I consider myself a confident and skilled bike rider, but when the streetcar passed me on Fourth Avenue, it was very uncomfortable and a violation of the law.

Here’s what happened: On Monday morning, I was returning from the courthouse after checking court records for the story I posted on Tuesday. I was riding a little folding bike I use for hopping around the downtown area.

The streetcar was stopped on Fourth Avenue just north of Ninth Street heading north.

At that spot, there is no parking and it is easy to go around the streetcar, which I did because I wanted to see what would happen when it started moving again.

I was positioned where the sharrows indicate cyclists should ride to be protected from the door zone.

The streetcar began to roll and quickly caught up with me and began to pass me.

It was frightening when it did. There was about a foot between me and the streetcar and me. Had I been riding my bakfiets, it would have been even closer.

Legally, the streetcar should not have passed me because it could not provide me the three feet of space required by law.

Several years ago at a Tucson-Pima County Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting I asked representatives from the streetcar about the narrowness of Fourth Avenue and whether the streetcar would have to obey traffic laws including giving cyclists three feet of space.

The members of the streetcar team said the streetcars would be treated like vehicles and have to obey the rules of the road. When pressed they said that if there was not three feet of space the driver would have to follow the cyclist and wait for a spot where there was three feet to pass.

I am waiting for a return phone call about what the streetcar’s training and safety staff have to say about the driver passing me with less than three feet of clearance.

This driver and I leapfrogged the whole way up Fourth Avenue and each time the streetcar passed, it was too close and too scary.

It’s hard to remember when the streetcar is passing you that it is only going to go straight on not swerve into you. Once that sinks in it starts to feel a little better.

It wasn’t as bad when the driver passed me once and for all on University Boulevard. There was more room and fewer cars parked there.

It’s concerning to think about cyclists who are less confident and get buzzed by a streetcar. How will they react? Hug the parked cars putting themselves at a risk for being doored? Fall? Quit riding?

I honestly didn’t think being passed by the streetcar would be a big deal, but I was wrong.

Have you been passed by the streetcar? If so where and how did it feel?


25 thoughts on “Photo & Video: Getting passed by the streetcar on 4th”
  1. I did have it pass me on University in front of Urban Outfitters/Gentle Bens. I was curious about the spacing, but it gave me plenty of room.  It is a completely different issue on 4th ave, though I haven’t been passed there, I have been doored there. Between the peds crossing everywhere, the street car and the possibility of getting doored, it gives me complete panic attacks, but there are some times (when Tucson High and Roskruge first get out) that for my safety I have to cross 6th street at 4th ave, then I usually switch ack to 3rd to get to the Aviation bike path. I don’t think 4th ave will be safe for bikes and the street car unless they ban cars there altogether.

  2. I had the streetcar whiz past me yesterday on University, and felt intimidated by the sheer mass of the thing. It felt much like a semi trailer truck as it passed. What is its braking distance? How many streetcar lengths to stop?  Parking on Fourth will be a big problem, merchants need some. Obviously it was foolish not to have placed the line on Stone/ 6th Ave corridor where the riders really are. This is the gift that keep on giving us fits. The Street Fair may move as well as the parking. All for a  $200 million wanna be streetcar that goes nowhere. Can I take my bike on the streetcar?

  3. Shame on the street planners that allowed a streetcar track and sharrowed bike lane in close proximity.
    Even without a streetcar next to you, this is not safe for cyclists. If an emergency arises (door opening or pedestrian darting out), a cyclist veering into the embedded streetcar tracks could easily get their tire lodged into the bottom of the track. I know people this has happened to, even when riding on beach cruisers with wide tires.

  4. According to the Modern Street Car website, the project was seeded with $63 million in Federal funding via TIGER grant through Federal Transportation Administration. Red Star doesn’t have a problem with that as far as that goes. However, were there any relevant strings attached to this, specifically, design and safety standards that are now being violated or did they just shovel $63 million to City of Tucson/RTA and say “Okay,here’s the money, implement it how ever you want?” We just don’t know.

    Will the endgame be that cars get banned from using (including parking/standing) some segments of the route? And how many busted-up people to get to that? Projections please, City of Tucson/RTA…

  5. phew, scarey? yes. dangerous? yes. Illegal? hmmmm. my take is that, no, trains are, by definition, not vehicles per the transportation code and wouldn’t be subject to 28-735: 

    28-101(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.

