How to slow ‘I-35′? SDOT @ West Seattle Crime Prevention Council

April 20, 2011 at 2:42 pm | In Safety, Transportation, West Seattle news | 25 Comments

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

In November 2007, Denise Sharify showed City Councilmember Nick Licata the dangers of 35th SW in the High Point area – and we captured a moment of drama on camera as he stopped a little boy from wandering out into the fast-moving traffic. She also explained to him how they had been lobbying the city for improvements since at least 2005:

(WSB video, November 2007, outside High Point Library)
Almost a year after that, following a crash that sent a teenage pedestrian to the hospital, Sharify (who works for Neighborhood House) and others staged a high-profile rally in October 2008 along the same stretch of 35th SW.

Not long after that, we published an update on police patrols along the road ruefully dubbed “I-35,” as police ticketed dozens for speeds often exceeding 55 mph.

Flash forward two and a half years, to yesterday afternoon:

The latest “emphasis patrol” on 35th led to 21 speeding tickets, Southwest Precinct’s Capt. Steve Paulsen — veteran of many years in the traffic division – told the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council last night, most around 50 mph in what’s supposed to be a 35-mph-maximum zone, with the highest ticketed speed at 60.

And that patrol came less than a week after a deadly crash at 35th and Juneau – the latest incident to revive concern about 35th SW safety.

SDOT’s community traffic liaison Jim Curtin (above right, with WSCPC president Richard Miller) was already booked to speak to the WS Crime Prevention Council before that happened; traffic-safety issues are often brought up in the WSCPC meetings when it’s time to voice concerns to the local police reps who invariably are on hand.

Last night, given recent events, almost the entire discussion focused on 35th SW.

Curtin began by distributing a list of West Seattle’s most dangerous intersections – the most collisions, broken down into 2001-2005 “five-year average” and 2006-2010 “five-year average.” For both, 35th/Avalon topped the list. Six of the top 15 for the past five years are along 35th (at Morgan, #4; at Webster, #7; at Barton, #8; at Juneau, #12; at Thistle, #15).

Of those, only 35th/Juneau has had a deadly crash in those past five years (though lives have been lost elsewhere along 35th – 2006 at 35th/Graham, 2007 at 35th/Othello, 2008 at 35th/Dawson).

Curtin said right up front that 35th/Juneau does not currently qualify for a light – while traffic volumes on 35th itself are significant, the cross-traffic from Juneau does not meet the volume test – but it will be analyzed again this year.

So what if anything can be done in relatively short order, then?

Denise Sharify was among those who spoke out last night. “When the teenager got hit [in 2008], you said, ‘we will seriously look at doing something at 35th and Juneau’.” Then a month ago you told me that was off the table. And now, we have had two major accidents and one death.”

Also there: A woman representing the family of the motorcycle rider killed last week, Andrew Seffernick. She explained that they were gathered privately, marking what would have been his 25th birthday. “What are our options for stopping left turns at that intersection and forcing people to go to the light at Raymond or Findlay?”

Right now, Curtin said, the potential of restricting left turns at Juneau is under consideration. “We’ve been studying 35th for quite some time.” That includes studying drivers’ speed, he said. Last year, southbound drivers were found to be averaging “a little over 38 miles per hour”; northbound drivers, a little over 39, though he acknowledged that is “fast for a two-lane roadway with parking on both sides.” He described potential left-turn restrictions as a “pretty inexpensive effort we could probably accomplish with a small amount of curb, asphalt, concrete, and signage – it’s definitely something that’s on the table.”

Channelization – a so-called “road diet,” like the one done to Fauntleroy Way SW between Edmunds and California in 2009, has long been pondered for 35th SW, Curtin said, but “a pretty big problem right now is finding funding. And, 35th is a pretty big corridor.” Another complicating factor for 35th: Its traffic volume. Under 20,000 vehicles a day, rechannelization is fairly simple; get to 25,000, and it’s not feasible. According to Curtin, 35th averages 23,600.

