Mourners set up a ghost bike. Image source: Capitol Hill Seattle Blog
On May 13th, Desiree McCloud was biking on East Yesler Street with a group of friends. According to witnesses, her bicycle’s wheel got stuck in the streetcar tracks at 13th and Yesler. Desiree flipped over her handlebars and hit the pavement hard, sustaining injuries that took her life after more than a week in the hospital.
The area where McCloud crashed is famously dangerous among Seattle-area cyclists. Along other stretches of road near the First Hill Streetcar’s route, bicyclists can ride in a protected bikeway that will keep their wheels away from the tracks. But along this particular stretch of East Yesler, cyclists must ride much closer to the tracks.
Most streetcar tracks consist of two long, narrow metal strips that are sunk into the roadway. Each metal strip has an even narrower slice in the middle where the streetcar’s wheels may slot in. But those strips can also catch bike wheels, stroller wheels, and pedestrians’ feet. Thin and medium-sized tires are particularly likely to get caught in these narrow wheel-sized holes; the wheels can then lock up, sending a rider into a dangerous head-first fall that can crack collarbones, shatter cervical vertebrae, and cause the brain to slam against the hard bones of the skull. Even bicyclists wearing helmets have been severely injured in these wrecks; McCloud was wearing a helmet when at the time of the crash. In a rainy city like Seattle, the metal can also be far more slick than the surrounding asphalt, increasing the chances that even a cyclist who doesn’t get their wheel caught could skid out of control.
McCloud’s friends and family are speaking up about the city’s lax attitude towards safety around the newly extended streetcar line. While city officials released a statement to the public saying that they carefully considered cyclists’ safety while planning the placement of bike lanes and rail crossing points, pictures of the area show narrow bike lanes placed very close to the dangerous tracks and an in-lane sharrow that leads directly to the tracks instead of keeping cyclists away from the hazardous area.
McCloud’s brother Cody, also a cyclist, told reporters at KOMO News, “I can’t count how many times I’ve been thrown off my bike on the streetcar tracks.” Her mother told reporters, “I don’t want anyone to else to lose their future on something that’s so preventable so ridiculous.”