Portland is allegedly one of the most bike-friendly cities in the entire country, but streetcar tracks—even brand new ones—can pose a real danger of road hazard crashes for cyclists, according to local personal injury attorneys. Other road perils can also lead to a road hazard crash, and the question increasingly being asked by cyclists is whether the city is doing enough to protect them from serious injuries or worse.
Recent developments in Seattle, where a case taken by a number of cyclists who were injured while cycling across streetcar tracks was recently thrown out by a judge, do not offer much hope that cyclists will be protected from road hazard crashes in Portland. The question remains, is the city responsible for providing a safe cycling environment, and how far must authorities go to fulfill those responsibilities?
The case for the defense
In Seattle, the residents who were injured in road hazard crashes while cycling across streetcar tracks filed a lawsuit stating that the City of Seattle “knowingly allowed unsafe conditions,” and that they should be held liable for the injuries sustained by the cyclists.
What’s interesting is that Seattle city officials didn’t even use what would probably have been the predictable defense that the tracks weren’t responsible for any road hazard crash. In fact, quite the contrary was the case. Rebecca Boatright, the assistant city attorney who represented Seattle in the lawsuit, was quite forthright when she said, “We never disputed the tracks were a hazard.” Instead, the defense was based on the following:
- Existing engineering standards lay down guidelines as to the design, installation and condition of streetcar tracks.
- It was up to the injured cyclists to prove that the city had failed in some way to follow those guidelines.
- The city claimed the cyclists presented no evidence that Seattle had fallen short of any design, engineering or installation guidelines in the installation or maintenance of streetcar tracks on roads.
The judge agreed with the Seattle defense team, dismissed the lawsuit and said the city was not liable for any injuries.
It’s not over yet
The Seattle cyclists haven’t thrown in the towel just yet. Their attorney says they are going to file a motion to have the judge’s decision reconsidered. They point out that:
- The city should not have placed the streetcar tracks on the right side of the roadway, where bikes are likely to travel; they say the streetcar tracks should be moved to the center of the road.
- People are still getting injured in road hazard crashes involving streetcar tracks, potholes and other obstacles
- Future streetcar design standards should have more consideration for the safety of cyclists.
Parallels with Portland
In Portland, streetcar tracks have long been a cause for concern among the bicycling fraternity. BikePortland.org points out that cyclists crashing on streetcar tracks are almost a daily occurrence, and it’s not just the old tracks that are a point of contention. New streetcar tracks in the Pearl District have been installed on the right-hand shoulder of the road, exactly where a bicycle lane used to be.
However, rather than filing a lawsuit, Portland cyclists have taken a different approach and have achieved some modest results. A non-profit group called Active Right of Way (AROW) approached Portland Streetcar Inc. officials and asked to work with them to make the situation better all around.
Some of the changes that have already been put into effect are:
- Warning signs have been added to let cyclists know of road hazards that could lead to crashes.
- An educational video is being prepared.
- A project has begun to move a streetcar utility pole that for unknown reasons was placed too far inside the Broadway Bridge bikeway.
In Seattle, even though the city has so far beaten the lawsuit, there have been some changes made there as well. The Seattle Times reported that the lawsuit prompted changes in the design plans for the new First Hill Streetcar system.
BikePortland.org maintain that lack of funding simply cannot be allowed to be used as an excuse for not putting in appropriate safety measures or for making changes to what are obviously dangerous cycling conditions. They say that acknowledging the problem exists is the first step. After that, reforms and appropriate funding can be put in place.
A greater proportion of Portland workers cycle to work than in any other city in the country. Using a bicycle is great exercise and environmentally responsible, but cyclists face enough challenges on busy roads without having to worry about road hazards that can lead to crashes and injuries. It is up to the city to provide safe conditions for cyclists, and if you’ve been injured in a road hazard crash because of dangerous road conditions, unsafe bicycle lanes or intersections, then you shouldn’t have to pay for your medical treatment. Contact an experienced and dedicated Portland bicycle accident attorney who will explain your options.
Your consultation is free of charge, and a good personal injury attorney can guide you through the process of filing a lawsuit and getting the compensation you deserve. Don’t delay. The statutes of limitations for filing a claim against a city, state or county are quite strict, and if you miss the deadline, you lose all rights to make your claim.