Editor’s note: A lawyer friend of Tucson Velo pointed out a section of A.R.S. 28-101 that excludes vehicles that run on tracks as motor vehicles. Here’s the snippet:

58. “Vehicle” means a device in, on or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a public highway, excluding devices moved by human power or used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks.

Of course the streetcar team’s own safety video suggests the driver must obey all the same rules as a motorist. 

The streetcar is safe for cyclists and and drivers don’t have to give cyclists three feet of space because it isn’t a motor vehicle, according to city officials quoted in an Inside Tucson Business article.

The article, in which I was quoted, was published yesterday and looks at the issue of bicyclist safety and parking issues along the route.

Here’s a snippet about the streetcar not being a motor vehicle:

McKisson said a short-term fix to the problem is for streetcar drivers to train drivers to follow bicyclists and only pass when they have the opportunity with three feet. However, he still thinks cyclists would be getting the “short shrift” in the current model.

“When the rubber hits the road, the cyclists are the ones who are going to be seriously injured,” he said.

However, the streetcars are not subject to the three-foot rule, according to City Attorney Mike Rankin. The Arizona statute only applies to motor vehicles and streetcars are not motor vehicles, he said.

Regardless, Rankin said, “Safety is at the top our concerns,” and despite the rule not applying, “Our training stresses that the streetcar will not pass cyclists unless there is sufficient space to do so safely.”

According to the A.R.S. 28-101 the definition of a motor vehicles is a “self-propelled vehicle.”

A.R.S. 28-735 says:

A. When overtaking and passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction, a person driving a motor vehicle shall exercise due care by leaving a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than three feet until the motor vehicle is safely past the overtaken bicycle.

Both Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild andTucson Sun Link co-manager Andy Quigley say the streetcar is safe.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said he believes that the current system is safe, but problems lie in its execution. The responsibility to educate pedestrians and bicyclists about potential dangers with the streetcar lies with the city, he said.

While he said he’s focused on getting the system up and running, adjustments to the current parking system are something he anticipates.

Quigley said the current situation is safe for bikers, but a potential fix would be to convert parking spaces to back-in parking on narrower streets. In the meantime, he said that it will take education for bikers, cars, pedestrians and the streetcar to learn to coexist together.

“We believe the system is designed to facilitate multi-modal transportation,” Quigley said.

Check out the whole story over on Inside Tucson Business.

19 thoughts on “City officials: Streetcar safe for cyclists; not a motor vehicle”
  1. Is the streetcar not “self-propelled” because the electricity comes to it from overhead lines?

    That’s the only way I can see for them to finesse the question of whether a streetcar is a motor vehicle.

  2. Odd as the street car is a vehicle with a motor, to the likes of me it sounds like a motor vehicle.

  3. Not subject to the three foot rule yet bigger than any motor vehicle. Hmm, this logic seems sound. A part of their training? Oh, okay, whew, I feel safer already. I guess everything is fine now. They said it’s safe so obviously they are right. We can all stop worrying, the problem has been solved, woo!

  4. While the streetcar is not a motor vehicle under Arizona law, the drivers are subject to the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles under Tucson City Code. 

    * Sec. 20-401. Definition. In
    this article, trolley means every vehicle which is propelled by
    electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires and which is
    operated upon fixed rails within the city.* Sec. 20-402. Application of law. Every
    person operating a trolley on any street or highway within the city is
    granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable
    to the operator of a motor vehicle as prescribed in this chapter and in
    A.R.S. title 28, except as to those provisions which by their nature
    have no application. (Ord. No. 8139, § 1, 10-11-93)

    We can call it a “streetcar” rather than a trolley, but under the city code, it’s still a trolley because it meets those definitions. Drivers of motor vehicles need to pass cyclists safely. So do the streetcar operators.

  5. @Collin Forbes Very good, Collin, thank you. Passing cyclists safely, for streetcar operators then, may more than likely mean not passing them at all. It’s the only ‘control’ they have.  They should have only hired cyclists to be streetcar operators.
    Let’s hope none of the ones they do have fall asleep and run the thing off the bridge into the Santa Cruz…..or maybe we do.

  6. You said it best, Mike. The fact of the matter is that cyclists and pedestrians are being left out by this design. They either need to nix parking along 4th avenue or stop promoting it as a bike path.

  7. As a further note, because the streetcar is not considered a motor vehicle (or even a vehicle) under Arizona law, it means that ADOT will not be tracking crashes between the streetcar and cyclists.
    There are 8 criteria which must be met for a crash to be counted in the statewide collision statistics:

    1. Did the incident include one or more occurrences of injury, death, or damage? 
    2. Was there at least one occurrence of injury, death, or damage that was not a direct result of natural disaster?
    3. Was there bodily injury, death, or damage to the property of any one person in excess of one thousand dollars? (See Arizona Revised Statute 28-667).
    4. Did the incident involve one or more motor vehicles?
    5. Of the motor vehicles involved, was at least one in transport?
    6. Was the incident an unstabilized situation?
    7. Did the unstabilized situation originate on a trafficway or did injury or damage occur on a trafficway? 8. If a motor vehicle in transport collided with a railroad train, did the collision occur at or near a rail-road crossing?
    http://nhtsa-tsis.net/stateCatalog/states/az/docs/AZ_Crash_Manual_rev8_2010_sub_3_2011web.pdf [on page 4]
    Already, there’s no state-level tracking of cyclist injuries on the streetcar tracks because those crashes don’t meet #4 and #5. But when the streetcar sideswipes a cyclist or strikes a pedestrian, that won’t be recorded either because the streetcar isn’t a motor vehicle.

  8. @Bike Geography  Street cars do have motors.  They use the electricity from the wires to power their electric motors.  

