Video: Why bicyclists must cross railroad tracks at a 90 degree angle; Why shallower angles or parallel tracks are astonishingly dangerous : U of Tennessee research

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This video is the result of a research effort by faculty and students at the University of Tennessee to document and study the hazards associated with railway grade crossings on bicycle safety (published in the Journal of Transport & Health). Most video was captured in August and September, 2014 on Neyland Drive, in Knoxville TN. The City of Knoxville has since realigned both rail crossings largely solving the safety problem.

Results of preliminary research published in:
Ling, Z., C. Cherry, N. Dhakal (2017) Factors influencing single-bicycle crashes at skewed rail grade crossings. Journal of Transport & Health. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jth.2017.01.004

MoBikeFed comment: One of the basic facts of bicycle design and operation is that bicycles must cross railroad tracks at or very near a 90 degree angle.

A shallower angle--or, worst case scenario, tracks parallel to the bicyclist's direction or travel--are extremely dangerous, as this video graphically demonstrates.

In the comments are documented serious injuries suffered by bicyclists at this crossing, including multiple broken pelvises and other serious injuries.

The solution in this case was to create a "jug-handle" bicycle trail that takes bicyclists across the track at a 90 degree angle. That solution, which dramatically cut the bicyclist injury rate at this location, is seen in the video at 2:08: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfeQvbIFBks&t=128s

The serious falls and injuries shown in this video underscore the point we and other Missouri bicycle advocacy have been making about the miles of track the Kansas City Streetcar and the St. Louis Loop Trolley have been laying down on some of the most popular bicycle streets in the state.

These rails are exactly parallel to the bicyclists direction of travel and in large part, placed in or across the exact portions of the road where bicyclists usually travel.

These parallel tracks on city bicycle routes are extremely dangerous for bicyclists who travel there. The same types of falls and injuries seen on this video will be very common for any bicyclists who operate on the streets with the trolley & streetcar tracks.

Our recommendations to bicyclists riding in these areas remains the same: Avoid the streets with the tracks when possible; exercise extreme caution otherwise.

Cross the tracks ONLY at a 90 degree angle. If you cannot cross at a 90 degree angle, stop your bicycle and carry it over the tracks, rather than crossing at a shallow angle.

If you do not believe this is a vitally important safety precaution, watch the linked video a few more times. It is important, and serious falls when crossing railroad tracks at non-perpendicular angles are very, very common.

Furthermore, as we have done before, we call on the trolley and streetcar operating authorities, planners, designers, and funders to solve the serious hazard that these tracks pose to people who bicycle in these areas.

Both the Kansas City Streetcar and the Loop Trolley are built in areas of KC and STL, respectively, where bicycling is an extremely common activity. Destinations for people who bicycle line the streets with the trolley/streetcar tracks.

Designing the streetcar/trolley tracks to be safer for people who bicycle is actually a relatively simple matter:

- Tracks and stops should be placed street center, not street edge. This removes 90 percent or more of tracks from the bicyclists usual line of travel

- Care should be taken in routing streetcar & trolley tracks. If a street or corridor is too narrow to safely allow streetcar, automobile, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic, then either streetcar or automobile traffic should be diverted to a better route

- Bicycle-compatible streetcar & trolley tracks & cars are available worldwide, but not in the U.S. due to "Buy American" restrictions on funds typically used for light rail projects. This problem should be addressed head-on by transit agencies, transit advocacy groups, and elected officials.

Much more on the dangers of tracks for bicyclists, and the solutions, here:

http://mobikefed.org/search/node/streetcar

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