Cable car wrecks make The City write checks

San Francisco is the only place on Earth where charming antiques made of wood and metal convey passengers by clinging to cables zipping underground.

Famously steep hills seem to excuse our holding on to human-operated cable cars as a mode of transportation. But when the mechanical engineering of yesteryear meets the mayhem of today’s gridlock, accidents are bound to follow.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, The City’s adored cable cars are among the most accident-prone modes of transportation. In the last 10 years, cable cars have been involved with 151 injuries and 126 accidents.

recent incident occurred in February, when seven people were injured after a cable car came to a screeching halt from hitting a bolt in the track.

After February’s wreck, the Associated Press obtained public records revealing The City is paying nearly $8 million to settle about four dozen claims over the last three years.

It doesn’t sound like much has changed since KGO-TV investigated the high accident rate on cable cars nearly seven years ago.

In the report, cable car gripman Daniel Kindstedt said the vehicle’s wooden brakes don’t always stop quickly enough to avoid accidents:

“And if you get hit [as a pedestrian],  you can make a big lawsuit or whatever, but you’re going to make that lawsuit with one leg, because the cable car just cut it off, you know what I’m saying?”

Meyrick Jones, a Canadian tourist who lost his leg from a runaway cable car incident in 1995, even called these types of tragedies San Francisco’s “dirty little secret:”

“Only the locals who see the news know about all the accidents. The tourists who come in, they’re like lambs, you know? “

Since cable cars were introduced in 1893, the city has settled lawsuits that range from severed tendons to amputated limbs and broken femurs.

In 1970, a woman even blamed a minor cable car accident for her nymphomania, and was rewarded $50,000, the AP reports.

Despite legal woes, though, cable cars remain a huge attraction for San Francisco tourists.

A survey conducted by the San Francisco Visitors and Conventions Bureau recorded that nearly seven million people ride cable cars annually, and it ranks among the top four tourist activities in The City.

2012, though, saw one of the highest incidences of cable car injuries in the past decade, and SF Mayor Ed Lee told the AP The City is working to improve the system:

“The iconic cable cars of San Francisco are a National Historic Landmark and we work every day to make them safer.”