By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
James St. Clair‘s niece choked up as she struggled with saying her uncle “was” rather than “is.”
But her words were clear and plaintive as she wondered aloud “what could happen in another seven years if it’s going to take that long to make changes?”
“Seven years” referred to the time elapsed between the death of 27-year-old Susanne Scaringi, who lost her life bicycling at 35th and Graham in September 2006, and the death of Mr. St. Clair, 69, hit and killed while walking across 35th at that same intersection last month.
Darlene Saxby spoke about her uncle, and her fears, during the community meeting that followed Saturday’s community-organized Memorial Walk on Saturday. (She also spoke during the memorial, as seen in our first report, with video, here.) After words and song in his honor, yards from where he died, about 20 participants walked on to Neighborhood House’s High Point Center for that conversation.
For Darlene, this was new. For some in High Point, it was achingly familiar. In April 2011, after the death of a motorcyclist at 35th/Juneau, a roadside memorial:
A roadside rally:
Some extra enforcement:
And a discussion of safety.
Flash back across another two-and-a-half-year span before all that. In September 2008, a teenager was hit and seriously hurt crossing at 35th and Juneau:
Soon after that, local youth joined in a safety rally along 35th:
And that in turn was less than a year after a previous plea for safety improvements, days after 85-year-old Oswald Clement was killed crossing at 35th/Othello. Between his death and the teenager’s injury, yet another person had died on 35th – Gregory Hampel, a 39-year-old hit by a car while trying to get his dog out of the road near their home.
Five lives, seven years. The challenges had not changed, but some of the faces and names had changed:
At Saturday’s gathering, Deborah Vandermar represented the High Point Neighborhood Association as its current president, carrying on a campaign for which her predecessors also had advocated. New safety advocates were there – Cathy Tuttle from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, lead organizer of the memorial walk; Don Brubeck and Kathy Dunn from West Seattle Bike Connections; Jake Vanderplas from West Seattle Greenways; Andrew Glass Hastings, representing newly elected Mayor Ed Murray, who sent his regrets (his predecessor Mike McGinn had come for the walk but left before the meeting, as had City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen).
Others, not so new to the discussion – neighborhood traffic liaison Jim Curtin (above left, with Glass Hastings) from SDOT, a West Seattleite himself, who had just discussed local traffic safety yet again with the West Seattle Crime Prevention Council in November; Deb Barker from the neighboring Morgan Community Association. Also there, about half a dozen High Point-area residents, and several from elsewhere, even an advocate from Lake City.
Curtin spoke of possibilities – three E’s – engineering, as in rechannelization (formerly known as “road diets”), mentioned in our 2007 story (at the time, 35th between Juneau and Myrtle was the specifically suggested stretch); enforcement; education, as in community awareness of the need to slow down.
Deb Barker suggested that with 10 crashes at 35th/Graham, including two fatalities, people are aware, and enforcement has been tried.
Glass Hastings offered the thought of a holistic look at 35th, which he observed is “a multimodal corridor but not really set up to be one.” Perhaps some uses should be shifted to other area streets. WS Bike Connections’ Brubeck supported that, saying that his group told Bicycle Master Plan updaters that they would rather work with a parallel route like 37th or 34th rather than have bicycle facilities shoehorned into 35th.
That still didn’t solve the problem of how those who must cross 35th, especially on foot, could do so more safely. James St. Clair walked with a cane, and not only did that mean he was likely moving relatively slowly, it also was an explanation for why he was not crossing at a nearby light – either Raymond, a block south, or Morgan, a block north – that would have meant even more walking. SNG’s Tuttle pointed out that more than a few seniors live in High Point – at Elizabeth House, at Bridge Park, in private residences/rentals – but accommodations are vital because, she said, “we need to let older people age in place, walk with dignity.”
Not only is the 35th/Graham intersection without a painted crosswalk, noted participant Pete, it is not well-lit by streetlights: “I don’t understand why ALL intersections aren’t extremely brightly lit!”
Curtin recalled the removal of certain painted crosswalks in 2006-2007 because of safety concerns (we chronicled a few – including one on 35th, at Kenyon, where, in the years since, even more of a pedestrian-attracting business node has sprung up).
But, he said, other roads are “at the head of the line” for work, and the city’s resources are finite – especially money. He said the city sees 33 crashes a day; 35th has had roughly one every three days (1,000 in 10 years).
