RIDERS THROWN BY STREETCAR GROOVES

Injured cyclist files $3 million claim over Tucson streetcar tracks

2013-04-05T00:00:00Z 2013-05-06T21:21:04Z Injured cyclist files $3 million claim over Tucson streetcar tracksBecky Pallack Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 05, 2013 12:00 am  • 

A woman who suffered a traumatic brain injury when she crashed her bicycle on the newly installed streetcar tracks has filed a claim against the Regional Transportation Authority.

Lawyers for Angel Welch sent notice of her personal injury claim to the RTA and city-owned Sun Tran transit service earlier this year, saying they'll settle for $3 million.

The crash happened in August as Welch was turning south from Congress Street onto Fifth Avenue. Her tire caught in the groove between the tracks and pavement and she was thrown into the street.

Welch is now permanently disabled, with memory loss and communication problems, according to her lawyers, Barry Bellovin and David Karnas. Her medical bills are around $450,000, they said in a letter to the RTA.

The claim does not give details such as whether Welch was wearing a helmet, and her lawyers could not be reached for comment.

The lawyers assert in their letter that the RTA was negligent and used inadequate maintenance, substandard design, dangerous construction and inadequate warning signage in the streetcar project. The claim is an offer to settle before a lawsuit is filed.

The RTA's insurance company told the RTA in a letter the city assumed responsibility for claims in an agreement with the RTA.

City Attorney Mike Rankin would say only that the city is not in settlement discussions with Welch.

Streetcar project manager Shellie Ginn said the design takes into account all street users: pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers and streetcar vehicles.

Streetcar planners made accommodations for bicyclists by moving the tracks away from the curb wherever possible to make more room for bikes, she said.

Once construction is complete, there will also be green paint on the pavement to show where bicyclists should cross the tracks safely where there are potential hazards and more educational messages about how to safely ride near tracks, Ginn said.

CRASHES COMMON, SIGNS STOLEN

While Welch's accident may be the worst, it's certainly not the only bike crash on the new tracks.

The Living Streets Alliance, a safety and access advocacy group, has collected about 30 reports of bike crashes on the tracks, with injuries ranging from minor scrapes to broken teeth, board member Ian Johnson said in an email.

Many more have gone unreported.

City leaders had warnings about the potential for crashes like Welch's, including several letters from their own Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Two years ago the committee sent a letter warning now-City Manager Richard Miranda that the type of rail chosen for the project is "much more likely to catch the tires of bicyclists, causing them to crash and potentially throwing riders onto the street in front of traffic."

The committee said it understands the need to finish the project on time and on budget, "however, we feel it is a mistake to negatively impact bicyclists, potentially causing many injuries."

The city put up signs warning bicyclists of the potential hazard, which pleased the committee, but the signs were immediately stolen, the committee said in a letter to streetcar team leaders in October.

The signs have turned out to be popular among thieves, Ginn said, and they're replaced when stolen.

On StarNet: See a timeline on Tucson's modern streetcar at azstarnet.com/streetcar

Track crashes on tracks

Living Streets Alliance is collecting reports of bicycle crashes on the streetcar tracks to help the city identify problem areas and come up with solutions.

You can report crashes online at www.livingstreetsalliance.org/our-work/projects

Bike safety on the tracks

Pima County sponsors free, one-hour bike safety classes at the University of Arizona Mall, including lessons on how to ride safely near tracks. The next classes are: 9 a.m. April 17; 10 a.m. May 9; 9:30 a.m. May 21

Go to BikePed.pima.gov or call 243-BIKE (2453) for more class times.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@azstarnet.com or 573-4346. On Twitter @BeckyPallack.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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