After wreck, international war crimes investigator vows to make Burke-Gilman crossing safe

Image from Google Street View

Stefanie Frease has been in a lot of dangerous environments around the world, but the one that left her out of commission for several months is right here in Seattle. Many of you who ride regularly probably know it well: The super-slick rubber railroad crossing Slip ‘n Slide on the Burke-Gilman Trail near NW 41st St.

Frease wrote a guest column for the Seattle Times:

On Easter Sunday, I was riding the Burke-Gilman Trail between Ballard and Fremont, when I crossed the rubber-coated railroad tracks at about Northwest 41st Street and Sixth Avenue Northwest. My bike skidded and I went down hard, landing on my left hip and fracturing my pelvis in three places.

As an experienced cyclist I was stunned that I was down and unable to get back up. The pain was excruciating and I knew instantly my injuries were serious.

Since my accident, I have heard from different sources of dozens of people who have also wiped out on the same spot in the past couple of years, sustaining head trauma, cracked pelvises, broken arms and legs, and many, many less serious but still wholly unnecessary injuries. One medical aide referred to the location as “the death trap.”

Why has it not been repaired? Why are there not ample warning signs that the rubber is extraordinarily slippery (and unsafe) when wet? How many dozens more cyclists need to break bones, or worse, before the city finally takes this crash site seriously?

I have seen one wreck there myself. A friend and I were riding together and chatting on a rainy night, then all of a sudden he wasn’t there anymore. I looked back and he was on the ground. He scraped his face, but he seemed more surprised by his fall than hurt (luckily).

In order to safely navigate the crossing when it is wet, be extra careful not to lean, make any turning maneuvers or apply your brakes while either wheel is on the rubber pad.

I received an email a couple months ago from a woman named Beth who has fallen there twice in the past year and has witnessed three other wrecks. BikeWise.org, a website set up by Cascade Bicycle Club to help track road hazards and other bicycling issues, shows a cluster reports at that spot.

SDOT is aware of the issue and have a plan for fixing it. However, they don’t have the funds. Here is the response Beth received from SDOT in April:

We currently have a design in place to change the alignment at this particular crossing.  We plan to remove the rubberized mats, replace them with asphalt, and change the angle of crossing the tracks closer to 90 degrees. Unfortunately as you know, these are difficult financial times for the city and we hope to have enough funding to complete the project this year.  However, if budget constraints do not allow for the changes to be made this year, the project will be pushed back to 2012.

Meanwhile, SDOT has spent the past couple weeks arguing in front of the Hearing Examiner in order to be allowed to build the planned completion of the Burke-Gilman Missing Link, a desperately dangerous place for people to ride bicycles today. The city has been forced to spend untold amounts of money in the never-ending legal battle to fix that problem. If the city’s money could go to creating safe facilities instead of legal fees, imagine how safe traveling in our city could be.

Have any of you experienced any problems with the NW 41st Street Slip ‘n Slide?

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