SDOT map of future Holman medians.

Still no crosswalk at Northwest 87th Street?

SDOT 'fails through inaction’ in safety improvements with new Holman project

Earlier this month, Mirabel Cruz, Senior Communications Lead for SDOT, discussed the Holman Road Northwest Repaving project with the Ballard District Council.

Over 30 thousand vehicles travel through the Holman corridor and it is a regional and neighborhood connector. It’s also a designated major freight route.

SDOT has started the process to repave 1.3 miles of Holman Road Northwest from Greenwood Avenue North to Northwest 87th Street.

On top of repaving, there will also be improvements in safety that include new medians at Seventh Avenue Northwest and 13th Avenue Northwest. 15th Avenue Northwest currently has a median, and SDOT plans to enlarge it. In addition, temporary improvements at Mary and 92nd Street Northwest include sidewalks and wheel stops.

But the Council members raised concern with the Northwest 87th Street and 15th Avenue Northwest intersection. The same intersection where then 12 year old Nick Messenger was struck by a van while trying to cross the street. Messenger survived with brain damage and other injuries.

Weeks before the accident, SDOT removed the crosswalk sign that had hung over 15th Avenue. The rational was there was too much fast-moving traffic to make it a safe place to cross, and SDOT did not want to encourage people crossing there. However, pedestrians continued to cross the street there even though the sign was gone.

After the accident, Crown Hill neighborhood members asked the city to put the sign back and to add a lighted intersection. Then in 2005 Seattle City Council members approved spending $100 thousand to install a traffic light at that location. But then Mayor Greg Nickels' administration rejected the proposal and decided to install a traffic light at 15th Avenue and Northwest Holman Road, converting it into a three-way signal controlled intersection. Neighbors argued the light was most needed at the 87th intersection, but a city study found more people were crossing at the 15th Avenue Northwest and Holman Road Northwest intersection than at Northwest 87th Street.

Currently there is no crosswalk or sign at the Northwest 87th Street intersection or a painted cross walk.

At the Ballard Council meeting, council members urged SDOT to install a signaled intersection to improve safety.

Cruz said that a signal will not be added because as a maintenance project there is no funding for it. In the meantime the island medians will be the only safety improvements.

A community member at the meeting said the medians will act like a “frogger” style crossing where in order to cross the street pedestrians "hop" from sidewalk to median to sidewalk.

Island median plans have been in discussion since 2002 when neighborhood members requested a safer crosswalk.

With the overhanging sign gone and no crosswalk paint the intersection at Northwest 87th Street remains treacherous. Pedestrians still cross. There are popular businesses there and the closest crosswalks are at least a block and a half away.

“It’s something that’s already occurring there, and so we are providing a safer access point for pedestrians to make their move. There have been a lot of discussions, and I’ve talked to many people in the community about putting a signal there, and we know that ultimately that is the best solution. Since this is a maintenance project there isn’t actually funding to do the signal, but what it’s done is raised the awareness to put in a signal. In my eyes this is somewhat of a compromise until the signal is put in,” said Cruz.

But Selina Carsiotis with the Crown Hill Neighborhood Association and Ballard Council said SDOT is not going far enough.

“SDOT fails through inaction,” said Carsiotis, “Doing something is better than nothing.”

In the almost 10 years since Messenger’s accident there has been little improvement to the intersection despite neighborhood efforts and recommendations.

NW 87th Street
Photo by Shane Harms

In a 2005 Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board (SPB) recommendation to then Seattle Transportation Director, Grace Crunican, and Mayor Nickels, a lighted intersection was endorsed.

Matthew Amster-Burton, then Chair of SPAB, wrote, “SPAB would like to remain agnostic about where to place new signalized crossings. However, unless the roadway is reduced from its current five lanes (unlikely, to say the least), it will probably never be safe to cross except at a signalized crossing. Adding only one signal between 85th and Mary (for an average of one signal every three blocks) will do little to increase pedestrian safety. “

“Furthermore, traffic signals are among the most effective calming devices. Drivers who would never consider stopping for a pedestrian at an unsignalized crossing will routinely stop at red lights.”

The minor improvements to safety come as a surprise to many community members, especially after so many have requested a signal.

With growing density, and potential of 30,000 more drivers using Seattle streets if Proposition 1 fails, the risk for accidents at the intersection is all too real.

“It will be challenging to provide for smooth traffic flow and a safe and comfortable pedestrian environment in Crown Hill, but we believe it can be done and will serve as a model for how to treat pedestrian-vehicle conflicts in urban villages,” wrote Amster-Burton.

Still, Carsiotis thinks there should have been more communication and action on behalf of SDOT.

“Issues of safety, mobility and livability and walkability are what the District Council's member organizations come together monthly to be informed about. This never made it to the District Council until five days before construction was beginning. Safely crossing Holman Road is a top priority for members of the Ballard District (not just Crown Hill Neighborhood Association),” wrote Carsiotis.

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