Paul Andrews

Streetfilms’ misguided video on RR tracks

In Bicycle advocacy on February 12, 2010 at 10:34 am

Streetfilms has put together a clip on how to cross railroad tracks on a bike, using Seattle’s “Missing Link” as an example. I wish I could say it does the trick, but in reality it feeds a lot of misguided mythologies about cycling. Ultimately, it says railroad tracks are something to be feared, and that somehow they’re really really hard to get across, and that the solution to any challenge involving RR tracks is to paint hugeass arrows and figurines scaring cyclists into BEING CAREFUL BECAUSE YOU’RE GOING TO CRASH! Which essentially contributes to the greater public perception that cycling is dangerous and should simply be avoided.

The teaser to the clip says crashing on RR tracks is “something I’ve seen even the most experienced cyclist do.” Really? I’ve been riding all my life and have never crashed on RR tracks. I’ve never been in a group of riders, experienced or otherwise, where a rider has crashed on RR tracks. I’ve never seen or been around a cyclist who blah blah blah. I’ve been told many times to be careful of RR tracks, and have wound up wondering why. As a kid I didn’t get the memo, and as an adult it’s never been a problem. I’m not saying crashes don’t happen, but I am saying this: In the pantheon of dangerous obstacles and momentous challenges facing a cyclist on an everyday basis in urban settings, RR tracks are way way down the list.

Now the accident data does indicate that the Missing Link tracks are problematic. And anyone, even a cyclist (we are sentient, despite the implications of condescending videos and traffic signs), can see that there’s a nasty angle to the crossing. But the solution isn’t cartoon characters on pavement and signs. The solution is to DO SOMETHING about the Missing Link. To its everlasting credit, Cascade Bicycle Club of Seattle has been pushing a fix here for years. And the city of Seattle has a project ready to go. Only litigation by selfish businesses and corporations has blocked the link from becoming “unmissing.” (None of which Streetfilms mentions.)

I don’t mean to pick on Streetfilms here. They obviously meant well. But the road to perdition is paved with good intentions — not RR tracks. If Streetfilms wanted to show a real problem area, it could do a clip on a true nightmare: Westlake Avenue, where bikes not only have to ride parallel to streetcar tracks, but where there are sections of pavement lacking even clearance for bikes from the streetcar and/or traffic. Even there, though, the issue isn’t an inherent catastrophic nature of RR tracks. It’s piss-poor planning that never even considered bikes in the transportation matrix.

Otherwise our hope is that next time Streetfilms will try to pick a subject that doesn’t make cyclists seem like brain-damaged children who have to quake in their pedals every time they see two strips of iron supported by wooden planks.

  1. guess I’m not an “experienced” cyclist – I’ve never crashed on RR tracks

  2. I’ve gone down on railroad tracks and wet ones are incredibly slippery even crossing at a 90 degree angle. And to be fair the Street films does mention that the city is using paint until the funding comes through. Better good paint than nothing.

    RE: Westlake and the trolley tracks. The city council was told about the problem before the tracks were laid in. But they ignored the advice in their rush to please Paul Allen aka S.Lake Union’s major real-estate developer. Now that Paul has a major tenant in moving to the Vulcan buildings and has a large number of regular bicyclist commuters, I suspect there will be more crashes and maybe will weigh in when they go to try an build out more track to the UW and Freemont.

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