Storm Drains Pose Danger to Cyclists

A cyclist who was injured in a Seattle bicycling accident near the Washington Park Arboretum claims he knows what caused the 2004 crash: his bike tire got stuck in a drainage grate with slots parallel to the roadway.

According to an estimate by Seattle Public Utilities officials, there are between 70,000 and 80,000 grates throughout the city. Some have vertical slots. Others, including all replacements, have designs that make it unlikely bike tires can get stuck.

But because SPU employees don’t know the locations of the grates with wide parallel slots, and they don’t have a precise timetable to repair them, some cyclists are demanding action.

“We’re trying to figure out the most economical way of combining a street drain inventory with our existing work plans for this summer,” said SPU spokesman Andy Ryan last week. “We want people to be safe.”

But, said Ryan, a replacement plan needs to keep ratepayers in mind.

A new grate costs about $500, and “that doesn’t include labor costs or additional costs if drain work is needed,” he said.

Of the 9,811 Seattle bicycling accident claims filed against the city in the past 6 years, only two have been related to the grates, said Bruce Hori, director of the city’s Risk Management Division. Only 13 were from bicyclists claiming injury on city streets.

Regarding the accident mentioned above, that cyclist’s claim was settled in 2006 for $25,000. According to Hori, the city has paid only $163.35 in the other settled bicycle claims.

“Based on these numbers, I don’t see this as a big issue,” Hori said of grate claims. “But a bicyclist that fell will probably see things differently.”

In a Superior Court suit, the injured cyclist and his attorney agreed to dismiss their case without compensation if an inventory of the dangerous grates was taken and parallel drain grates were replaced within one year to be safe for bikes.

“If it meant people would avoid what I went through, I would have been happy to suck up the costs,” said the cyclist.

But the city didn’t agree to the stipulation.

Cascade Bicycle Club Advocacy Director David Hiller said many Seattle bicycle crashes go unreported.

“If you crash because of one of these grates and have a sprained wrist and a bent wheel, you don’t want to wait another 45 minutes for a police officer to take an accident report,” Hiller said. “You’re in pain, you are frustrated that you hit a hazard that you’ve seen before and you want to get home.”

If you are seriously injured in an Seattle bicycling accident, or someone you know is injured or possibly even killed, call the personal injury attorneys at Bernard Law Group, 1-800-418-8282. We can help you immediately. All e-mail and form submissions will be responded to by a qualified and knowledgeable member of our firm within 24 hours. Call our toll-free number 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and we promise to respond immediately.