I was catching up on local news online this morning when a few clicks led me to a story about a possible bicycle ban here in the Delmar Loop. Ostensibly for safety reasons, this is getting a lot of people’s backs up because the safety hazard is entirely man-made: our trolley tracks.
The trolley is integral to the identity of the Loop – it’s what this neighborhood was named for, the original turnaround of the St. Louis city trolley – but the recent revival of the trolley and placement of the new tracks have been contentious in some circles. The design of the double tracks puts the trolley in the center of the lanes on our busy stretch of road, but then weaves off to the side for the trolley stops. As a result, cyclists riding in the lane are confronted frequently with places where their skinny tires have to cross the tracks at a very shallow angle. People have already gotten hurt, and our local cycle shop has left the Loop entirely.
A man riding a 49cc moped got caught in one of the tracks last year and ended up with a badly broken arm and a good knock to the helmet. His incident involved a jerk motorist crowding him, but this got me thinking about scooters – of all sizes – and wondering how our safety factors in here. The man with the 49cc is, here in Missouri, subject to cycling laws. Would he be banned? What about me, on my GT200 and subject to motorcycle laws? I obviously wouldn’t be banned, but I’ve ridden that stretch on my scooter and have no desire to do it again. I may be riding a motorcycle in the eyes of the law, but it’s rolling on 12-inch rims. Crossing tracks at 30 degrees (or shallower) is just asking for trouble.
I could stay between the tracks, but then I’m not following safe practices for lane management. Half the time it would put me off to the right – and in this area, that’s just inviting some idiot to try and split my lane. It’s illegal here, but I swear people see it’s a scooter and think the rules don’t apply (Exhibit A: that guy on the moped). I need to stay center or left to be most visible to motorists, away from parallel-parked cars opening doors, and maintaining control of my lane. But the placement of the tracks and the crossings make this basically impossible… so for the most part I just avoid it. I don’t have to ride that stretch. Instead, I head two blocks north and ride a road with no crossings.
I wrote to a journalist who has done some good coverage of the entire trolley project and is now keeping an eye on the cycling ordinance as it lingers in City Hall. I shared with her my experience not only riding the Loop, but also with my recent MSF/MMSP safety class and what we learned about crossing tracks (minimum 45-degree angle, ideally 90 degrees) and lane management. With the gorgeous weather we’ve had lately, I’ve seen a lot more scooters of varying sizes out in the neighborhood, and I find myself wondering – while we’re talking two-wheel safety, what considerations were made for scooters? I haven’t seen any talk about it in any of the recent articles. Scooters seem to occupy this gray area, where we’re expected to abide by motorcycle laws but our bikes are not given the same safety consideration as theirs. Motorcyles should also aim to cross at the same angles as scooters, but with their larger wheels, they are less likely to slip inside a track. A lot of scoots roll 10s, smaller tires than mine and even more vulnerable.
The proposed bicycle ban is still under consideration, and it will be interesting to follow – I don’t really know enough about how it’s written to have an opinion. But as for my own wheels, well… I don’t anticipate anyone is going to rip up the tracks and move them for the safety of the local scooterists. It’s a shame that the safety of two-wheeled drivers does not appear to have been considered when they laid these tracks in a popular historic district that attracts thousands of tourists for entertainment, dining, and shopping every year. Don’t worry about this local, I know the back roads… but the discussion about the safety of these tracks is something I’m going to be keeping an eye on.