    The street car is self propelled in my book.  You might argue a cable car (as in San Francisco) is pulled along by cable under the road, so not self propelled.  But a street car is propelled by its own motor – which is powered be electricity.

  9. I think the city attorney is brandishing what we call CYA.  Cover Your A@#.   I think they went down the road of designing the street car without thinking of such details.  Now they are trying to cover up the oversight.  Hard to cover up blood on the pavement, though.  Eventually this lack of forethought will cause enough problems that they will need to deal with it.  Unfortunately, probably not until there is a serious accident that makes the problem undeniable.

  10. Augsburg Exactly, it sucks to sit around wondering which one of our friends is going to die for the city to consider this a big deal.

  11. @Collin Forbes  And to point out an odd (well, i thought is was odd) tangentially related topic: on the crash form motorized bicycles are not coded as bicycles — they get coded as   MOTORCYCLE_MP_MOPED; and person is listed as a DRIVER.and not a PEDALCYCLIST

  12. they can call all they want but an incident with a cyclist being hit, maimed or killed will pay out big bucks…..taxpayer bug bucks.

  13. here is my recent letter to Sun Link, with no reply after 3 days:

    My name is Paul Thomas, an elite cyclist residing in Tucson, Az. With the term elite, this applies more to being the best rider possible, not emphasizing the speed in which I race or ride. With this, I am also a pedestrian and a motorist. There are some cyclists with higher awards but none are better than me when it comes to awareness of obstacles, traffic, and communicating with drivers. 
    On Friday August 15th, I was riding westbound on University Ave, west of Euclid. On this route there are painted SHARDS (bicycles) indicating the pathway for cyclists. These are put on the road at approximatley 100m intervals. Just to the left of the painted bikes is the railway for the Sun Link street car systems. Last Friday, at approximately noon, I encountered an extremely close collision with one of these street cars. The street car made a VERY unsafe pass, missing me by mere centimeters. I was told that the street car has video surveillance of the incident that has been reviewed. Ultimately, I would like to see the captured video. This dangerous pass occurred between 2nd Ave and 4th Ave.
    After the street car passed, I caught up to Car 104 at 4th Ave. As I pulled up to the car, the driver was already out of his seat approaching his window. While I was clearly in the bike lane, I was baffled how I was being antagonized by a driver who clearly does not know the rules of the road. I am unsure of how these drivers are trained, but I cannot imagine that they are just set loose to drive these cars in an already crowded University area. I have not checked the statue, but it is my understanding that there is a 3 foot rule when passing pedestrians or cyclists. I was told by a Sunlink supervisor that arrived on the scene that the trolley drivers are instructed that they will not hit anything that lies outside of the concrete foot print that the trolley rides. I was outside of the concrete footprint and was 100% within the bike lane, and I missed getting hit by the trolley by mere millimeters. This training does not seem to fall within the 3 foot rule.
    While there was not injury or collision, there will be in the very near future with the behavior of this type of driving. Maybe my “close call” incident will be a wake up call on how these drivers are doing their job. The police officer and I came to agreement that there is a design flaw in the layout of this new transportation system, tripled with the bikes and cars that use this same route. 
    I am unsure of the existing claims/injuries that have occurred thus far. Whatever failures of this new system since the launch date can not be compared to what is about to happen once the population rises by 30,000 now that University of Arizona students are getting back to school. I like the idea of a rail system. However, I was immediately able to tell that the planning was not well thought out. There are cars parked on the side of the road, and the bike lane is tucked in between those cars and the trolley. The bike lane actually overlaps into the overhang of the train. It seems as if the planners simply forgot to take out a tape measures when designing our new Sun Link system. There is not enough space for a train, a bike and a parked car with an open door. 
    The officer on the scene indicated that I did not get hurt, and I should feel lucky. He also said maybe my incident will possibly prevent someone else from getting hurt or killed. I write this message to put Sun Link on notice that injury/death is right around the corner with this flawed design and dangerous driving behaviours by its employees. Unfortunately, change never really happens until there is a death or major catastrophe. 
    I am unsure of the solution. Maybe change the bike route. Possibly no street parking on University/4th Ave. It is a mathematical equation, and there is simply not enough room on the road for these 3 types of transportation. If there are cars parked on both sides of the street with the drivers side doors open, 2 bikes riding next to each other on both sides (which is legal) and 2 trains, the math tells us that someone did not use their measuring stick before construction, and it is the bike riders that will face bodily harm/death. 
    Again, I pride myself on educating commuters, bike racers and any other types of two wheeled riders on road safety. Skills and awareness can minimize 90% of all accidents. However, only luck can save one from the incident that I encountered last Friday.
    I surely hope that this email is taken as a tool to better the safety of all motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and Sun Link, and not a disgruntled cyclist. The only effort that can be done immediately is to train the trolley drivers to follow the rules of the road given the seemingly poorly designed system and remember the average person on two wheels does not have the skills to dance around moving cars and trains.
    I would like to be contacted to verify that there is action being taken on this incident. I would also like to see what I have to in order to view the video that was taken from street car 104.
    I look forward to you response.
    Paul Thomas

  14. @PaulThomas1,

    I’m glad you were not injured, and I appreciate your follow up to try to get attention to this matter.  Regarding your desire to see the video.  All public agencies are subject to public disclosure and they all have a process to respond to “public disclosure requests”.  I highly recommend that you make a formal request to provide you the video in question.  Just ask Sun Link how to make the request formally, and they must comply.  While you are at it, you should ask for any other incidents involving bicycles that have resulted in a review of the street car video by Sun Link’s supervisors or management and ask for copies of that video too. They do not have a choice, this is all public information they must disclose if asked.  Once you receive the video, you could post on YouTube to help inform the public.

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