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New signs warn bicyclists to stay clear of the streetcar tracks

Updated: 2013-12-21T01:46:49Z

By LYNN HORSLEY

The Kansas City Star

Roadway signs usually warn motorists about potential hazards, from speed bumps and sharp curves to deer and pedestrian crossings.

But new warning signs sprouting downtown differ greatly from those and are prompting everything from chuckles to head-scratching among surprised Kansas Citians.

They’re bright yellow, cost about $30 each and contain an illustration of a bicyclist catapulting over the handlebars.

Say what?

At first glance, the signs seem to imply that cyclists wanting a dose of road rash (heaven knows why) can get it here, along Truman Road and Main Street.

But there’s a simple explanation. The signs are near where the first streetcar tracks have been placed on the Main Street bridge over Interstate 670.

And they’re intended to send a clear message: Bicyclists beware. The streetcar tracks can send you somersaulting.

“If you ride parallel to the rail and get too close, your tire will go down in it and you’ll flip over your handlebars,” said Deb Ridgeway, Kansas City’s bicycle pedestrian coordinator. “That’s what it’s trying to show.”

And yes, she said, this is the approved caution sign for such circumstances from the Federal Highway Administration.

In Portland, Ore., and Seattle, where streetcars and bicycles are popular, accidents are not uncommon.

An Aug. 14 article on BikePortland.org points out that 12 years after streetcars first came to Portland, it’s “still a Portland rite of passage to crash your bike on its tracks.”

And six bicyclists who crashed while crossing a streetcar track in Seattle sued the city in 2010 for not doing more to prevent such accidents.

That’s why Kansas City is being proactive even before major streetcar track construction begins, Ridgeway said.

Although posting the signs is not required, it’s strongly encouraged in other cities.

Right now in Kansas City, there are two signs on Truman Road and four along Main Street. It’s possible more will be added as streetcar construction gets underway in earnest next year for a route that will stretch from the River Market to Union Station.

The trains are supposed to start rolling in the latter part of 2015.

The signs are already getting the attention of bicyclists around town, and that’s a good thing, said Eric Rogers, executive director of BikeWalkKC.

“People are curious about it,” Rogers said.

Rogers said his organization is excited about the streetcar and all alternate modes of transportation and believes the streetcar and bicycles can happily coexist.

But he said his organization and the city agree it’s important to start educating people now, as the first track is laid, about the potential hazard, especially for cyclists who are going fast and not paying attention.

“The streetcar is going to be new for cyclists and motorists. We’re getting into a process where everyone is going to learn how to share the road,” Rogers said.

Rogers noted that in Kansas City, bicyclists have lots of alternatives to Main Street and certainly can avoid the streetcar tracks by taking Grand Boulevard, Charlotte Street or Holmes Road, which are on the city’s bike plan.

He said other educational information about making bikes compatible with the streetcar is available at www.bikewalkkc.org.

Ridgeway said additional signs soon will direct cyclists to other streets with better bicycle lanes.

Of course, there are lots of other roadway obstacles to threaten bicyclists, namely the metal plates, and the city doesn’t post signs at all those locations. But then, Ridgeway noted, the metal plates aren’t permanent. Or at least “they’re not supposed to be.”

To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to lhorsley@kcstar.com.

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