  6. DanielStolte  A sharrow is a suggestion. If you’re not comfortable with the streetcar passing you, then ride between the rails because bikes may use full lane.

  7. DanielStolte Share(d) Arrow – The double chevrons painted on the street are the sharrow markers. Meant to indicate that the lane is shared with bicycles.

  8. EdBeigheI’d expect that this law was drafted with the understanding that railroad tracks typically stand alone from roadways and that a cyclist hit by a streetcar would win a suit for damages in court (unless the cyclist was riding illegally somehow, like against traffic flow).

  9. The streetcar influenced you into the door zone according to the red truck’s position in the video….should have taken the lane instead of leap-frogging with the thing.

  10. LawrenceLagarde EdBeighe yup. agreed; in civil suit the cyclist should prevail… in other words, the streetcar company ought to be concerned about its exposure to potentially large liability awards.
    It just applies to what the police would do in a hypothetical streetcar/bike sideswipe — there seem to be no traffic citations that apply.
    Criminal laws still apply, however. (e.g. drunkenness; or any sort of behavior deemed criminally negligent on the part of the streetcar driver could result in homicide or assault charges).

    …. All in my NONprofessional opinion, of course 🙂

  11. @Suzanne We were told…..we were told…we were told.  I regret wasting the time listening  to what we were told.

    And again, video/pictures by TucsonVelo gets significant attention addressing bike problems. How would this occur otherwise?

  12. I can’t help but think that if you are cycling so slowly that the trolley can pass you, you should just let it pass and don’t complain. It’s not like they are 30 cars long, or traveling nose-to-tail for several sets of cars.
    Otherwise, ride faster (but within the law, of course), and make notes/pictures of them doing anything actually dangerous.
    Admittedly, I’m used to dodging traffic in Tokyo, Britain, Italy, etc, where conditions and street widths make 4th look like an empty salt-flat.

    All that said, the video seemed to show plenty of room to me, more than I get from most cars.  I don’t see a problem here.  Except in the minds of some nervous-Nelly paranoids.

  13. PavePusher  No, you are not right. Had someone opened their door into the rider, the rider would most likely be dead. That level of risk is most certainly worth bringing to attention.

    As for people managing just fine in Europe, a story such as this: With this choice quote, “A total of 54 cyclists have been killed in London since 2010” seems to indicate things aren’t exactly safe for riders, despite horrendous motor vehicle traffic. This sentiment that the worse the traffic conditions the safer the ride is completely ridiculous.

  14. StrawHousePig PavePusher So, no different from a car passing, right?  And, the street-car was PAST the cyclist before s/he got to the cars.

    So, yes, there’s a risk.  The exact same risk that has always been present.  Nothing has changed, so why the manufactured outrage about something “new” that isn’t.

  15. StrawHousePig PavePusher Also, this: “This sentiment that the worse the traffic conditions the safer the ride is completely ridiculous.” is an utter Strawman.  I never said anything like that, you’ve simply made it up out of whole cloth.  Don’t do that again.

  16. PavePusher StrawHousePig  A streetcar is assuredly not an automobile. It cannot handle, nor behave like one, for better or worse. So definitely different than a car passing and not the same risk. Unless you mean the possibility of being crushed by it.
    I would like to have seen the rider (Mike) take the lane from the streetcar instead of ride in the door zone. Although crossing the track is its own hazard. Perhaps he did before and after the streetcar passed, perhaps the driver waited until the intersection to pass (although the still image shows that was not the case). These details aren’t specifically given and really aren’t important to what is accomplished here, which is that the rider is calling the RTA out on training their drivers to follow the law and that when the drivers don’t do so it creates a dangerous situation. Nothing manufactured about that, it’s the truth, and it *can* and *should* be avoided. Especially since we’re paying for the damn thing.
    I admit I may have misinterpreted your intention, but you did indicate that the skillset gained from familiarity with high density traffic would make us safer. However, at any given moment all of our skills are at the mercy of the whims of others. The more the others, the less our skills mean.
    Regarding: “Don’t do that again.” Is that a threat or a command? Don’t bother, I’m sure we won’t agree here.

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