Light rail and train tracks are street hazards for people riding bikes. And problems happen more often than we think.
Thanks to co-author Kay Teschke for the link to this study from Ryerson and UBC.
Most such crashes occur when a bike’s front wheel gets caught in the “flangeway” present on all rails. Suddenly, the wheel is going a different direction from the rest of the bike. Wham! Or when the rails are simply slippery from rain, frost, fog and so on. The best advice is to cross the tracks with your front tire perpendicular to the track — or as near as possible to 90 degrees. This can be difficult if, as on Granville Island, the tracks are in the same place as busy motor vehicle and bike traffic.
Conclusions: In a city with an extensive streetcar system, one-third of bicycling crashes directly involved streetcar or train tracks. Certain demographics were more likely to have track-involved crashes, suggesting that increased knowledge about how to avoid them might be helpful. However, such advice is long-standing and common in Toronto, yet the injury toll is very high, underscoring the need for other solutions. Tires wider than streetcar or train flangeways (~50 mm in the Toronto system) are another individual-based approach, but population-based measures are likely to provide the optimal solution. Our results showed that route infrastructure makes a difference to the odds of track-involved injuries. Dedicated rail rights of way, cycle tracks, and protected intersections that direct two-stage left turns are policy measures concordant with a Vision Zero standard. They would prevent most of the track-involved injury scenarios observed in this study.
In metro Vancouver, such tracks are more rare than in active streetcar cities (like Toronto, where this data was gathered). But hazardous tracks persist on Granville Island, and elsewhere. It is remotely possible that Surrey will sprout a light-rail network one day.