Family wants changes to Seattle streetcar tracks after fatal bike crash

Desiree McCloud. Photo courtesy of McCloud family.

SEATTLE -- With wry smiles and tears in their eyes, Desiree McCloud's family share memories of a woman who was outspoken, opinionated and liked to win arguments.

Desiree was critically injured on May 13. Friends say she was riding her bicycle down East Yesler Way near 13th Avenue when her front wheel got caught in a streetcar track, causing her to fall head first.

Her brother Cody got the bad news when he arrived at the hospital.

"When the ER doctor looked me in the eye and said your sister could die on Friday the 13th, I was angry more than anything else. I was angry because I knew I could lose my sister," he said.

Desiree's mother Penny made it from Indiana to her bedside within 12 hours.

"You're shocked at all the bruising and all the swelling. You're shocked that your child doesn't look like yours anymore," Penny said.

With her family nearby, Desiree finally succumbed to her injuries. As her family mourned her passing, they became more frustrated with the belief her accident could have been prevented. Cody admits "I can't count how many times I've been thrown off my bike on the streetcar tracks."

Since 2007 and first days of the Seattle streetcar, cyclists have continually found themselves slipping or getting stuck in the metal openings. In 2010, a group of cyclists filed a lawsuit claiming the city installed the South Lake Union tracks knowing they'd be a hazard. A judge dismissed the lawsuit, in part agreeing with the city's argument that Westlake was not considered a regular route for cyclists.

Desiree is just the latest cyclist to get stuck in the tracks. Last year, KOMO News interviewed Daniel Ahrendts, who witnesses say fell under a bus after his wheel got caught in the streetcar tracks. Desiree's mother wants her death to force changes to the streetcar lines.

"If they want to promote cycling in this town, then throwing something that is so hazardous in bikers way doesn't seem an intelligent thing to do," she said.

Transportation leaders point to efforts made with the First Hill Streetcar on Broadway to better separate cyclists from the streetcar. However, once cyclists reach the area where Daniel and Desiree fell, it's more difficult for them to avoid the tracks.

Desiree's bicycle has returned to the area where she fell. Friends held a small ceremony on the spot last week. They painted her bicycle white and covered it with flowers and the helmet she was wearing when the accident happened. These "ghost bikes" are placed at the site where cyclist died as a tribute to their life.

Cody McCloud hopes that it serves as a reminder of the dangers cyclists face every day.

"Someone will see that white bike and say something's wrong here and slow down and live," he said.

Through her tears, Desiree's mother shares her wish to help create the changes that could save lives.

"I don't want any other parent to have to go through what I went through," she said. "I don't want anyone to else to lose their future on something that's so preventable so ridiculous."

Penny McCloud wants Desiree to be remembered for her accomplishments as a medical researcher and for the Girl Scout troop she helped form.

"She had so much more to give and this tragedy is really just taking more away from the world," Penny said.

The Seattle Department of Transportation issued this statement in regards to Desiree's accident:

The Seattle Department of Transportation was recently notified by the Seattle Police Department (SPD) of the fatality at East Yesler Way and 13th Avenue. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Desiree McCloud.

SPD informs us that their investigation is ongoing at this time. Following our standard protocols SDOT will undertake a fatal collision review process, which includes gathering data and conducting a site check. Our review process will help determine if any modifications to the roadway are warranted.

At this juncture, we do not know if the streetcar tracks played any role in the crash. The bike lanes are separate and outside of the streetcar's trackway at this location on Yesler. Careful consideration about bike facilities occurred during the design of the First Hill Streetcar's alignment, with bike lanes placed away from the rails and rail crossing points designed as near to perpendicular as possible.

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