City officials: Streetcar safe for cyclists; not a motor vehicle

 Editor’s note: A lawyer friend of Tucson Velo pointed out a section of A.R.S. 28-101 that excludes vehicles that run on tracks as motor vehicles. Here’s the snippet:

58. “Vehicle” means a device in, on or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a public highway, excluding devices moved by human power or used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks.

Of course the streetcar team’s own safety video suggests the driver must obey all the same rules as a motorist. 

The streetcar is safe for cyclists and and drivers don’t have to give cyclists three feet of space because it isn’t a motor vehicle, according to city officials quoted in an Inside Tucson Business article.

The article, in which I was quoted, was published yesterday and looks at the issue of bicyclist safety and parking issues along the route.

Here’s a snippet about the streetcar not being a motor vehicle:

McKisson said a short-term fix to the problem is for streetcar drivers to train drivers to follow bicyclists and only pass when they have the opportunity with three feet. However, he still thinks cyclists would be getting the “short shrift” in the current model.

“When the rubber hits the road, the cyclists are the ones who are going to be seriously injured,” he said.

However, the streetcars are not subject to the three-foot rule, according to City Attorney Mike Rankin. The Arizona statute only applies to motor vehicles and streetcars are not motor vehicles, he said.

Regardless, Rankin said, “Safety is at the top our concerns,” and despite the rule not applying, “Our training stresses that the streetcar will not pass cyclists unless there is sufficient space to do so safely.”

According to the A.R.S. 28-101 the definition of a motor vehicles is a “self-propelled vehicle.”

A.R.S. 28-735 says:

A. When overtaking and passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction, a person driving a motor vehicle shall exercise due care by leaving a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than three feet until the motor vehicle is safely past the overtaken bicycle.

Both Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild andTucson Sun Link co-manager Andy Quigley say the streetcar is safe.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said he believes that the current system is safe, but problems lie in its execution. The responsibility to educate pedestrians and bicyclists about potential dangers with the streetcar lies with the city, he said.

While he said he’s focused on getting the system up and running, adjustments to the current parking system are something he anticipates.

Quigley said the current situation is safe for bikers, but a potential fix would be to convert parking spaces to back-in parking on narrower streets. In the meantime, he said that it will take education for bikers, cars, pedestrians and the streetcar to learn to coexist together.

“We believe the system is designed to facilitate multi-modal transportation,” Quigley said.

Check out the whole story over on Inside Tucson Business.

7 comments
Jolly
Jolly

they can call all they want but an incident with a cyclist being hit, maimed or killed will pay out big bucks.....taxpayer bug bucks.

Augsburg
Augsburg

I think the city attorney is brandishing what we call CYA.  Cover Your A@#.   I think they went down the road of designing the street car without thinking of such details.  Now they are trying to cover up the oversight.  Hard to cover up blood on the pavement, though.  Eventually this lack of forethought will cause enough problems that they will need to deal with it.  Unfortunately, probably not until there is a serious accident that makes the problem undeniable.

Nate
Nate

You said it best, Mike. The fact of the matter is that cyclists and pedestrians are being left out by this design. They either need to nix parking along 4th avenue or stop promoting it as a bike path.

Collin Forbes
Collin Forbes

While the streetcar is not a motor vehicle under Arizona law, the drivers are subject to the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles under Tucson City Code. 


* Sec. 20-401. Definition. In this article, trolley means every vehicle which is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires and which is operated upon fixed rails within the city.

* Sec. 20-402. Application of law. Every person operating a trolley on any street or highway within the city is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the operator of a motor vehicle as prescribed in this chapter and in A.R.S. title 28, except as to those provisions which by their nature have no application. (Ord. No. 8139, § 1, 10-11-93)


http://www.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/Arizona/tucson_az/partiitucsoncode/chapter20motorvehiclesandtraffic*?f=templates$fn=altmain-nf.htm$q=[field%20folio-destination-name:%2720-400%27]$x=Advanced#JD_20-400

We can call it a "streetcar" rather than a trolley, but under the city code, it's still a trolley because it meets those definitions. Drivers of motor vehicles need to pass cyclists safely. So do the streetcar operators.

nickhumphries
nickhumphries

Not subject to the three foot rule yet bigger than any motor vehicle. Hmm, this logic seems sound. A part of their training? Oh, okay, whew, I feel safer already. I guess everything's fine now. They said it's safe so obviously they're right. We can all stop worrying, the problem has been solved, woo!

Keener
Keener

Odd as the street car is a vehicle with a motor, to the likes of me it sounds like a motor vehicle.

Bike Geography
Bike Geography

Streetcars literally do have motors, though, right?

Bike Geography
Bike Geography

Is the streetcar not "self-propelled" because the electricity comes to it from overhead lines?


That's the only way I can see for them to finesse the question of whether a streetcar is a motor vehicle.

silverpedals
silverpedals

We need a new city attorney and mayor. 

StrawHousePig
StrawHousePig

Well WTF makes them move? Are they cable cars?

Nate
Nate

@Augsburg Exactly, it sucks to sit around wondering which one of our friends is going to die for the city to consider this a big deal.

Collin Forbes
Collin Forbes

As a further note, because the streetcar is not considered a motor vehicle (or even a vehicle) under Arizona law, it means that ADOT will not be tracking crashes between the streetcar and cyclists.

There are 8 criteria which must be met for a crash to be counted in the statewide collision statistics:


1. Did the incident include one or more occurrences of injury, death, or damage? 

2. Was there at least one occurrence of injury, death, or damage that was not a direct result of natural disaster?

3. Was there bodily injury, death, or damage to the property of any one person in excess of one thousand dollars? (See Arizona Revised Statute 28-667).

4. Did the incident involve one or more motor vehicles?

5. Of the motor vehicles involved, was at least one in transport?

6. Was the incident an unstabilized situation?

7. Did the unstabilized situation originate on a trafficway or did injury or damage occur on a trafficway?

8. If a motor vehicle in transport collided with a railroad train, did the collision occur at or near a rail-road crossing?

http://nhtsa-tsis.net/stateCatalog/states/az/docs/AZ_Crash_Manual_rev8_2010_sub_3_2011web.pdf [on page 4]


Already, there's no state-level tracking of cyclist injuries on the streetcar tracks because those crashes don't meet #4 and #5. But when the streetcar sideswipes a cyclist or strikes a pedestrian, that won't be recorded either because the streetcar isn't a motor vehicle.

zz
zz

@Collin Forbes Very good, Collin, thank you. Passing cyclists safely, for streetcar operators then, may more than likely mean not passing them at all. It's the only 'control' they have.  They should have only hired cyclists to be streetcar operators.

Let's hope none of the ones they do have fall asleep and run the thing off the bridge into the Santa Cruz.....or maybe we do.

Augsburg
Augsburg

@Bike Geography  Street cars do have motors.  They use the electricity from the wires to power their electric motors.  


The street car is self propelled in my book.  You might argue a cable car (as in San Francisco) is pulled along by cable under the road, so not self propelled.  But a street car is propelled by its own motor - which is powered be electricity.

EdBeighe
EdBeighe

@Collin Forbes  And to point out an odd (well, i thought is was odd) tangentially related topic: on the crash form motorized bicycles are not coded as bicycles -- they get coded as   MOTORCYCLE_MP_MOPED; and person is listed as a DRIVER.and not a PEDALCYCLIST