Someone driving a pickup truck collided with someone on a motorcycle at the intersection of 35th Ave NE and NE 75th Street Monday evening. The person on the motorcycle was critically injured and was rushed to the hospital in life-threatening condition.
We send our best wishes to the person injured.
I’m in tears right now. I cannot believe this. This is why I post these videos to highlight how dangerous this street is. To try to prevent this
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— Mitch (@mitchellplease) June 11, 2019
It is not yet known exactly how the collision occurred. It appears from photos by people who saw the aftermath that the person in the pickup may have been turning left from northbound 35th Ave NE onto eastbound NE 75th Street, but the exact nature of the collision is not clear. Seattle Police traffic investigators were working the scene.
UPDATE: SPD posted an update: “When officers arrived and contacted the 87-year-old driver. The 22-year-old motorcyclist received emergency medical care at the scene. Police spoke with witnesses who stated the truck began turning left when the motorcyclist struck the driver’s pickup truck.
Seattle Fire Department Medics took the 22-year-old man to Harborview Medical Center where he remains in critical condition.
A drug recognition expert evaluated the 87-year-old man at the scene and found no signs of impairment.
Traffic Collision Detectives are now investigating and will determine what led up to the crash.”
But this horrific collision comes less than a month after someone on a bicycle was struck and injured (though less seriously) five blocks away on NE 70th Street.
These collisions have all happened within weeks of crews painting the lines for the revised design of the street. At the direction of Mayor Jenny Durkan, SDOT removed the bike lanes and associated traffic calming initially planned and contracted as part of a major repaving project on 35th Ave NE.
The backlash against the mayor’s decision (and the subsequent cuts to the near-term bike plan) was two-fold. On one hand, people saw it as a sign that the mayor was not dedicated to the city’s traffic safety and climate goals. People packed City Council chambers to voice their concerns, including Tamara Schmautz and Apu Mishra who brought a hand-cranked paper shredder up to the podium and proceeded to shred the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, Vision Zero Plan and Climate Action Plan.
But on the other hand, people were concerned that the city’s planned bike-lane-free design for 35th Ave NE was going to be dangerous. Wide lanes are known to encourage speeding, for example. But the reality has proven to be even worse since the road opened. The center turn lane, which was supposed to help calm traffic, has instead been used regularly for making illegal passes. We posted a video from @mitchellplease on Twitter demonstrating the problem quite clearly:
First morning riding 35th since the redesign, already seeing dangerous passes. First car passing while a bike was turning left ahead. When there is a car waiting to turn left after, a car also tried to pass me, then backed off. Of course I catch up to them all at the light pic.twitter.com/Nr75tKeEQD
— Mitch (@mitchellplease) May 16, 2019
Councilmember Mike O’Brien also showed Mitch’s video during a recent Transportation Committee meeting, and the committee wrote a letter to SDOT asking whether the design is meeting the city’s objectives. Below is an excerpt (full letter in this PDF):
The Seattle Department of Transportation states that its first core value is Safety. The SDOT blog about this project claims that “By slowing vehicle speeds and better defining the travel lanes, this helps increase safety for everyone on 35th.” Watching this video, it doesn’t appear that defined travel lanes have reduced speeds or increased safety. In fact, it appears that in some locations, by eliminating a lane ofparking and widening the travel lanes we have increased speeds and decreased safety.
We would like you to answer the following questions:
From this video and other observations, do you believe the design as implemented has met the objectives of the project and Vision Zero?
- Did this design go through the Complete Streets Checklist assessing how this design serves all people travelling on the corridor, including people walking, biking and taking transit?
- If there are some short comings of the design as implemented, do you have plans to make improvements to the design? If so, what is the timeline?
- If this design failed to meet the safety objectives for all street users, can the department do some analysis as to how a decision to recommend this design was erroneously reached? What can we do different in the future to avoid these mistakes?
Since there has already been a serious injury to a bicyclist hit by a car in this corridor where a person biking was transported by ambulance to the hospital, we would like to see urgent action if there is agreement that action is needed.
SDOT sent an update to the 35th Ave NE project mailing list Friday acknowledging that they are aware of concerns about safety on the new street. The department will be “gathering speed data on 35th and will base changes to the posted speed limit on the observations and data,” according to the email. “In addition to studying speeds, we will be reviewing collision figures to see if there is a change in aggressive driving and the number of collisions.”
Traffic safety isn’t a political game
This whole 35th Ave NE travesty stems from Mayor Durkan misunderstanding the stakes of the debate. It was never about the anti-bike team competing against the pro-bike team in some kind of political game. It was not about picking between two groups of engaged and organized residents. It was about people’s health and safety. As SDOT professionals have long known (and was reaffirmed in a recent macro 13-year study that included Seattle), adding bike lanes to a street improves safety for all users of the road no matter how they get around.
It is impossible to know for certain whether bike lanes would have prevented these specific recent collisions on 35th Ave NE. But we do know for certain that quality protected bikes lanes do reduce the number and severity of collisions.
In harsher words, this is not a fucking game. These are our neighbors’ lives we’re talking about here. Adding bike lanes won’t hurt people driving. But cutting bike lanes will hurt people. It may have already.
It doesn’t feel good to say, “I told you so.” It feels terrible. As someone whose job is to report on bike issues in Seattle and advocate for safer streets, I failed on 35th. I tried, as did many people organizing with Safe 35th, but we lost. And the result of a loss when fighting for safe streets can be horrific. And what did the anti-bike advocates win?
But ultimate responsibility here lands squarely on Mayor Durkan. Her decision on 35th was an enormous mistake, and she needs to fix this. And no, some plastic posts next to the turn lanes won’t be enough, as SDOT’s recent email suggested. The problem requires more significant action, such as the protected bike lanes originally planned. The design is already complete and ready for construction. I know it’s hard for politicians to admit a mistake, but the alternative here is far worse. She shouldn’t wait for any more injuries (or worse) before doing the right thing.