Numbers like that aside, asked Delridge Neighborhood District Council chair Mat McBride, what other criteria are considered? “This is a neighborhood road,” he noted. “I know it’s an arterial but it has houses, kids, dogs … If you had fatalities along a 2-mile stretch for three consecutive years … would the city allow that to continue?”

Curtin explained that while “any fatality is a huge tragedy,” SDOT examines the SPD-determined causes of those crashes – they may have nothing to do with traffic conditions that could be remedied. “There is no fatality threshold; it’s the volume of traffic, that we look at – could the road operate more efficiently and safely with fewer lanes? … If we feel we can rechannelize (35th) and get it funded, we will consider it.”

How many years will it take to get more action? interjected Denise Sharify. She recounted the successful push to get “a full light” at the 35th/Raymond intersection where it had been a pedestrian-activated light (here’s our report from 2008, when that was done shortly after a light upgrade at 35th/Morgan).

However – as has been pointed out by WSB commenters: “We’ve got a lot of people speeding out there, and that is the root cause of the problems,” Curtin observed. (He, by the way, is very familiar with 35th, as an Arbor Heights resident who drives it and rides the bus along it.) “Honestly, I do think that if we could get people to slow down out there, it would make a huge difference. We did install radar speed signs at four locations.” (That work, too, was done in 2008.)

Those usually bring speed down at least 3 miles per hour, and Curtin said there’s been some improvement: “In 2006, the (average southbound speed) at Raymond was 41 miles per hour.”

Yes, but, Sharify told him, “We’re not the offenders – that’s why we are here; we expect you (SDOT) and SPD to help us.”

Some discussion centered about whether speeders could be ticketed with a photo-taking speed camera, along the same lines as the photo-taking red-light camera in place at 35th/Avalon and 35th/Thistle. Short answer: Not right now – there are none of those in operation anywhere in the city.

There is, however, the photo-taking speed van that’s been used extensively on 35th. Capt. Paulsen said that between January 1st and April 15th, the van was responsible for 247 tickets on 35th.

So, rechannelization is a possibility. So are left-turn restrictions at 35th/Juneau – though concerns were voiced about too many limits on accessing west WS from east WS (“Our intention is not to disconnect the neighborhood,” assured Curtin). Now, “what do we have to do to engage?” asked McBride. “Petitions? Sit in the middle of the road?”

Curtin was blunt. “Funding is a really big issue for us now. We’re facing midyear budget cuts. More people are going to lose their jobs. Services are going to be cut. My advice to you guys here – do not write letters to SDOT. We know what you want out there, and we know that if we had a blank check, we would implement changes that would make a difference. I would highly encourage you to write your elected officials about 35th SW. Invite them out for a walk.”

Specifically, City Councilmembers, he added – including Councilmember Tom Rasmussen (who chairs the Transportation Committee, which is accountable for road issues and funding; he also happens to be a West Seattleite). Contact information for all nine councilmembers can be found here.

OTHER TRAFFIC-SAFETY CONCERNS:

Also discussed briefly:

California/Dakota (see the separate story we published last night)

Delridge, getting onto The Bridge: North Delridge Neighborhood Council’s Patrick Baer noted it backs up in the morning, sometimes a half-hour delay; Curtin said he would check on whether that’s been on SDOT’s radar.

Avalon/Yancy 5-way intersection: An attendee noted that a signal is in the works (as reported here); Curtin said he believes issues with the intersection will be addressed with the RapidRide work coming to Avalon Way later this year (including the much-discussed parking restrictions).

28th/Yancy intersection near Allstar Fitness: The concerns detailed by that same attendee might suggest a traffic circle, offered Curtin.

Pedestrian flags? SDOT is still evaluating the 17-intersection citywide experiment launched a few years back (including Avalon/Yancy, California/Dakota, California/Dawson in West Seattle), but anyone who wants to put out flag baskets, providing they don’t create new hazards, SDOT won’t get in your way, Curtin said.

The West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meets at 7 pm, third Tuesday of the month, Southwest Precinct meeting room. Next month’s meeting will feature a presentation on drug policy.

