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Don’t fear planned 35th Ave SW safety changes, fear the crashes that will happen if we don’t take action

Photo from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways: Gene Tagaban of the Tlingit RavenCoho tribe plays a song for paddlers facing an important but difficult challenge at the site where James St. Clair was hit
Photo from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways: Gene Tagaban of the Tlingit RavenCoho tribe plays a song for paddlers facing an important but difficult challenge at the site where James St. Clair was hit.

In the past ten years, 412 people have been seriously injured in traffic collisions on just one street in West Seattle: 35th Ave SW.

Five people have been killed.

These are not just numbers. They are our neighbors, friends, family, co-workers and teachers. Every death and debilitating injury has ramifications far beyond that one person’s life. It affects everyone they love, and often affects their ability to work. Traffic collisions on 35th Ave SW damage the West Seattle communities the road travels through the most, but it also damages the communities where every person injured lives, works and plays.

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The good news is that this death, pain and social damage is entirely avoidable. In fact, as we have reported before, the city is currently working through plans to fix the street’s dangerous roadway design using tried-and-true methods proven to dramatically reduce speeding, collisions, injuries and deaths without having a significant impact on traffic flow. Plans do not include bike lanes, which we voiced frustration about, but the core safety design changes are vital.

We know it will work because we’ve done it many times before over a span of decades. It works every time. In fact, it works so well that it’s an outrage the city still has so many dangerous streets that encourage speeding and collisions the way 35th Ave SW does. Here are just a couple recent examples from city before-and-after studies:

From an SDOT presentation
From an SDOT presentation

Many neighbors don’t call it 35th Ave. They call it I-35.

But this is not an interstate. It’s not even a state highway. It’s a neighborhood street that carries totally normal amounts of traffic. But it is designed like a rural highway, prioritizing vehicle top speeds over safety, comfort and the ability to make left turns.

I-35 was designed in an era where traffic engineers simply did not understand how people move around in cities. While having four lanes might seem like it would move cars more efficiently than a street with one lane in each direction and a center turn lane (the city’s planned change), that’s not true in the real world. For example, people turning left block lanes while waiting for a gap in oncoming traffic, backing up the traffic behind them. This isn’t as big a problem in the middle of farmlands, but it’s a huge problem in a city.

That’s why collisions happen along the entire corridor. The core design is faulty, and it has been injuring and killing our neighbors for a long time.

35thSWMarch2015FINAL-collisionsThe average person driving on I-35 goes well over the posted speed limit of 35 mph and as much as 10 over the planned speed limit of 30 mph. And that’s just the average person, the worst offenders go much faster than that. The faster someone drives, the more likely a collision will occur and the more likely that collision will kill or seriously injure someone.

If you are still not convinced you want to support safety changes on 35th Ave SW, I urge you to look at NE 75th Street. Traffic volumes on the two streets are nearly identical, and land use is fairly similar (homes, schools and neighborhood destinations, but no major business districts). The city completed similar road safety changes there in 2013, and the results are stunning. Speeding is down, high-end speeding is way down, collisions are way down and travel times from end-to-end actually got a little faster (people don’t hit as high a top speed, but they also hit fewer delays and backups).

It was very discouraging to see a petition by some West Seattle neighbors urging the city not to make the street safer. In fact, West Seattle Blog quotes the petition’s organizer telling SDOT, “We like 35th just the way it is.

“Everyone else who depends on it to help them get outta town don’t want it choked with “safety” improvements that, plain and simple, aren’t needed. Your own data shows that there isn’t much of a problem here, except for some concerns for pedestrian crosswalks toward the north end.”

I get that change can be scary, but 412 serious injuries and five deaths in just ten years on a single city street is way more terrifying. There are people in West Seattle I love, and I don’t want them to be next. Doing nothing is a choice to ensure people keep getting hurt.

Not only do we know how to solve this problem, but we owe it to everyone who has been injured or killed on 35th to fix it. And we owe it to those hundreds of people who don’t need to be seriously injured or killed in the next ten years.

That’s why Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has relaunched their petition in favor of safety changes on 35th. If you haven’t signed on already, you should. And get involved in safety changes in your neighborhood. Because it’s easier to be scared of change than to create a social movement for safe streets. But we can’t sit idly by while our own streets kill and injure people for no reason other than a fear of change.

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10 responses to “Don’t fear planned 35th Ave SW safety changes, fear the crashes that will happen if we don’t take action”

  1. Jason

    Tom, thanks so much for writing about this. I live in West Seattle and was so dismayed to hear about the anti-safety petition a few days ago. I hope all of your readers will sign the Greenways petition supporting the much-needed safety changes. They should also email Jim Curtin at SDOT to let him know they support Option A (full rechannelization and speed reduction). His email address is [email protected].

  2. scott t

    “The core design is faulty, and it has been injuring and killing our neighbors for a long time.”

    the citizen-drivers of seattle have been injuring and killing each other…if the article is true.

    i can turn on my hair dryer and dry my hair with it or i can turn it on and shove it in a sink with water.

    more extreme speed reducing measures might be in order.

    but if seattle wants to go bike you might as well go bike big….two bi directional lanes, turn lane and go ahead put decent bike paths.

  3. scott t

    “We like 35th just the way it is.”

    if the statement is true that seems callous. if you consider driver performnce on 35th as ‘the way it is’ and it is a leading accident thruway in seattle then change may be the human thing to do.

  4. Thank you, Tom, for the push. We really need the 35th Ave SW Safety Corridor Project as a start at streets that work safely for all people, all modes of transportation in West Seattle. 34th Avenue Greenway included. Then we need to go further, with a signal at SW Graham, and good connections to greenway routes on 36th/37th and 42nd Avenues SW to connect from High Point to Morgan Junction, Genesee, California Junction, Admiral and Alki.

  5. David

    Well said! I’m in whole support.

    Don’t forget how much the Delridge and Fauntleroy communities have benefited from their modernization projects! They were once like 35th and now are lively and pleasant places to live.

  6. […] won’t actually affect traffic flow. And sure, it probably makes sense to go after the easier (though not exactly easy) wins first. Seattle has no shortage of low or medium traffic streets with too many lanes that are […]

  7. David Feldman

    Require that police impound the cars of all speeders; make vehicle forfeiture permanent with no possibility of appeal for drivers going more than 20% over posted speed limits. I no longer believe that motor vehicles and the US Constitution are compatible.

  8. Gary B. Larson

    I think it’s worth remembering that the so-called passing lane on 35th isn’t just for people who want to break speed limit laws (or drive at the speed limit, for that matter). It’s also for vehicles (including bikes) turning left onto side streets and vehicles turning left into private/commercial/church/school driveways and parking lots. It’s also for vehicles turning left onto 35th from side streets, driveways and parking lots. In addition, vehicles using the “passing” lane must stop for children, senior citizens, disabled people, bus riders, and other people crossing the street legally at marked AND unmarked crosswalks, with or without stop lights.

  9. […] If we don’t take action, 400 more people will be injured in the next ten years, and five more of our neighbors and loved ones will be killed. But it doesn’t need to be that way. […]

  10. D.

    You’re argument is a fallacy. They, we, I, OR ANYONE I KNOW, friends of friends, enemies, random people DO NOT CALL 35thAVE SW.I thirty five. That is complete bu!!s!#.

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