recession, just looking for opportunity. We met over German beers at a bar in SLU where Des earned a plaque on the wall and a stein with her name on it. Her plaque says, “Queen of the motherfucking cosmos” which was pretty accurate. She had a tattoo on her wrist that said, “Be awesome instead” and that was her approach: That when life knocked you down, when you’re tempted to give up, you should be awesome instead. That was Desiree. She never gave up, she never said, “it’s someone else’s problem”, or “I can’t do that”, she bloody well figured out a way to do it. I admired that so much about her. We all did. That group of friends over time — countless nights together, book clubs where no one read anything, family members getting sick, Des’s efforts to found a Girl Scout troop, job losses, camping/hiking weekends, impromptu board games, weddings, Eurovision parties, concerts, comic cons, all the stuff of life — we became like family. So when she wound up in the hospital we already had a plan for visiting her twice a day just as soon as she woke up. We raised money to cover her deductible, and made plans to take care of her cats. We’d be there for her through every step of her recovery, just as she would have been there for us. We wouldn’t give up on her because she’d never have given up on is. We’d be awesome instead. Except she didn’t wake up, and she’s just gone. We lost one of the good ones. She will be so sorely missed.

UPDATE 5/27: Friends painted and installed a ghost bike memorial at the site of her fatal crash. But it’s not just any ghost bike. This bike is the one she was riding when she crashed. It’s a beautiful memorial:

Photo from Guillaume

Photo from Guillaume

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46 Responses to Woman who crashed along First Hill Streetcar route passes away

  1. J says:

    Thoughts and condolences to Desiree’s family. What a horrible tragedy. I have crashed after losing wheel grip on those tracks on Jackson/2nd Ave. I always wondered if there was a way to coat the rails with something more grippy (at least at intersections).

    • Chris says:

      Nope. I lived for 10 years in SF where not only did we have streetcar tracks but we also had the vastly more dangerous cable car tracks (picture street car tracks with a 2 foot wide metal plate in the middle with a 3 inch slot down the middle of the plate). People would crash from the tracks just like they do here. A customer of mine was an engineer with SF MUNI and I once asked him just your question and the answer was no. Anything they could cost the tracks with would quickly get worn off. Your only really defense is awareness and caution. Personally, I usually try to avoid streets with tracks and instead ride on the quieter side streets. Might add a few blocks to your trip but it’s safer and more pleasant.

      • J says:

        Chris, that’s exactly what I now do. I ride straight down Jackson instead of trying to get over to King from the Westbound lanes. One embarrassing crash in the intersection was enough (and at least only my ego was hurt).

      • Josh says:

        I’ve switched my commute off Jackson as much as I can since the tracks went in — King Street is a safer, calmer climb eastbound, and the 4-way stops don’t add all that much time westbound.

        When I do have to use Jackson, I use the two-way turn boxes. They might not be up to legal standards, but they’re safer than turning across the tracks.

  2. Josh says:

    Commuting east from King Street Station, I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve seen go down on the tracks on Jackson.

    The tracks seem visible enough climbing the hill in good weather, but people coming down the hill at higher speeds seem to drift into them somewhat regularly, and other people crash turning through the tracks, including people who consciously know better but hit the tracks while dodging an inattentive driver or passing a stopped bus.

    It makes me wonder if anything should be done to make the tracks more conspicuous, so that they register quickly even when a rider is distracted by something else on the street. Could there, for example, be a distinctive warning stripe along the outside of the rails, so that they’re more visible in gray, rainy, or dark conditions? (A 6-inch stripe of crosshatched Kermit green, the same color used to mark hazards on bike lanes and paths?)

  3. Andy says:

    What a senseless tragedy. Condolences to all her friends and family.

    I firmly hope that we don’t waste money on any future streetcars – they actively make our city more dangerous in addition to being less cost-effective than trolleybuses.

    • Molly says:

      I agree. No more street cars. Street cars tracks are dangerous and a less effective option than trolleybuses.

    • J says:

      They’re not just a hazard for bikes, either. I’ve tripped on them walking when my toes happened to land on top of the rail when crossing the street. They present an even more serious hazard to people that use walkers and similar mobility devices.

      For bikes, I support building excellent bike routes parallel to the streetcar tracks, such as on 9th in SLU, which I’d love to see improved more. I don’t live in the south end anymore so am probably not remembering everything right, but making King St an excellent street for bikes might help. Jackson sucked for bikes before the streetcar anyway.

      For pedestrians, there is no good solution. I’m surprised we haven’t had more injuries reported, but tripping doesn’t tend to cause as much serious damage as frequently.

      If we do build more streetcars, there needs to be a requirement to mitigate the problems the tracks cause cyclists and preferably improve it much more than pre-streetcar.

