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Harassed by a streetcar driver while riding safely

Update: See the response by the Streetcar General Manager here.

Harassment and passing too closely has been an issue since the streetcar began running last year. This 2014 photo shows a streetcar passing with less than three feet of space.

Harassment and passing too closely has been an issue since the streetcar began running last year. This 2014 photo shows a streetcar passing with less than three feet of space.

My family and I had the very unfortunate experience of being harassed by a Sunlink Streetcar driver on our way to the Bike Fest Finale Thursday afternoon.

According to others at the finale, we are not alone.

The four of us — the kids in the cargo bike and Irene on her own bike — came to a stop at Sixth Street heading south on Fourth Avenue. There was a car on the left of us also waiting for the light to change.

As we waited for the light, I heard the streetcar pull up behind us.

The light turned green and the car and I both began to accelerate. Once the car passed us, we were about three-quarters of the way through the intersection.

We began to move left to position ourselves out of the door zone and into a position to prevent the streetcar from attempting to pass us too closely.

The street is marked with sharrows to show cyclist where to ride to be outside of the door zone. Riding on the sharrow puts you close to tracks and does not allow a streetcar to pass you because there is not enough room on Fourth Avenue. (We covered just how narrow the safe area for cyclists is on Fourth Avenue)

Streetcar officials have said the standard operating procedure for drivers remain behind cyclists until there is three feet of space to pass them.

The streetcar driver rang the bell as they normally do when she began moving, but then the bell didn’t stop. She rang it for about 15 seconds straight. It was clearly designed to intimidate us to get out of her way.

When I turned around she started yelling at me from inside the streetcar and violently motioned for us to get out of her way.

I also began yelling and pointed straight down to the bicycle sharrow that I was riding right over.

Let me be clear I was riding safely, legally and with my children. The streetcar driver clearly did not care about the safety of my family and instead seemed only to care about her schedule.

We neared the streetcar stop outside the Food Co-Op  and I pulled over expecting her to stop at that stop so that I could find out what her problem was.

Instead she sped by and continued down Fourth Avenue.

After trying to compose myself, I called the SunTran/Sunlink customer service to file a complaint about the harassment. A manager with Sunlink returned my call a few minutes later and to her credit she took my complaint very seriously and apologized immediately.

She said the safety manager would review the video from the onboard cameras and call me Friday morning to discuss it.

We continued to the Bike Fest Finale and several other cyclists said they had been having more and more issues with streetcar drivers.

When I hear back from Sunlink officials, we will update the story.

If you have an issue with a streetcar driver, be sure to record the location, time of day and if possible the number of the streetcar. You can report it to (520) 624-5656 or info@tucsonstreetcar.info

Read more about the streetcar and some of the issues other cyclists have had here.

14 comments
chubasco
chubasco

This just makes me love 6th ave and 5th st. more. They pretty much took 4th and univ out of my space when they put in the tracks.

greenbicycle
greenbicycle

I have been riding the streetcar a lot. I haven't noticed any excessive bell-ringing. One of the unfortunate things about the street car is that the driver is behind a glass window and you can't talk to them. I guess they can open a window and yell at cyclists though.


I did witness a bus driver almost hit a cyclist the other day. Speedway and Euclid. The bus was in the right turn lane, but wasn't turning right (they are exempt). The cyclist wasn't thinking and pull right in front of an accelerating bus as they both entered the intersection. The cyclist and the driver were surprised. But the cyclist rode away and the bus was able to stop in time.


My general impression of Sun Tran drivers is that they are pretty patient most of the time. But there are some exceptions. Hopefully the SunLink drivers will get educated.

James
James

Almost every time I ride down University westbound with a streetcar behind me, this happens. They ring their bell nonstop from Euclid until the Time Market stop no matter how far over to the right I pull and never pass me. I've always been confused about this. Do they want me to stop my bike? I've actually just started shifting to a gear I know I can beat the streetcar with as long as I'm not carrying my kid...

silverpedals
silverpedals

The streetcar tracks were plunked down on a street that is too narrow to begin with. City planners and bureaucrats give a lot of lip service regarding promotion of bicycle routes and acceptance of the bike as a transportation alternative. The reality is that the city really doesn't want bikes out there and doesn't want to make the effort to ensure viable transportation alternatives to cars.

JoeDirt
JoeDirt

@in the here Kids were in a cargo bike not on their own bikes. Kids should still be able to ride with parents in the designated areas without being honked at or passed unsafely by the street car


zz
zz

@JoeDirt @in the here  Really,really bad PR for the street car expressed by the operator. One would think that would be addressed in training....that is if good PR is part of the program. 

@katalinscherer
@katalinscherer

@in the here The solution to unsafe streets by design for children is not to lock up your children in cars/houses, but to investigate why the streets are unsafe, and to design safe streets for EVERYONE and educate incompetent idiotic street car drivers that want to run over and hurt people. His children are a lot safer in that cargo bike wherever he goes that in a car. 

zz
zz

Maybe the street car operators should pretend bikes are just slow moving cars.  The double whammy is everyone has a problem following the person in front of them and bikes are at the bottom of the regard pool. They should only hire cyclists to operate the street car.

Augsburg
Augsburg

We bike 4th Ave regularly and unfortunately, often experience this kind of occurrence when we encounter the streetcar.  The attitude seems to be cyclists are supposed to stop and pull off the road when the streetcar arrives.  I guess some drivers figure there is a caste system on the road and bicycles are at the bottom.  


The problem described in this post is compounded by some of the design problems with the streetcar's tracks.  Example, southbound on 4th Ave approaching E. 9th.  The tracks swerve right as they approach the stop sign.  I've had the streetcar drivers start to pass me and then the tracks take them right over my way before they are all the way past me, forcing me to swerve right.  This is not a place for a driver to elect to pass a cyclist.  They're coming up to a stop anyway.  

Yan
Yan

I have also been harassed with the non stop bell ringing when riding perfectly inside the bike boundary.

DanielStolte
DanielStolte

I'm very sorry that happened, and I'm not defending the street car driver, but I do wonder whether in that particular situation it may have been safer and more pragmatic to slow down a bit, coast across the intersection and allow the streetcar to pass before continuing down 4th Ave? But perhaps that's the German in me talking who spent many years bike-commuting in cities with streetcars in Germany. I can't help but chuckle when I see the Tucson streetcar stop for pedestrians or slowly follow cyclists. I think it's quaint in a way, and I like it. Where I'm from, you get out of the way when a streetcar is coming, or you're dead. ;-) None of these musings excuse the behavior you experienced, of course. Hopefully someone will explain to her how not to do it.

Ted Johnson
Ted Johnson

<blockquote> ...she started yelling at me from inside the streetcar and violently motioned for us to get out of her way.</blockquote>


What was the "violent" motion?


I'm mostly sorry your kids had to witness this. You are doing a good job normalizing bikes in their lives, but an incident like this could make them feel like bikes make them oddballs.

@katalinscherer
@katalinscherer

With the extremely poor design of the whole street, this will continue to happen, and I expect this happens to many bicyclists daily. Is it going to take a dead cyclist to get rid of the parking along the street car route?

huesername
huesername

Where is St Paul when you need him?

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