Is Seattle cycling more dangerous than investigating war crimes?
Guest columnist Stefanie Frease writes about her encounter with a treacherous patch on the Burke-Gilman Trail, which made her the latest casualty of this particular spot. Seattle Department of Transportation had planned to repair the spot, but the project was canceled for budget concerns. The spot needs to be fixed.
Special to The Times
SEATTLE Mayor Mike McGinn came into office promoting bicycle safety. Recently — while listening carefully from my hospital bed — I've heard him twice say he takes it seriously. But does he? You be the judge.
On Easter Sunday, I was riding the Burke-Gilman Trail between Ballard and Fremont, when I crossed the rubber-coated railroad tracks at about Northwest 41st Street and Sixth Avenue Northwest. My bike skidded and I went down hard, landing on my left hip and fracturing my pelvis in three places.
As an experienced cyclist I was stunned that I was down and unable to get back up. The pain was excruciating and I knew instantly my injuries were serious.
Bikes have been my primary source of transportation for the past 25 years. A Seattle native, I have also lived and biked for many years in Italy, the Balkans, Holland, and Washington, D.C., and until last month had never had a single accident (OK, once, a decade ago, while testing the new brakes on a bike I tipped over and scraped the palms of my hands).
In February of this year, I finally moved home to Seattle after 20 years of mostly war-crimes work, excited to begin a new phase of life. I had just spent the past two years in strife-ridden Sudan and was looking forward to rediscovering the city and miles of yet unfamiliar bike trails.
Instead, I find myself largely incapacitated for at least three months. Still, I know I am lucky, as I am expected to fully recover.
Since my accident, I have heard from different sources of dozens of people who have also wiped out on the same spot in the past couple of years, sustaining head trauma, cracked pelvises, broken arms and legs, and many, many less serious but still wholly unnecessary injuries. One medical aide referred to the location as "the death trap."
Why has it not been repaired? Why are there not ample warning signs that the rubber is extraordinarily slippery (and unsafe) when wet? How many dozens more cyclists need to break bones, or worse, before the city finally takes this crash site seriously?
Over the past month, I've also learned that not only have cyclists reported their accidents to the city, but as far back as November the crossing was designated a bike high-collision location and the Seattle Department of Transportation had planned to repair this notoriously dangerous spot a week before I crashed. At the last minute, this safety project was removed from the budget.
As a direct result of that decision, I spent a week in the hospital and two weeks in a rehabilitation facility. Now I am home with wheelchair, walker and tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses in tow. Doctors have barred me from walking for at least two more months, or risk surgery.
Every bit of this was preventable. Crossing that rubber-coated railroad was like hitting black ice. If I didn't stand a chance, neither do others. The accidents will not stop until changes are made.
I've spent much of my time over the past 20 years seeking justice for victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in places like Bosnia, East Timor and Darfur, some of the most dangerous places on Earth during the conflicts there. But having survived many war zones, I find myself injured in a bike crash on a bike trail in bike-friendly Seattle. My focus now is to ensure that the city fixes this danger so that others are not needlessly injured and harmed.Stefanie Frease, a Ballard resident, previously worked as an investigator and special adviser for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.