How to Properly Cross Rail Tracks on your Bike

Unfortunately, it’s something I’ve seen even the most experienced
cyclist do: wipe out while crossing a set of train tracks.  As many of
you know, you need to maneuver your bike’s angle of approach so that
you hit the rails as perpendicular as possible. But even knowing that,
some demon riders don’t slow enough to sashay properly, and heck: poor
newbies have no idea how the road’s mathematics work until it’s too
late!

In Seattle, they are trying something I have never seen before that
goes beyond the usual warning signage: the DOT is using "sharrows" and
markings to visually guide cyclists in the art of making some of these
crossings. Anecdotally, it seems to work well. I found it reassuring
that my path was predetermined as I approached instead of having to
guesstimate.  Stay within the lines – and all will be good.

But as John Mauro from the Cascade Bicycle Club points out, this is only an interim solution.  This is the missing link in the famous Burke-Gilman greenway,
and families out cycling for the day shouldn’t have to contend with
dangerous sets of tracks in the first place.  Still, it is nice to see
DOT’s all across the country are getting creative and using cost
effective solutions (just a few marks with paint) to keep us a little
safer.

  • What’s wrong with developing a bike culture that passes on information teaching people how to ride? Tram tracks are part of every successful city on earth, including Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and others with the highest bicycle usage, and cycling among them is not a problem. Witness this sweet video of Barcelona in 1908, and the cyclists weaving casually across the tracks as they ride:

    http://tinyurl.com/ntdeta

    I fear that painting ever more restrictive guideways for cyclists is a good first step to mandatory sidepaths and exclusion from the roads. Or maybe required downhill-style body armor….

    I know the paint markings are advisory (for now), but I think that developing competence among cyclists is a better idea; if we’re too self-centered in the US for informal mentoring then spend the paint money on subsidizing Effective Cycling courses instead, or a PR campaign.

    I mean, what if someone slips on the paint after a rain? Oh, gosh….

    FWIW I cross tram tracks several times a week, wet weather and dry, and during my Tuesday coffee by the Gold Line station watch dozens and dozens of riders cross angled tracks with no problem…everyone from roadies to commuters to fixie punx to old ladies on cruisers. These are relatively new tracks too.

    Urban rail is every bit as important as cycling to the greener future, and extends the range more casual cyclists can ride as well as benefitting the general populace. It’s just a matter of learning; the solutions are internal.

  • This is a beautiful video! I feel so affirmed when I see stuff like this. Cities like Seattle actually expect bicyclists to use their roads. Yay streetfilms!

    I also really like the Barcelona one that @Richard posted.

    (And I still cringe and shudder when I recall a fall on the railroad tracks on Humboldt in Lincoln Heights. I was out touring the L.A. River with a radio reporter. She’s a fairly experienced cyclist. I began to warn her about the tracks – she replied something like “no problem”, then she promptly took a fall, spilling the mike and recorder. She was ok… but those railroad tracks parallel to the direction of travel can be treacherous.)

  • Good for them–thoughtful bicycle infrastructure. Very nice to see indeed (but not so nice to see that it seems to be catching on in more and more places–except in my city).

    But what’s this thing he mentions in the video about some odd type of street marking . . . I think he called them “sharrows” or something?? Whatever they are, they look really expensive and extremely difficult to paint.

  • LOL @dudeonabike… u apparently didn’t hear about Seattle’s famed 28-year study which double-blind longitudinal tested various types of paint?

  • User1

    I don’t see why they don’t just put barriers up in order to guide people at the right angle? Putting up some large potted plants in strategic spots would be far better than any paint, imho. Looks like things might be tight for bike traffic, hard to say without studying it, but looks doable.

    Before anyone mentions it, yes you’re putting up something that cyclists may end up running into, but isn’t streets like that already? These cyclists would not be able to maneuver this obstacle?

  • @user1 – it appears that they couldn’t put up barriers like that because it’s a shared roadway and cars probably couldn’t get around the barriers easily.

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