25 Comments

  1. “We’re not the offenders – that’s why we are here”
    .
    Part of the problem is this disconnect: People ain’t coming over from Ballard to speed on your road.
    .
    Like it or not, your neighbors, and sometimes YOU – let’s face it, you’ve been late for something “important” and “just pushed it a little” – are the problem you’re looking for a solution to.
    .
    And these aren’t hardened criminals we’re talking about. The motorcyclist who was killed because HE was speeding? He was a very beloved family member and friend. But he sped, and he paid the price (and if DEATH isn’t a deterrent…).
    .
    Expecting all speeding to be squashed is ridiculous. There’s no speed robot technology that will lock on to every speeder and slow them down. There’s no budget for cops on every corner. Don’t expect that you can submit a petition or “protest” and Mr. Government will make it go away. He can’t.
    .
    What you really need to do is educate your neighbors – the ones causing the problem.

    Comment by Michael — 3:16 pm April 20, 2011 #

  2. As a community we need to thank SDOT for taking the time to address these issues at the meeting on Tuesday night, but also insist that their office provides a detailed timeline and plan to address our concerns in the months to come. It is simply not acceptable for these matters to remain in endless deliberation.

    SPD is currently addressing 35th Avenue speeds with increased patrols, which is a great short term solution, but the long term solutions need to be developed. These long term solutions could include:

    1. A reduction in the speed limit on 35th from 35 MPH to 30 MPH. Several other 4 lane roads have 30 MPH speed limits, including Highland Park Drive. This will calm the speed and traffic slightly without causing significant traffic delays.

    2. A road diet for 35th Avenue SW between Alaska and Roxbury – The traffic on 35th falls under the road diet threshold of 25,000 cars per day, so this option provides a viable means to control the excessive speeds and make left turns safer. Though the stretch of road is quite long, the cost really only amounts to repainting new stripes for lane delineations.

    3. Enforcement of speed limits on 35th Avenue Southwest with the use of an automated radar speed camera – This option is better than a mobile speed van because it provides 24/7 protection against speeders, is less visible to speeders who selectively speed when they believe they won’t be caught, and will quickly change the culture of 35th Avenue from that of a freeway to that of a residential arterial street. Further, the revenue generated from a permanent automated speed camera could pay for a road diet on 35th. Curtin mentioned that there are roughly 23,600 trips per day on 35th and that the 85th percentile speed is about 38.5 MPH. This means that about 3000 drivers per day could be cited for traveling over 5 MPH over the speed limit. At $113 per ticket, with 50% going to the camera subcontractor, the remaining $56 per ticket could generate $156,000 per day. This option is legal, is revenue generating (rather than revenue neutral or revenue draining), and will certainly change the culture of speeding on 35th very quickly.

    Comment by Westsider — 3:27 pm April 20, 2011 #

  3. @Westsider, Consider what happens to tickets when a magistrate reduces them. Magistrates have the legal discretion to reduce traffic fines from 30 to 35 percent from the upper range of the fine (although KIRO7 recently reported it found many fines reduced by more than legally permitted: (http://www.kirotv.com/money/26748335/detail.html.

    According to the KIRO link, court records show more than 57,000 traffic ticket cases within the past five years were reduced by more than 40 percent.

    Disincentive or a sense of beating the system?

    Comment by observer — 3:51 pm April 20, 2011 #

  4. Perhaps a speeding camera has the support of citizens who live along 35th Ave. But I doubt the entire community will support big brother on this one. It may be a legal option, but it could tie up the court system. I do not support lowering the speed limit either–it’s quite reasonable and the street generally has good visibility and sight lines. Education and personal responsibility are essential. You cannot legislate every bad behavior away.

    Comment by D. Wulkan — 4:01 pm April 20, 2011 #

  5. While limiting left turns at Juneau is probably one of the better ideas as far as safety is concerned, it’s not a very good idea. Westbound Juneau is one of the few streets that is easily navigable from 35th to California other than Morgan. The rest either don’t go through or are to narrow for regular use.

