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Blaming streetcar tracks for her death, McCloud’s brother files claims with city, Sound Transit

Friends and family of Desiree McCloud painted her bike white and decorated it with notes, flowers and Magic cards. Unlike most ghost bikes, this one is the bike she was riding when she crashed.
Friends, family (including her brother Cody) and community members walk in honor of McCloud. Her ghost bike sits at 13th and Yesler.

One year after the bike crash at 13th and Yesler that took Desiree McCloud’s life, her brother Cody has filed claims against Sound Transit and the City of Seattle that blame the First Hill Streetcar tracks for her death.

Cody told the Seattle Times that the claims are “not about the money. It’s about a message: ‘Don’t kill me on these streets.’”

Streetcar tracks are known hazards for people biking because bike wheels can slip into the gap in the tracks and either get stuck or knock the rider off balance.


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Desiree was biking westbound on Yesler with a group of friends when she ended up between the streetcar tracks while passing a friend, as surveillance video showed. This means she would have needed to cross the track again to get into the bike lane. Her friend told police she then saw Desiree wobble and fall. No other vehicles were involved.

She died a week and a half later from her head injury. She was 27.

At a memorial walk in her honor, one friend described her as “brash and brilliant, passionate and true.” These are themes that run through the incredibly moving remembrances friends sent to Seattle Bike Blog after she passed away.

“If one of her friends had been hurt or killed, she’d be the one banging on City Hall,” her father said after the memorial.

Cody’s claims, which will exceed $2 million, are the first step in taking legal action. If the city and Sound Transit do not fulfill the claims within 60 days, then it will become a lawsuit and head to the courts.

Though the official police report concludes that the role of the streetcar tracks in the crash “appears impossible to resolve,” Cody’s legal team said they can prove the tracks caused the crash, according to the Times.

After the memorial, there were calls, including a petition, for the city to take serious action to make safety changes along the First Hill Streetcar route. Specifically, the Central Seattle Greenways petition said, “Immediately, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) needs to provide continuous, intuitive, protected bike lanes on Yesler between 14th & Broadway to protect people biking from the streetcar tracks.”

Protected bike lanes would not only make the street safer and more comfortable for people biking, they would also help people biking stay clear of the tracks.

But no significant changes have been made a year later, and the problem isn’t going away. In fact, Q13 reporters were out filming B-roll yesterday for their report when another woman crashed on the tracks in nearly the same spot. She spoke to their reporter Jon Humbert before heading to Urgent Care to take care of her injured arm:


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12 responses to “Blaming streetcar tracks for her death, McCloud’s brother files claims with city, Sound Transit”

  1. Peri Hartman

    Yes ! Clear, safe routes for bicycles are essential. Obviously, if you know the tracks are there and are paying attention, you can avoid getting “grooved”. But, as soon as you get distracted by a pot hole or a car changing lanes, or as in McClouds case – being with a group, you run a high risk.

    Another place that needs attention is where Westlake crosses Roy. If you are riding south on the new Westlake bike path, you will come to the end about a block north of Roy. It’s quite logical to continue on Westlake, southbound. The problem is, after crossing Roy, the streetcar tracks curve and merge into Westlake. See

    https://www.google.com/maps/@47.6257031,-122.3387439,75m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

    Looking at the satellite photo, it seems obvious. But when you’re riding in traffic, they appear very suddenly, out of nowhere. You have no choice but to stop suddenly – with cell-phone-driving-cars behind you or to make a quick jog and cross the rails.

    Sooner or later, someone will be tragically hurt here.

  2. Eli

    Wow! Thank you, Cody, for holding Seattle’s negligent city leadership accountable.

    Nothing will bring your sister back, but I am so grateful that you are honoring her memory by doing what she’d have done.

  3. Nick

    Happened to me the first time I used a road bike (I had a hybrid bike with thicker tires before). I was going east on Yesler, and wanted to turn left on 12th, and got stuck in between the tracks. I now realize I should have used the bike box so I could then make the crossing 100% perpendicular, but that was my first time using that intersection.

  4. ftn

    “appears impossible to resolve” my balls. Build a bike way parallel to every train track: problem solved.

  5. Josh

    A solution that starts at 14th starts too late. Riding Yesler from 15th, following the sharrows down the center of the travel lane, you’re set up to cross 14th and still be in the travel lane when the tracks veer in from your left. If there’s no traffic, you can see them and veer right into the bike lane.

    If there is traffic, the tracks ahead are hidden under other vehicles, and the bike lane is hidden under a bus stopped at the corner.

    Whatever is done from 14th west, there needs to be conspicuous guidance east of 14th so that riders approaching the hazard have time to avoid it.

  6. Aaron

    What’s the deal on rubber inserts? Do they work at all? Work sometimes? Why don’t we have them?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Don’t work on these kinds of tracks. There is a kind for filling in regular railroad tracks (veloSTRAIL) that seems to have better results. But the streetcar tracks are a different kind of track.

      Maybe there’s a genius solution some engineering company can invent. I certainly hope people are trying. But the solutions that have been tested have not held up well. And when they start breaking down, they become hazards on their own.

      I dove into the issue for this post: https://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2015/03/25/can-westlakes-streetcar-tracks-ever-be-safe-for-people-biking/

      The only tried and true solution: Separated, protected bike lanes. Otherwise, people will crash.

      1. Chamois Davis Jr.

        “The only tried and true solution: Separated, protected bike lanes.”

        Nope.

        Separated, dedicated transit only right of way is a common solution around the world that protects cyclists and improves transit service.

      2. RossB

        There is another obvious solution: Replace the stupid streetcar with buses. Tear up the rail and pave it. Better for bikes and better for transit.

      3. Chamois Davis Jr.

        An actual study on streetcar/tram and cycling infrastructure problems and solutions.
        (http://www.cyclesheffield.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Tram-Cycle-Infrastructure-Review-Study.pdf)

  7. Franklyn P. Salimbene

    An article published this summer in the Wake Forest Journal of Law & Policy discusses the 2010 suit by Seattle cyclists against the city over streetcar tracks. It’s a bit dense, but provides a full explanation of the legal implications for cyclists in suing the city. The paper can be accessed at:

    https://wfulawpolicyjournaldotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/06/salimbene_seeking_peaceful_coexistence.pdf

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