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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Feb. 27, 2024

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Safety advocates call for changes to ‘Seattle’s most dangerous corridor’


SEATTLE — Emily Hawkes was returning to her Greenwood home after spending the night with a friend last October. In the wheelchair she used for years, the 44-year-old got off a bus around 5 a.m. and started to cross Aurora Avenue North when she was struck and killed by a van.

The fatal collision woke up her sister, Eudora Hawkes, to the hazards of what a neighborhood group calls “Seattle’s most dangerous corridor,” referring to the busy 7-mile stretch of Aurora that carries 32,000 vehicles a day and cuts through neighborhoods where people live, shop, work and go to school.

Eudora Hawkes was one of dozens of people who turned out Saturday for a walk and moment of silence on Aurora marking an international day of remembrance for traffic victims. “There are things we can do better to make our streets more safe,” she said.

Others throughout the region agree.

Traffic deaths rose dramatically in the years after the pandemic began, a surprising trend that many experts blamed on emptier roads leading to higher speeds.

Last year, the trend plateaued on a national level, but continued to climb in Washington, topping 750 deaths, the most since 1990. So far this year, the trend in the state is roughly the same.

Pedestrian deaths, in particular, have jumped dramatically. Between 2013 and 2022, they nearly tripled on a yearly basis in Washington. Speed and impairment are often involved. Safety advocates point to increasingly large vehicles and wide roads cutting through populated areas.

Since 2015, more than 200 people have died in Seattle, an average of close to 30 people a year. Compared with similarly sized cities, that number is low, but the city has made little headway on its quest to eliminate deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

“We’ve seen a lot of reports and analyses in the past couple decades but little has changed since 1950,” said Tom Lang, a member of the Aurora Reimagined Coalition.

He noted the city has made a few improvements, including reducing speeds on some parts of Aurora and putting up signs prohibiting drivers from turning right on a red light.

But he and others who participated in the weekend event say those changes have not done enough to stop drivers’ reckless behavior.

Lisa McCrummen, who lives in the Greenwood area, said drivers often go 20 miles or more past the speed limit, run red lights and take quick right turns without looking. She recalled nearly getting run over years ago when she was walking her then fourth grade son to school with a girl in the same grade. McCrummen stepped onto Aurora as a car ran a red light. The girl pulled McCrummen back.

McCrummen said it was a scary experience, in part because of the children in her care. “I’m supposed to be the one who keeps everybody safe,” she said.

More recently, she and other members of the Reimagined Coalition were walking Aurora with Cathy Moore, who this month won a City Council seat representing North Seattle, when they saw three women using walkers crossing the roadway at North 135th Street. Residential buildings for older people lie nearby.

The three women made it across, but one did so after the time allotted by the crosswalk signals.

Linda Julien, 73, lives in the same area and frequently walks across Aurora to go shopping or catch a bus. She said she makes it within about one or two seconds of the allotted time. Because age is slowing her down, she said, “I’ve got a year or so left of crossing Aurora.”

Coalition members, who on Saturday gathered at Aurora and North 84th Street, where at least two people have been killed in recent years, are calling for changes that would slow cars down. Among their suggestions: more crosswalks, protected bike lines and enforcement of speed limits.

Last year, state lawmakers agreed to invest $50 million in rebuilding a portion of Aurora, between North 90th and North 105th streets. But the funding has been delayed because the city doesn’t have a completed design yet.

The money might be restored sooner if there’s a shovel-ready project, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, said shortly after this year’s session.

The proposed project may stir opposition from businesses on Aurora wary of impeding car traffic by, for instance, reducing lanes.

Meanwhile, safety advocates point to other collision hot spots.

On Friday, members of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways circled the Sodo neighborhood, one of the city’s most dangerous traffic areas, placing cardboard silhouettes where people have died: Ramona, 34, walking; Antonio, 57, walking; Andrese, 27, driving; Gan Hao Li, 73, biking. At each, they paused for a moment of silence.

Over weeks, the organization has taken a somber tour of the city, placing the small markers at more than 200 places where someone has died. Their focus has turned in particular to Lake City Way, Rainier Avenue, Martin Luther King Way and Aurora, each of which sees the most deaths every year.

“I think the problem involves people driving too fast and not paying attention and maybe not really seeing people who are walking and biking as people,” said Don Brubeck, who walked with the small group of people through Sodo.