Seattle’s Yesler Way bike sneak. Photo by Toole Design Group.

Streetcar tracks can sometimes be dangerous for bicyclists to cross. A new type of intersection design called a “bike sneak” may reduce the risk, by directing cyclists to cross at the safest angle.

Streetcars and bicycles both promote livable urban communities. They can and do coexist in many cities around the world, most notably Amsterdam, which is a global leader for both bike and streetcar infrastructure. Nonetheless, the grooves of streetcar tracks are a potential danger to bicyclists, so careful planning is necessary where the two mix.

One possible solution is a so-called “bike sneak”. The safest way to cross streetcar tracks on a bike is to cross at a 90º angle, with the bike tires perpendicular to the tracks. A bike sneak is a special ramp that directs bicyclists onto a path that will take them across streetcar tracks in exactly the right perpendicular angle.

Seattle is experimenting with its first bike sneak now. They opened their first streetcar line in 2007, and have a 2nd under construction.

At one point along that 2nd line, the streetcar turns off of Seattle’s Yesler Way and on to 14th Avenue, jutting in the way of a bike lane on Yesler that continues straight without turning. Without some sort of special intersection design, the straight bike lane would cross the curving streetcar tracks at a dangerous angle that would be likely to snare many bike tires. Thus Seattle has installed a bike sneak, which directs bike riders to turn slightly in order to cross at a safe angle.

Yesler Way bike sneak. Image by Alta Planning & Design.

Seattle Bike Blog describes how it will work, and includes another picture:

“The bike lane will feed you up this curb for a couple feet, then let you back down to street level where the cone is on the far side. Paint will direct you across the tracks at a safe angle so you can carry on up Yesler.”

Yesler Way bike sneak. Image by Seattle Bike Blog.

Seattle Bike Blog notes that good signage and street markings will be necessary so bicyclists clearly understand what they’re supposed to do. That’s a good suggestion. Hopefully Seattle will add that, and the bike sneak will work.

Obviously this solution isn’t right everywhere. It doesn’t address places where bikes and streetcars run parallel to each other, for example. For those situations something else will be necessary. Seattle is putting in a cycle track, which is one solution. Another is bike boulevards on parallel streets, which is what Arlington is considering for Columbia Pike.

But surely as streetcar and bike lane installation both become more common, there will be cases in the Washington area where a bike sneak may be a good solution. When that day comes, maybe DC can use this idea.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and an adjunct professor at George Washington University. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado and lives in Trinidad, DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post. Dan blogs to express personal views, and does not take part in GGWash's political endorsement decisions.