    Reducing the speed limit to 30? that’s a disaster waiting to happen. A better option might be to have 35th from Morgan north to Alaska marked as a “Safety Corridor” where infractions can be charged at higher rates. Enforce that for a short time, and people will get the message real quick. The problem with making it a 30 mph limit there is that southbound is all uphill – most cars want to either go less than 25 or more than 33 without having issues and wasting additional fuel. (at 30 in a typical 5-speed, the difference is over-revving in 2nd gear, or lugging to the point of engine damage in 3rd.)

    Educating the pedestrians would be a good idea, as well. Walk the extra block to the light either north or south from Juneau – it’s an extra 5 minutes that will save your life.

    The unfortunate truth is that 35th is a main north/south arterial. It’s straight. It’s over a huge hill. People going up have their foot down, people coming down should be riding the brakes or downshifting. Lowering the limit is only going to make outlaws of a greater number of people, as 30 mph is not a sustainable speed on that street.

    Making the street safer is going to require changing the way it’s used. Either use it an arterial (it’s current function) and don’t treat it as a residential street, or convert it into a residential street, and change where the traffic flows through West Seattle. Both require educating the current users, which funnel from Arbor Heights as well as all other neighborhoods to the south of Highpoint.

    Again, it comes back to educating the drivers… in what I have heard many call a “nanny state” where many drivers seem to think that the government will take care of them, and anything that happens is because someone broke a rule somewhere… This is not my opinion, but what I have heard many times from others when they learn I live in Washington.

    One thing I do agree with – It’s not the speed that kills, it’s the inattention.

    Comment by StephenHJ — 4:17 pm April 20, 2011 #

  6. @StephenHJ – Rainer Avenue South has a posted limit of 30MPH and it has a traffic volume far greater than 35th Ave SW. http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/tfdmaps.htm

    Lowering speed limits and enforcing the lower limit is a way of training people to slow down.

    Speed does in fact kill. Going at a slower speed allows one more time to react to ever changing road conditions. I suppose if we followed the logic in your last sentence we ought to get rid of 20MPH School Zone speed limits.

    Comment by Been There — 5:54 pm April 20, 2011 #

  7. I agree with Been There and West Sider – you have to get people to slow down to prevent accidents, and the only way they will is with the ‘threat’ of being ticketed! I’m from a smaller town where the speed limit is 25 mph down a stretch as long and wide as 35th/Avalon-to-Roxbury, and with regular police patrol (and ticketing) and keeping it a two-lane, that street is kept at the limit! 24-hour surveillance is also a great idea! If we treat this road as a super-thoroughfare, we will continue to have these accidents – write your council-person!

    Comment by judyd\\\'cash — 7:17 pm April 20, 2011 #

  8. Police need to be more of a presence on 35th. I use that road almost every day and almost never see any patrols, while there is often a police car in front of the church/school on Roxbury just west of 16th SW. At that spot, almost everyone toes the line because it’s a well-known cop-lurking spot. Point is that it takes regular enforcement to change behavior. BTW as a cyclist myself, I hate to see bicycles on 35th (I use 34th) because drivers on 35th are hostile and dangerous to bikes. I-35 needs a general attitude adjustment.

    Comment by MMB — 8:22 pm April 20, 2011 #

  9. let’s just walk

    Comment by Paul — 8:28 pm April 20, 2011 #

  10. The problem is each direction has a ‘slow’ lane and a ‘passing’ lane. Each way, every day, people speed. And then in the midst of this raceway, people turn left. In front of speeders. And then there are the pedestrians and cyclists — they simply are obstacles to these out of control antisocial motorheads. The only answer is to cut the lanes in half — from four to two. Cops have better things to do than play babysitters to the plethora of self-absorbed sociopathic speeding idiots in their cars racing on I-35. Look what it’s done to help Fauntleroy to cut the lanes in half. If the city chooses to not do this, more will die for no good reason. And the city — and each of us — will pay settlement after settlement. The city knows well that this is a dangerous situation, and its failure to do the only responsible thing — cut the lanes in half — is wilfull disregard of this. End the madness! Cut 35th from four lanes to two.

