The state has agreed to pay $8 million to Mickey Gendler, who was paralyzed from the neck down after his bicycle wheel got caught in a gap in the steel grate while crossing the Montlake Bridge three years ago. He was riding with a friend in the left lane headed south because they were going to turn left to go to the Arboretum. His wheel got caught and he flipped over the handlebars. The impact split his helmet and left him quadriplegic. From Seattle Weekly:
DOT risk management director John Milton confirms that an engineer and an inspector knew about the 1999 accident, but says they concluded that the gap was not a problem because most bicyclists would not be traveling across it. The gap lies in a left lane (headed south) of the metal grate that opens and closes to let boats pass underneath. The majority of cyclists ride on the elevated walkways that lie on either side of the bridge.
But Gendler said he didn’t like the walkways, which he found too narrow and obstructed by pillars. He preferred riding on the main road alongside the cars, and on this day, wanted to be in the left lane so that he could turn left immediately upon passing the bridge onto a street that leads to the Arboretum.
The state filled the gap last year to prevent further wrecks.
The Montlake Bridge can be a scary place to ride, especially when wet. The sidewalks on either side of the bridge have metal supports in them, true, but I always suggest people ride there instead of on the metal grate. But there are few signs alerting bike riders to the danger of riding on the grates. It seems to take either a fall or a near-fall for cyclists to learn that avoiding as many grates as possible is the best plan for your safety. Unfortunately, those that fall do not always get away with simple bumps and bruises.
The state needs to take more drastic action to ensure that bikers crossing this bridge are safe. To this day, it is confusing for beginning riders who may be unfamiliar with the area.