Streetcar named liability: Suing for Milwaukee trolley track bike accident
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File claim for bicycle or motorcycle crash on Milwaukee’s streetcar tracks
Cyclists and Bikers Injured When Wheels Get Caught in Trolley Tracks
Imagine this: You’re pedaling your bike in downtown Milwaukee and need to move from the right side of the road into the left turn lane. You look for oncoming traffic behind you, and when the coast is clear you pedal quickly to get into the left turn lane. Suddenly, WHAM! You’re lying in the street with a broken elbow and a front wheel that looks like a taco. You’ve just been snagged by The Hop’s trolley track!
Why are trolley tracks so dangerous to bikes and motorcycles?
There are two ways trolley tracks are a danger to two-wheeled travel: crossing at anything less than a 90-degree angle puts you at risk of the wheel suddenly slipping sideways, and 2) when riding parallel to trolley tracks the gap between the metal rail and the asphalt is large enough to snag a bike tire, which usually results in a sudden stop that flings the rider from the bike.
The gap between the rail and the roadway is known as the flangeway gap, so named because it is the space where the overhanging flange of the streetcar’s wheels fit. A study by the University of British Columbia found that 85% of Toronto’s streetcar-bicycle accidents were caused by the cyclist’s wheel getting caught in this gap.
Flangeway gap on Milwaukee trolley line tracks.
The City of Milwaukee has posted signs cautioning bicyclists and motorcyclists to cross tracks at a 90-degree angle, but the reality is that a perpendicular crossing just isn’t always possible. There are times when you have to make a split second evasive maneuver to avoid getting hit, which can easily result in crossing a rail at a shallow angle.
Controversy over Milwaukee streetcar escalates with every new injury accident
Few projects in Milwaukee have triggered as much controversy as the streetcar. From the very beginning, opinions were deeply divided over the need for a trolley and over the cost. Now that the trolley cars are actually running, safety concerns have increasingly become an issue.
Actually, before the trolley even started running, there were safety concerns. Over the summer of 2018, a motorcyclist was flung from his bike after his front wheel got snagged in the tracks while trying to make a turn on to Water Street from St. Paul Ave. His arm was broken and his bike totaled.
Another motorcyclist, riding with his wife on back, crashed when his front wheel got caught in the track. At least two bicyclists have also suffered serious injuries when their wheels were caught by the tracks, and dozens more have suffered broken bones and road rash from wiping out on slippery tracks.
On The Hop line, the potential for disaster is everywhere, but two areas stand out as particularly hazardous:
- The corner of Jackson and Ogden
- Turning from W. St. Paul Avenue
Map of “The Hop” trolley line.
Trolley tracks a known danger in every city that has them
Milwaukee isn’t the only city where trolley tracks pose a hazard for two-wheeled travel. Philadelphia, Seattle, Detroit, Toronto and Portland are just a few other cities where streetcar tracks have become the nemesis of anyone on two wheels. Concussions, broken wrists, elbows and collarbones are common injuries, and in Seattle a cyclist died from a head injury after crashing on a trolley track (Yes, she had a helmet on).
You have to wonder what the city of Milwaukee was thinking when they forged ahead with the trolley line. Were they completely oblivious to the numerous bicycle and motorcycle accidents caused by trolley tracks in other cities, or just completely dismissive of the potential for similar accidents to happen here?
In every city with streetcars, cyclists and motorcyclists are at risk.
Bicyclists more vulnerable to wipeouts on streetcar track than motorcyclists
Since the tires on motorcycles are significantly wider than the tires on most bicycles and they still get caught in the gap between trolley tracks and the pavement, you can see how bicycle tires are even more likely to be caught in this gap.
Here’s what happens when a bike tire gets snagged in a trolley track.
If you’re on a bicycle and need to make a left turn across trolley tracks but can’t cross at a 90-degree angle, the City of Milwaukee advises the safest approach is to move to your right, then position yourself at the intersection to your right so you can go straight through it and cross the tracks at a 90-degree angle. It’s a hassle, but less so than a trip to the emergency room.
Obviously, if you’re on a motorcycle, not only is this approach completely impractical, it’s illegal. In the safety tips video the city produced for getting around the trolley tracks, there’s no mention of what motorcyclists are supposed to do. Seems like a pretty glaring oversight for a city known as the home of Harley Davidson.
What do you do if you’ve been injured in a motorcycle or bicycle crash caused by trolley tracks?
- Document the accident scene. If you’re able to, use your cell phone to take photos of the section of track that caught your wheel, as well as wider view photos of the location. If there are witnesses, ask for their names and phone numbers.
- Get medical treatment. You may think it’s just a bad bruise, but it could very well be a fractured bone. If you hit your head, as often happens in these types of accidents, you absolutely need to get checked over by a doctor. Don’t let the cost of medical attention be an issue. This is easily recovered in an injury claim.
- Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney. Warshafsky Law has represented many motorcycle and bicycle accident victims, and our firm has a long history of winning for our clients—often record setting judgments and settlements.
How can a personal injury law firm help you after a streetcar injury accident?
The first step is to file a claim with the City of Milwaukee to get you reimbursed for your medical expenses, as well as for damage to your motorcycle or bicycle. If the City disputes your claim, the next step is to file a lawsuit.
When it comes to personal injury lawsuits, Warshafsky Law is the firm you want representing you. Unlike “sign and settle” personal injury law firms, we don’t take the first low-ball settlement offer from an insurance company so we can shoo you out the door and move on to the next case. We prepare every case to go to trial, where insurance companies stand to lose huge.
Warshafsky Law has a long history of record-setting and society changing judgments, many involving bicycle and motorcycle accidents. We don’t settle for anything less than full restitution. You’ll pay no retainer, and make no payments until your case has been resolved and you’ve been compensated. We also offer a No Win, No Fee guarantee. If we don’t win your case, you won’t owe us a thing.