That’s when the talk turned to the social-justice aspect of making 35th safer – for its neighboring community that is diverse not just in ethnicity but in income and ages – and the question of whether north Seattle gets faster action than south Seattle. The case of NE 75th came up; a crash last spring left a couple dead and their daughter, a young mother, badly hurt; another street lined with memorial tributes. Within months, changes were made to the road, including rechannelization.
“75th was responded to very quickly,” observed WS Greenways’ Vanderplas. “What were those special factors and how can we get them?”
Curtin acknowledged the project “came together in about six months. The mayor’s office [then-Mayor McGinn] asked for changes, funds were provided.”
But he also pointed out that 75th “was significantly different from 35th” – a wide street “with just one stripe down the middle … almost a clean slate,” unlike 35th SW.
“OK,” said Brubeck, “so, SEVEN months here, right?”
“We would really want to talk with you in the community, to talk about the problems and solutions, and share specifics,” Curtin said. And he warned again that “there are other needs around the city we need to keep in mind. It’s not a question of whether this corridor qualifies …”
“So what are the expectations?” interjected Glass Hastings. “Re-stripe the roadway? That’s relatively easy and cheap. It can be undone (if it causes problems).” Other changes, he reminded the group, would take time to design and implement. “As a community, you need to figure out what you want to see out there.”
“There have been many, many meetings about safety,” reiterated Vandermar, also stressing the social-justice framework. “The people who are being hurt the most are the ones who are least able to get to meetings” because they are so busy, with multiple jobs, children in school, trying to stay afloat. “This community is hard to organize. (They) are holding up a LOT of social-justice issues.”
For other stretches of 35th, it is no simpler, added Mat McBride, chair of the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council and 35th SW-fronting resident. He said he has lived for 10 years on the block where Greg Hampel died in 2008 – “inches” between those walking and those driving – “that’s the reality of 35th … Paint would change the nature of the road, fundamentally. People will get used to it. I would encourage you to take that step, even if phased.”
Curtin observed that the city’s “done more than 30 rechannelizations” – including the major changes to Fauntleroy Way SW four years ago – and while many are fearful at first, “the doomsday talk has never come to fruition.”
Back to the topic: An attendee says, “This conversation has been going on since (Susanne Scaringi’s death in 2006) so in my eyes, you should have enough data to proceed.”
Curtin: “Yes, I have data, tons of data.” But, he continued, that doesn’t negate the need for some planning – though he allowed that could be done quickly. Less complex than the deep-bore tunnel, someone joked.
And that is when James St. Clair’s niece Darlene made her plea – hoping someone else’s family won’t be going through, in one year or two or three or seven, what hers is right now, because of what happened at 35th and Graham that December night:
(December 2013 WSB photo by Christopher Boffoli)
POSTSCRIPT: While Councilmember Rasmussen wasn’t at the meeting, he had spoken at the memorial that preceded it, saying the street hadn’t gone entirely unaltered in recent years:
And today, he shared with WSB a followup he has sent to Mayor Murray and acting SDOT director Goran Sparrman:
Dear Mayor Murray and Mr. Sparrman:
Saturday I attended another memorial walk on 35th Ave. S.W. to remember another person (James St. Clair) who was fatally injured when struck by a car as he crossed 35th.
I and other Councilmembers have worked to improve the safety of 35th Ave. S.W. for several years. Now, there are speed indicator radars, red light cameras and more traffic signals. But more must be done. No one feels safe crossing 35th Ave. S.W.
I have previously requested SDOT to consider a “road diet” or rechannelization to improve safety. SDOT declined to do so because the average annual weekday traffic volume is approximately 23,000 vehicles. The last time SDOT considered a road diet SDOT determined that too many vehicles travelled on 35th to warrant reducing the lanes.
I understand that SDOT may be reconsidering the earlier decisions not to reduce the number of lanes. If so, I would like to again repeat my request that the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Mayor consider a road diet (rechannelization) and also other actions that can be implemented to make 35th Ave. S.W. a safer street.
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen
Chair, Transportation Committee
Seattle City Council
HAVE YOUR SAY: To voice your opinion, you can contact Mayor Murray – go here – and/or Councilmember Rasmussen – go here – for starters, until and unless we get word of a specific process to be launched for changes on 35th SW.