Slippery When Wet 

Drivers say the Madison trolley line is hazardous; MATA says use other lane.

Last July, the front door of Jones Tool Service on Madison was demolished after a driver slammed her car into the store.

She wasn't an angry customer; she wasn't intoxicated. It was raining, and her tires slipped on the Madison Avenue trolley tracks, causing her to spin out of control and into Jones' storefront.

The accident caused $12,000 worth of damage to the store, and though Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) investigators came out to the site, the cost of repairs fell to the driver rather than MATA.

Nearby business owners and employees know the danger of the trolley tracks all too well. Though the Jones Tool Service incident has been one of the most dramatic, some say they see accidents or near misses whenever it rains.

Mark Williamson, an employee at Ebbo's Spiritual Supply on Madison, has seen two major accidents involving the trolley line.

"We've seen vehicles actually get stuck on the trolley tracks," says Williamson. "There was one day when a guy in a pick-up hit the tracks just right and got his tires stuck in the grooves. He kept gunning it, and it took him about 30 minutes to get off the tracks."

The Flyer requested data on all Madison trolley accidents since the line opened in 2004. Out of 21 accidents, nine have involved cars or motorcycles slipping on the tracks. The rest are trolley-vehicle collisions.

MATA CEO Will Hudson says he doesn't think accidents along the trolley line are a problem when the pavement is dry. Though records indicate that some accidents occurred on wet tracks, that information is not available for all accidents.

"When the pavement is wet, it's dangerous and slippery. Tracks just add more danger to that," says Hudson. "We would suggest that people travel in the lanes on the other side of the tracks when it's raining."

Yet there are no signs along Madison indicating the danger of driving on wet tracks. "It's not necessarily appropriate to warn everybody about every conceivable situation they may encounter when driving," says city engineer Wain Gaskins. "Drivers should be aware of the roadway conditions and their surroundings."

But what if that isn't enough?

Agatha Cole wrecked an SUV last summer near the intersection of Madison and Marshall. "It was super rainy, and I was driving under the speed limit," she says. "The tracks threw me into the oncoming traffic lane, but there was [no traffic]. I went directly into some kind of fence. It destroyed the front half [of the vehicle]."

MATA investigators did not come to scene, but police did. Though Cole explained the circumstances, she was given a citation for "reckless driving."

Motorcyclists have problems maintaining control on Madison in all weather conditions.

Rusty Barnes and his wife were headed home from the Crawfish Festival last April when the tire on their bike caught in the tracks near Madison and Fourth Street. Both were thrown from the motorcycle immediately. Barnes broke two ribs, his leg, and a tooth. His wife was in a coma for several days. "There's about a four-inch gap between the track and the pavement," says Barnes. "My front wheel dropped into that hole, and I couldn't get out. Once that wheel drops in there, the track starts guiding you."

While he was in treatment at the Med, Barnes says two other bikers came in from accidents along the Madison tracks.

"If motorcyclists are safety-conscious, they would ride their bikes on the lanes that are safest to operate on," says Hudson. "I would say operate on regular pavement."

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