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.