Streetcar or train tracks in urban areas are difficult for bicyclists to negotiate and are a cause of crashes and injuries. This study used mixed methods to identify measures to prevent such crashes, by examining track-related crashes that resulted in injuries to cyclists, and obtaining information from the local transit agency and bike shops.
We compared personal, trip, and route infrastructure characteristics of 87 crashes directly involving streetcar or train tracks to 189 crashes in other circumstances in Toronto, Canada. We complemented this with engineering information about the rail systems, interviews of personnel at seven bike shops about advice they provide to customers, and width measurements of tires on commonly sold bikes.
In our study, 32 % of injured cyclists had crashes that directly involved tracks. The vast majority resulted from the bike tire being caught in the rail flangeway (gap in the road surface alongside rails), often when cyclists made unplanned maneuvers to avoid a collision. Track crashes were more common on major city streets with parked cars and no bike infrastructure, with left turns at intersections, with hybrid, racing and city bikes, among less experienced and less frequent bicyclists, and among women. Commonly sold bikes typically had tire widths narrower than the smallest track flangeways. There were no track crashes in route sections where streetcars and trains had dedicated rights of way.
Given our results, prevention efforts might be directed at individual knowledge, bicycle tires, or route design, but their potential for success is likely to differ. Although it may be possible to reach a broader audience with continued advice about how to avoid track crashes, the persistence and frequency of these crashes and their unpredictable circumstances indicates that other solutions are needed. Using tires wider than streetcar or train flangeways could prevent some crashes, though there are other considerations that lead many cyclists to have narrower tires. To prevent the majority of track-involved injuries, route design measures including dedicated rail rights of way, cycle tracks (physically separated bike lanes), and protected intersections would be the best strategy.