      This post is really touching. It literally literally made me tear up.p

      • Law Abider says:

        I don’t like streetcars: too slow and a waste of money compared to buses, but people tripping over tracks or crashing on their bike is not a valid reason to cancel streetcar projects. I think the issue is that people get complacent. It’s not just an issue with train tracks, it’s an issue all over our country. Americans get complacent with potentially unsafe things that should be respected and then get up in arms when they get hurt.

        In Europe, even the smaller cities have streetcar tracks crisscrossing everywhere, along with a magnitude more pedestrians and cyclist. Yet, they’ve gotten along much better than Seattle seems to have.

      • Josh says:

        Good point about not just a bike hazard — I stopped one day while commuting up King Street to help a woman lift her wheelchair’s front wheel out of the flange gap on 8th.

        She’d been flopping back and forth in her chair to try to lift it out, but just couldn’t get enough momentum going to do it.

      • Al Dimond says:

        @LA: I went down on some abandoned freight tracks curving across a Chicago street once. I was paying attention to traffic and didn’t even have a chance to be complacent about the tracks.

        I don’t know whether more or fewer people crash on tracks in Europe. I know for sure that we ask cyclists riding near tracks to deal with a lot of traffic while doing so. When you’re in a door-zone bike lane like the one on Yesler, or getting across Jackson/Boren/14th in mixed traffic, or turning left from the 2nd Ave Extension to Jackson, you have a lot of other stuff on your mind…

        We’ve done slightly better in SLU, though possibly only by accident. It’s sort of obnoxious that the road designers forced cyclists following the Lake Union Loop route to cross over the SLU Streetcar tracks then back over again, but there you’re at least in a bike lane while approaching and crossing the tracks… going straight south on Fairview and Westlake is really bad, but those aren’t common bike routes and there are usually decent alternatives to doing so.

      • Law Abider says:

        From my time(s) spent in Europe, I think the difference is that they either mix bicycles and streetcars on low or no car traffic roads or they mix streetcars and heavy traffic roads and cyclists are either discouraged or smart enough to avoid it.

        Like you said, the difference in Seattle could be having to pay attention to both streetcar tracks, car traffic and car doors. Someone without much cycling experience wouldn’t be able to navigate that tangled mess very effectively.

      • Joan says:

        Yes. Having lived in Germany (and biked in various european cites), I totally agree

  4. Pingback: Woman dies following bike crash along First Hill Streetcar tracks | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  5. Doug Bostrom says:

    Open question still as to whether this toy train and expensive plaything is worth dying for (although admittedly it does sound as though I have an opinion or prejudice).

  6. Southeasterner says:

    It seems like a lot of people are jumping to a conclusion on street car tracks based on this one description of the accident:

    “A friend told police Desiree started wobbling and fell hard”

    To me that sounds more like a bike mechanical issue, heart issue, stroke, or other health problem. I’m struggling to come to the same conclusion that it was the fault of the Streetcar. Not that I’m an advocate of streetcars but it seems like we need a bit more information before jumping to conclusions?

  7. Chad says:

    I remember the first time I rode westbound on Yesler after the trolley tracks went in. It scared me to death.

    You’re riding down a long, steep one-lane hill with sharrows, then at the bottom of the hill, trolley tracks appear in the lane all of a sudden. There are no signs or warnings to tell you that you’ve got to immediately change lanes into the new right-lane bike lane to avoid the tracks.

    It’s a fairly big downhill leading up to the intersection, so it would be common to go through that intersection at 25-30 mph. At those speeds, it would only take a second of inattention to earn a trip to Harborview.

    It’s obvious to anyone who has ever ridden down that hill that Yeller & 13th is a recklessly designed intersection. And now it has killed someone. It’s tragic, and it’s enraging. We should demand more from the people who design these intersections.

  8. Becky says:

    My heart goes out to her friends and family and to the kids in her Girl Scout troop. As a lifetime Girl Scout the thought of losing my troop leader is akin to losing my mom or sister. I didn’t know Des but this just breaks my heart. I hope that we GSWW members can find a way to honor her legacy and the work she put into her troop and service unit.

    • Cway says:

      The girls are in a bit of shock, at least my daughter, who is in the troop, is. Last night she said, “I thought she was getting better mommy.” We all did honey, we all did. I hope there is a way we can honor her besides carrying on and “being awesome instead” (her tattoo)!

  9. NullBull says:

    This is just terrible. Condolences to the family and friends. She sounds like a really wonderful person and this is just tragic.

    I ride this route regularly. I have to say – and in no way do I want any of this to transfer to this wonderful woman who was lost – If you stay in the bike lane, you’re fine. The rails are plainly visible. I’ve literally never thought that the design was bad or the whole idea of a streetcar was unworthy due to the fact that there are tracks next to the marked bike lane.

