Safety Overkill

As all Toronto cyclists know, crossing over rail tracks can be intimidating at first. Over time, you build up your confidence and begin riding along Queen or King with ease. And, just sometimes, you stop paying attention long enough and the tracks take you down. And this can really hurt.

In Seattle, it seems that one awkward rail crossing has become quite the hazard. Here’s how they are dealing with the problem:

Helping cyclist navigate train track crossing is great. But, is this much paint and that many signs really necessary?

Bicycles Use Caution

And this one is in ALL CAPS, which we all know is YELLING!


To be fair, this is only temporary while the city redesigns the area and the crossing.

Via StreetFilms


  1. Haha, that’s ridiculous.
    I spent five years in London, ON, and most of the rail crossings were unprotected… just some lights and an arm that comes down… –cross at your own risk–
    But for the most part, in downtown Toronto, aside from major streets with tunnels under the tracks, you can’t cross tracks.
    Call me cold, but the way I see it… if you can’t cross a railroad without being hit, well, we probably didn’t need you.

  2. Wait… I just thought of something.
    Perhaps these sharrows are not meant to guide cyclists across the tracks, but rather, to remind motorists that cyclists will be making a sudden turn.
    This isn’t Toronto, is it?

  3. This is in Seattle.

    It’s not so much to warn people about being hit by trains, but to keep cyclists from wiping out on the tracks. The bike path does pass at a very awkward angle and I’m sure that plenty of cyclists have seen their front tire slip out, especially if the area is wet.

    It’s great that the city has identified this as a problem that could surprise an unsuspecting cyclist. But that’s just a lot of signs.

  4. I was confused because this was linked to via the Toronto-based #biketo.

  5. Duncan…. I guess it’s different in Seattle… (I hear you can have 2 chickens per household… and–no fooling–I am jealous)
    But in Toronto we have streetcars everywhere in the downtown area… so you have to learn how to navigate over tracks pretty quickly..
    What’s your transit like in Seattle? I will be looking it up on Wikipedia in 2 seconds, but give me your general opinion.

  6. Brian, I guess this post isn’t as clear as I intended. I’m also in Toronto. The brief film above has been making its rounds through the cycling community and I wanted to comment on it from a Toronto perspective.

    You’re right, you learn to handle streetcar tracks here quickly. Or at least you learn to avoid the streets that have them, which is quite difficult if you’re cycling in the core. I wonder though, that even if a cyclist didn’t encounter streetcar or rail tracks every day, would they still need this much warning and assistance in crossing them? I believe that, no, this is just too much help for a relatively simple task. But that’s just my opinion and perhaps those signs are very useful to some people. Or perhaps they just prevent possible lawsuits.

  7. I’ve edited the post to be more clear. Thanks for the feedback, Brian.

  8. Toronto cyclists have to be resigned to crossing tracks with skill and care or else walking across intersections, what with streetcar tracks criss-crossing the core. At Toronto’s three grand-union intersections (rare in North America) at Queen & Spadina, King & Spadina and King & Bathurst, where there are curved tracks making every turn possible for streetcars, a bike simply cannot ride in a manner to cross all tracks at 90 degrees. It’s especially challenging making a left turn.

  9. The thing is though, that you don’t even need to cross at 90°… I usually cross at an angle much closer to 45°, even with my road tires.
    I can’t speak for the people on the racing bikes though. I would _never_ ride one of those in the city.

  10. I’ve only been caught in a streetcar track once. I swerved left to avoid a door-prize from a cab and my front wheel slipped into the groove. I don’t know how I avoided falling, but was able to recover quickly. My girlfriend did get taken down once and broke her wrist. She’d been making the same corner for weeks and it was just a fluke. She did break her wrist as a result.

    Crossing at 90° is certainly impossible at the intersections listed above by Bradley. The best advice I have is to go slow, spot as clear a path as you can and keep looking in the direction you want to go. Looking down is going to take you where your eyes are leading, the pavement.

  11. I’ve not been caught in a track yet, and hope that continues (fingers crossed), but a couple times have had my back tire slip out on me in the winter as I crossed a streetcar track.

    Luckily, it was back when I had a mountain bike outfitted with tires that were road tires in the center, but knobby on the sides… so both times my wheel started sliding out on my on a slippery track, the knobbies caught hold and I pedaled to safety. :)

  12. I’ve been caught twice. Once when dodging a car – I didn’t go down but ended up careening off to the side of the road. The second time I was going slow, again reacting quickly to a car that made a sudden move (I forget what it was now…) and though I didn’t go down, my bike did (I landed on my feet).

    I find Duncan’s method works well for me – just focus on where I’m going and stay focused. I do tend to avoid them when I can, though, often opting to wait, for example, for someone double-parked to move out of the lane rather than crossing in to the middle of the tracks…

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