    Comment by (required) — 10:31 pm April 20, 2011 #

  11. Is morbidly amused that 35th & Barton is described as a dangerous intersection… and yet when we asked whether the city would ever put left turn lanes on Barton at that intersection we were told that volume didn’t justify it. Of course, if the #$$#$#@% ferry didn’t land in West Seattle, we wouldn’t need to deal with the traffic up Barton and Fauntleroy.

    Traffic IS too fast on 35th and the lanes are too narrow in some stretches. Reducing the limit to 30 won’t slow anyone down. Actual police cars WILL — I see cars pulled over in front of the catholic school on Roxbury every week, and I ALWAYS remember to slow down because of that (not that I’m not usually being passed anyway, staying close to the speed limit as I tend to). Here’s a money-saving solution: Don’t fix the potholes.

    Comment by mike flynn — 11:09 pm April 20, 2011 #

  12. I was opposed to changing the lanes on Fauntleroy but now find that it’s easier to get around and change lanes. I think it has been an improvement. Once they gather some data about accidents, speeders, etc. we will know more.

    Also, I have been impressed with the positive changes the bicycle lanes have brought about on Admiral Way SW… On the uphill or downhill trek from the viewpoint. I used to view this as an “on-ramp” to the WS Bridge. It feels a bit safer these days, and it’s certainly easier to get in and out of your car if parked on Admiral Way since they have added the bicycle lanes. This has been a very positive addition to our road system in my opinion.

    Comment by out for a walk — 11:17 pm April 20, 2011 #

  13. Did you know that the people coming from Vashon are large offenders. The cars come bombing up Barton from the Ferry, they also bomb down 35th zigging and zagging along 35th. So they are part of the problem too.
    We are becoming a nation of speeders!

    Comment by Concerned — 7:28 am April 21, 2011 #

  14. In the past 15 years I’ve tried 3 times to have at least a pedestrian controlled traffic light installed at the entrance to Camp Long on 35th Ave. SW. Each time I’ve been told by SDOT that the traffic along 35th doesn’t warrant a light there. I STILL believe a light at that intersection would help SLOW THE TRAFFIC down on 35th, encourage more neighborhood people to use Camp Long, and help bus riders have a safe crossing to the northbound bus stop at Dawson. I’m not positive, but I seem to remember a pedestrian fatality at that spot a few years back. If anyone else agrees, and would like to try yet again for a light at 35th and Dawson I’ll certainly help in any way I can.

    Comment by Carol Wagener — 7:45 am April 21, 2011 #

  15. How much would channelization cost?
    How soon can the project be completed?
    How long do we have to wait for these estimates?
    Since SDOT has been studying 35th for years, it’d be great if we could know by Monday.

    Comment by Yardvark — 8:45 am April 21, 2011 #

  16. Yes, Carol. There was a fatality near 35th and Dawson, though not at the intersection.

    To people who are against a speed reduction: My quick back-of-the-napkin calculation shows that reducing the speed from 35 to 30 would add ONE MINUTE from your commute time from Roxbury to Avalon. Seems like a no-brainer. It would require new signs and some increased patrols for awhile. It’s a cheap solution with negligible downsides.

    Comment by Eric Goetz — 8:50 am April 21, 2011 #

  17. Yardvark, I asked Jim Curtin after the meeting about, so what next, who will decide? SDOT has regular internal meetings to discuss priorities but he reiterated that they and other city agencies are facing even more severe cuts sooner rather than later, so if this is a priority, as noted in our story, don’t just comment here – contact the City Council. CM Rasmussen, since he runs the Transportation Committee, is a particularly good one to start with – TR

    Comment by WSB — 8:57 am April 21, 2011 #

  18. Is the ped accident you are referring to when a dog got loose and the owner trying to capture it was hit by a car on 35th? I don’t think that was a speeding issue.
    And, the proposal to limit turns at Juneau is a complete joke! Juneau is a major thoroughfare for cutters from Fauntleroy to 35th. Forcing them to go to Findley and back track a block through a narrow, residential street with kids, pets and a (closed) school zone is just dumb.
    Ever stop to think that the speeders from Fauntleroy are now on 35th? Road diets don’t change behavior, it just rotates it somewhere else.

