Why we need to be cautious when installing new trolley tracks

The blue bubbles are for "solo crashes." On Westlake, the blue bubbles basically follow the SLUT tracks.

I was poking around on Bike Wise and noticed that the reported crashes seem to line the South Lake Union Streetcar tracks with blue bubbles indicating a “solo” collision. They are mostly people’s wheels getting stuck in the tracks and throwing them.

What I find interesting about this map is that the biggest hazards to bikers in the surrounding streets are red, indicating a collision with a motor vehicle. But on Westlake, it’s not the cars but the trolley that hurts cyclists.

The tracks are already the subject of a lawsuit brought by a group of cyclists against the city. And now that the tracks are, unfortunately, where they are, it is pretty unlikely they will be moved. And that’s my point.

I am interested in streetcars because they make transit part of the road, not just another road participant. Streetcars last longer than buses and are a cool way to ride popular routes.

However, streetcars CANNOT be installed at the detriment of bike safety. Transit and bikes are on the same team and need to always consider each other’s needs. Planning bike infrastructure in a way that allows buses to run more efficiently, for example, is a way bike plans can help transit (e.g. the proposed Dexter cycle track). And transit development must consider the needs of bicycles.

Westlake is over. It was a mistake to make this convenient, flat route north dangerous for cyclists. But we need to learn from this and refuse to make the same mistakes again. The cycle track on Broadway and Yesler is attempting to make this route safe and convenient for cyclists and transit riders. The plans for the Jackson corridor, while mostly sharrows, at least do not place the tracks in the right lane, like on Westlake.

But the specific details of what it will be like to ride around the tracks is still up in the air. How will making turns work at each and every intersection? Without the ability to use turn lanes, will cyclists be limited in where they can turn? How will we make sure cars crossing the cycle tracks can see coming cyclists and are prepared to stop for them? After all, a car making a left across a cycle track is not used to looking for a bike traveling in the same direction (cars cut off bikers on 2nd downtown all the time for this reason).

There are details to hammer out, and bikers need to be vocal participants the whole way to make sure every crossing is safe.

About Tom Fucoloro

Founder and Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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