Photo by Shane Harms
A pedestrian crosses the street at the N.W. 57th Street and 20th Avenue N.W. There is no cross walk and a senior was struck crossing the street Jan. 8.

Does it really take a death to get some action?

Citizen requests crosswalk after an elderly woman was struck crossing the street

“Zebra Crossing,” is a slang term used to describe, “a type of non-controlled crossing with pedestrian priority.”

There seems to be many of those in Seattle. In this city, the assumption is the pedestrian takes the right of way. After all, Seattle is devoted to pedestrian-minded environments envisioned in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.

However, that seems to not be the case at a certain intersection in Ballard.

On Jan. 8, at 5:34 p.m. Seattle Police Department and Seattle Fire Department responded to N.W. 57th Street and 20th Avenue N.W. and found a woman lying on the ground complaining of back pain. SPD reported that she had been “bumped” by an automobile and taken to Swedish as a precaution with no life threatening injuries.

“Traffic Collision Investigators will determine fault and issue a citation to that party once the investigation is complete,” wrote SPD via email to the Ballard News Tribune.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

After the accident, neighbors began asking for a safer intersection because they say this wasn’t the first time, and they fear it will only get worse.

Liz Cunningham, a neighbor and witness to the accident said she’s seen many occasions where a pedestrian has a hard time crossing the street since motorists do not see them or simply do not stop.

Cunningham has been concerned about this intersection since 2009 when she wrote a letter to the SDOT asking for a four way or at least a cross walk.

“This intersection has been a point of contention for a long time because seniors cross there. People just don’t slow down. The street is busy and drivers have a really hard time seeing people, especially at night and when it’s raining,” said Cunningham.

Christopher Eaves, then Associate Civil Engineering Specialist with SDOT, reviewed the logistics of the intersection and wrote back to Cunningham:

“All intersections in the State of Washington are legal pedestrian crosswalks whether they are marked or not unless specifically prohibited. The City of Seattle uses crosswalk markings to highlight preferred pedestrian crossing locations and does not consider markings as a tool to create 'safe' crossings. The intersection of 20th Avenue NW and NW 57th Street is just north of an all-way stop with marked crosswalks at 20th Avenue NW and NW 56th Street, and the all-way stop is the preferred pedestrian crossing since all traffic must come to a complete stop.”
“During a recent field review of both intersections, vehicle speeds were noted at or below posted speeds of 30 MPH in part due to the all-way stop at 20th Avenue NW and NW 56th Street.  The pedestrian movements were heavier at the all-way stop than at the two-way stop, and there was no apparent driver/pedestrian conflict at 20th Avenue NW and NW 57th Street.  In this situation, SDOT would not mark 20th Avenue NW at NW 57th Street as a preferred crossing.”

As a connecting street to N.W. Market Street, 20th Avenue gets heavy traffic. To get an idea, the Ballard News Tribune used the closest measured intersection available to gauge traffic volumes. From a study done in 2013 (end of February to beginning of March) SDOT measured 6,775 daily drivers on average going through the N.W. Market Street / 20th Avenue intersection. Peak traffic volume was measured from 5p.m. to 6 p.m. and 7:45 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. (excluding weekends).

According to a different SDOT study of the N.W. 57th Street and 20th Avenue N.W. intersection. since 2004 there have been 37 total accidents, 10 of which resulted in injuries.

Speed-reading taken on 20th Avenue during 2012, measured over 50 percent of drivers drove the speed limit (11383 drivers counted) while the rest of total drivers measured under 30 miles per hour and over, but not exceeding 45 miles per hour (.2% drove that speed or 36 readings).

The intersection has no cross walk, however there is a cross walk one block to the south and one to the north.

After the accident Cunningham wrote another letter to SDOT explaining what happened and asked again what could be done about slowing traffic or adding a cross walk.

“Last night just before 6pm, an elderly women was hit by a vehicle crossing 57th and 20th.  This is the intersection that I wrote you about back in 2009.  I have not yet heard how she is doing, but I doubt this accident would have happened if there was a clearly marked crossing.  Last night was dark and rainy and visibility was very poor.  I hope you will reconsider the need for one at this intersection. There are two senior housing buildings on 57th and a third is being built, plus an Urban Rest Stop.  Everyone living on this street believed it was just a matter of time before an accident occurred,” wrote Cunningham.

Cunningham was referring to Ballard Manor, Ballard House and the Cheryl Chow Court; which will have 50 units for seniors, and is already in construction -- plus there are plans for an Urban Rest Stop facility on the lower level.

SDOT has not responded to Cunningham's letter.

With rising density and more people in exodus to Ballard its corollary to expect more cars in intersections, more streets rowed with parked automobiles and simply more people crossing the street assuming they have the right of way. With SDOT not even responding to requests to change the N.W. 57th Street and 20th Avenue N.W. intersection, the “Zebra” in the crossing will just have to trust that motorists are indeed the pedestrian minded citizens prescribed in the Master Plans.

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