    Comment by george — 9:34 am April 21, 2011 #

  19. Yes, the 35th/Dawson fatal was the gentleman chasing his dog. In that same time frame, a senior citizen was hit and killed near 35th/Othello. We covered both.

    Comment by WSB — 9:35 am April 21, 2011 #

  20. I have to take issue with George’s assertion that the speeders moved from Fauntleroy to 35th with the rechannelization of Fauntleroy. I’m pretty sure I remember 35th being just as bad before as it is now. However, it would be interesting to look at data for 35th before and after Fauntleroy’s changes. Are these available?

    Comment by J — 11:16 am April 21, 2011 #

  21. I’ll say it again:
    .
    It’s your neighbors doing the speeding.
    .
    Maybe even you, sometimes. (But only when you’re late, of course.)
    .
    Don’t expect Mr. Government to make it go away. Educate each other, and avoid speeding yourselves. Even when you’re late.

    Comment by Michael — 11:48 pm April 21, 2011 #

  22. Just because the speaker in the video is not getting the changes that she wants, the traffic engineers are not doing their job? Is this a fact or an opinion? What exactly are the engineers “failing” to do? I’d like to know what qualifies her to make a statement like that. Who does she think she is?

    Comment by jeff — 8:19 am April 22, 2011 #

  23. Michael,

    While I applaud your sentiments for taking personal responsibility for the unsafe nature of 35th Ave SW, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s an unsafe street. Human nature being what it is, people *will* speed. As someone who regularly has to cross 35th as a pedestrian and someone who bikes on it, I take responsibility by driving the speed limit and by lobbying local officials to make it as safe as possible, given current budgetary constraints.

    And, I too would love to see some data to back up George’s assertion that traffic has moved to 35th from Fauntleroy after the re-striping. I, for one, don’t believe it.

    Eric

    Comment by Eric Goetz — 10:06 am April 22, 2011 #

  24. My wife received a speeding ticket in the mail from one of those photo van contraptions. She wasn’t driving the car, I was. I was going over the speed limit, and if a police car had pulled me over to give me a ticket that would have been that. Lucky for me, all the registered owner of the car has to do is send in a form that they were not driving at the time.

    What really gets me is the twisting of the rules to enable police to sit in a van with a camera and send a ticket to who knows who in the mail. They get around the rules that say the police must hand you the ticket (so they can identify the speeder and many other good reasons for a face to face interaction) by calling it a “parking violation!” PLEASE!! So the county will bend the rules to catch the rule benders? This looks like a revenue collection scheme.

    After years of driving 35th, it would seem to me that there are many reasons for accidents on this road other than speed. Commuters mixed with militant dawdlers, lack of center left turn lanes, blind hills, and more…

    Anyway. A very easy ticket to have dropped. Get some police in cars or on bikes and make some human contact. Down with robots and big brother…

    Comment by eric — 1:50 am May 8, 2011 #

  25. One more thought on the anti SPEED crowd. After living in the UK for over seven years I know the average speed there is much much higher. 30 is the lowest posted speed anywhere, through school zones, pasted old folks homes… and the posted speed nearly everywhere is 50. If you are doing 80 on the Freeway (motorway) you are getting passed like you are standing still. And yet they have fewer deaths per mile driven than we do. It’s not the speed, its mixing people who approach driving as if they are going somewhere with those who drive like they are pushing a shopping cart, putting on make-up, texting, eating, heads turned yelling at their kids and more.

    I actually think a higher posted speed causes one to focus on the task at hand which is getting from point A to B.

    By the ani-speed logic which says “wouldn’t it be safer if we just drove slower?” We would keep on lowering the speed limit until we are all on foot. Now that would be safe, and who could disagree with that?

    Comment by eric — 2:14 am May 8, 2011 #

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