    I have many, many complaints about safety on streets in Seattle for cyclists. This is not one of them. It is really horrible that this woman died, but we don’t need it to be someone’s or something’s fault. It’s a terrible accident. Terrible things happen to great people; terrible, preventable things. It makes me angry and wanting something to be done, but if we do something in her name to make Seattle a safer place to ride, can it be something that really affects

    • NullBull says:

      … a lot of people in a meaningful way? I don’t think signing this intersection is that thing. I think there are lots of other things we could do.

      (Sorry, too quick on the clicky-clicky).

    • Jonathan says:

      Maybe you’re fine if you stay in the bike lane, but not all bikes will be in the bike lane, so some will not be fine. Passing is perfectly legitimate, so is traveling outside the bike lane. The road surface needs to be passable for all vehicles on it.

    • Josh says:

      It’s a narrow, 100%-door-zone bike lane, on a street with parallel parking, bus stops, and driveways. It’s entirely unreasonable to expect all bikes will always stay in the bike lane.

    • M says:

      She was passing another biker, that’s why she wasn’t in the bike lane. There are all kinds of circumstances that could force a biker out of the lane (car door opening, parked car moving into traffic, etc.) which would then force them to cross the tracks at a diagonal. Doesn’t seem like a great design.

  10. Laura M says:

    Thank you, Seattle Bike Blog, for this entry. The page has been shared with other Girl Scout leaders that Desiree worked with. As I read the comments from those that knew her best, I think that I would have written much of the same sentiments. We worked together on a few GSWW projects, and she was an effective volunteer who really made a difference. Whenever an issue came up that got the group down, she’d reframe it, concentrate on the positive, and keep the focus on the girls. She was an amazing woman who will be missed.

  11. Gary says:

    Wow, I’m having a hard time reading all the loving comments left for this woman. I hope I have 1/2 as many when I go.

    As for those street car tracks, I come at them from the International District. Crossing them even at right angles when they are wet is always dicey. I’ve seen people straighten out their turn too soon as they cross and drop the rear wheel right in. It’s not pretty. Sometimes they pop out, sometimes not.

    As for the landing, it’s just bad luck. Some folks just break a hip. As for the helmet, I’m with the folks that say we should be wondering if their isn’t a better design than the buckets of foam we wear.

    As for avoiding Jackson and the rails, this week I’ve been riding up 4th, and yesterday I was missed by a turning bus by 6 inches. Or I’d be in ICU myself. There just isn’t a good way through this area.

  12. Amy says:

    This breaks my heart. She sounds like a vibrant woman and good friend. Thoughts go out to her friends and family. It also hits close to home as my spouse crashed on her bicycle at on Yesler right in front of Bailey Gatzert after her front tire slipped (while heading perpendicular over the street car tracks) on the street car track turning onto Yesler from 12th. She suffered a concussion and a broken collar bone that required surgery to repair. She was wearing a helmet, is an experience cyclist, and had on super wide tires.

  13. Allan says:

    This is super sad. My warning to everyone is that speed kills. Going fast in the city is really dangerous and taking busy routes to save time is not worth the risk. I have had some horribly close calls including a trip in an ambulance and I learned to be careful, the hard way. It is a lot easier to get out of a bad situation at 10mph than at 20 or 30. I go fast enough on the Green River Trail or Interurban Trail or on intercity road bike trips. But sometimes I just mosy around the city, using sidewalks sometimes to avoid bad traffic. I often take the long way to get there when it is also the safe way. It is better to learn from others than to learn by accident.

    • M says:

      I totally agree with you about speed. Go slow, and you’ll have more time to react and less damage if you hit something.

      About the route though, I’m not sure. Sometimes there just isn’t a good route. If you’re looking for a relatively safe way to get from MLK to downtown, it makes sense to choose Yesler because of the bike lane.

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  15. Jonathan says:

    Beautiful tributes and memorial above from Desiree’s friends. I am glad I went back to read the updates. So sorry, and thank you for writing these.

  16. RDPence says:

    In light of this enormous tragedy, the City should immediately create and publicize workable bike routes that use parallel streets. Where cycle routes must cross tracks, design them to force a 90-degree crossing.

    Use every tool we can to encourage cyclists to not ride on streets with tracks. The City and Sound Transit have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in these tracks; they are not going away.

  17. Pingback: Desiree’s mom: ‘I don’t want anyone else to lose their future on something that’s so preventable’ | Seattle Bike Blog

  18. Jesse Williams says:

    Thanks for the beautiful tributes. My condolences to her family, friends, and community. Damn those tracks.

  19. Pingback: Memorial walk for Desiree McCloud tonight on Yesler Way | Seattle Bike Blog

  20. Pingback: Video shows McCloud riding between streetcar tracks before fatal crash | Seattle Bike Blog

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