The brother of a Seattle cyclist killed after riding in between streetcar tracks on East Yesler Way has sued the city of Seattle.
The brother of a bicyclist killed while riding along the First Hill Streetcar tracks is suing Seattle, claiming the city knew the streetcar’s rails were a hazard but chose to leave a “potential trap for bicycle tires,” which threw Desiree McCloud from her bike and caused her death.
Cody McCloud, whose sister, Desiree McCloud, was killed in May 2016 after riding between streetcar tracks on East Yesler Way, was joined in the lawsuit filed last month by cyclist Suzanne Greenberg, who claims she also crashed on the roadway because of the tracks.
Both women were thrown from their bikes when their tires “engaged” the streetcar’s rail-and-track groove on East Yesler Way, the lawsuit says.
Seattle knew that “streetcar tracks pose a crash risk,” according to the lawsuit, which outlines several ways the city could have minimized the alleged danger. Those options included installing rubber filler in streetcar-track grooves; choosing a different type of rail; or excluding bicycles from the streetcar’s lane, according to the suit.
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Desiree McCloud, 27, was riding with three other cyclists in May 2016 from East Capitol Hill to Alki Beach when her crash occurred. Surveillance images from a Seattle Police Department investigation showed her pedaling between the streetcar tracks on East Yesler Way when she attempted to pass another cyclist in her group.
That cyclist told police she saw McCloud’s bike wobble before McCloud crashed and tumbled to the pavement.
McCloud died 11 days later at Harborview Medical Center. An autopsy found that McCloud, who was wearing a helmet, died as a result of blunt-force head trauma.
In a 2016 investigative report, police did not find evidence to conclude whether the streetcar tracks played a role in McCloud’s crash.
“It is unknown if McCloud attempted to cross back over and if interaction with the rail was what led to her loss of control, and that question appears impossible to resolve,” police wrote in the report. “What is known is that no other vehicles were involved and that McCloud lost control of her bicycle, which caused her to fall to the ground. This incident, though obviously tragic, appears to be the sole result of some form of operator error on the part of McCloud.”
Cody McCloud’s lawyers have said they can prove the streetcar tracks grabbed McCloud’s tire.
In an interview last May, Greenberg, a sign-language interpreter, said she was traveling downhill, braking, when a bus pulled into a stop near the tracks. She was trying to pass the bus and did not see the tracks until they had grabbed her tire, she said.
“It literally feels like it’s being sucked in … it pulls your wheel, and you’re flying,” she said.
Greenberg injured her arm and shoulder in the wreck, which happened exactly a year after McCloud’s death. Coincidentally, a Q13 reporter who was working on a story about McCloud’s death and her brother’s legal claim rushed to Greenberg’s aid.
Since Seattle installed its first modern streetcar lines in 2007, cyclists have aired concerns that the streetcar tracks are a hazard.
The city does not collect data about streetcar-track crashes specifically, and many go unreported. After a request from The Seattle Times last year, more than 100 cyclists detailed falls they believe were caused by rail tracks.
Seattle has faced legal action over streetcar tracks before. In 2010, six bicyclists sued the city, claiming the South Lake Union streetcar tracks caused them to crash and Seattle knowingly allowed the unsafe conditions.
Although the city acknowledged the tracks could be hazardous, a judge agreed with the city’s argument that it had a right to build the streetcar line in the manner it chose and that the cyclists had not proved the city breached its duty to provide reasonably safe streets.
But, lawyers working on McCloud’s lawsuit said in May that they believe a 2016 Court of Appeals decision about a Port Orchard bicycle crash could aid their case because it clarified that bicycles are a mode of ordinary travel and that cities have a responsibility to maintain streets to be reasonably safe for cyclists.