A Reflection of What We’ve all Known. NE 75th Street is Not Safe.

UPDATE: Mayor McGinn responds to a neighbors question about safety on NE 75th Street during the March “Ask the Mayor” show on the Seattle Channel.

NOTE: We hope you won’t interpret this post as us placing blame or accusing SDOT. The Police clearly appear to have the person responsible in custody. SDOT has standards and codes that need to be followed and statistics that characterize street use. But we hope today’s tragedy is a call to action to address the safety and the morning/evening horse race along NE 75th Street.

In the wake of today’s tragedy in front of Eckstein Middle School we’re continuing to learn more on what happened (Ravenna Blog | Seattle PI | Seattle PD Blotter).  It’s hard not to jump to conclusions, but the facts remain: 4 people were hit, 2 of whom died, by a man driving a truck westbound about 50 mph at around 4:10PM on NE 75th Street. A couple weeks ago, Seattle Police stationed an automated speed sign on NE 75th Street near where the accident occurred in the eastbound lane.  Eckstein Middle School has an enrollment of about 1,300 students and one of the largest number of bike-to-school programs.

With this in mind, a lot of drivers have commented on just how fast and dangerous NE 75th Street is during commute hours.  Is NE 75th Street a 2 lane road or a 4 lane road?  We’ve been given permission to share this email exchange about such concerns at NE 75th Street and 28th Ave NE from a nearby resident (Erin Kennedy) with SDOT staff, which is exceptionally sad in hindsight.  Unfortunately, Ms. Kennedy’s concerns were all too true.

From: sdotcrm@crm.seattle.gov
To: Erin Kennedy
CC: Reiner Blanco; William Burns
Subject: Responding t your workflow message (Intranet Quorum IMA00434967)
Date: Mon, 22 Nov 2010 13:31:44 -0800

Dear Ms. Kennedy:

Thank you for writing to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) regarding your concerns with NE 75th Street.  We appreciate you bringing this to our attention, as SDOT shares your concerns with wanting our street system to operate safely and efficiently for all users.

Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) 11.14.375 states:

“Multiple lane street” means any street the roadway of which is of sufficient width to accommodate reasonably two (2) or more separate lanes of vehicular traffic in the same direction, each lane of which shall be no less than eight (8) feet in width, and whether or no such lanes are marked”

NE 75th Street in and around Wedgewood is of sufficient width on both eastbound and westbound t be considered a multiple lane street and able to accommodate two lanes in the same direction.  However, the city does no typically mark two travel lanes when the traffic volumes along the street are relatively low.  In this case, the traffic volumes along NE 75th are relatively low.

Some of the main factors that go into a decision about whether or no to mark a crosswalk are the characteristics of the roadway itself:  features such as visibility, the number of lanes that pedestrians must cross, the proximity of the location in question to existing traffic signals, and the number of pedestrians who cross the street consistently at that location.

When marking a crosswalk, visibility is a crucial factor.  If a driver cannot see a pedestrian because there is a curve in the road, a marked crosswalk will do little t improve the situation.  In the case of 28th Avenue NE and NE 75th Street, the intersection is located in the middle of a hill which prevents drivers from seeing pedestrians and pedestrians who are crossing from seeing oncoming vehicles.

We generally find that on multi-lane roads with three or more lanes, a marked crosswalk alone without an accompanying traffic signal will do little to improve driver compliance or pedestrian safety.  One of the main reasons is the risk of a multiple threat collision, a situation in which a driver in one lane stops for a pedestrian, but the driver in the next lane does not.  We find that on busy streets the most beneficial improvements are either a reduction in the number of vehicle lanes or the installation of a traffic signal.

The location at 28th Avenue NE and NE 75th Street is located only a few blocks from the full traffic signal at 31st Avenue NE and NE 75th Street.  The nearby presence of a traffic signal and the lack of strong pedestrian generators that would help provide consistent pedestrian traffic, suggest that this location is the preferred place to cross.

In summary, at this time we cannot recommend marking a crosswalk at this intersection.  Although the legal responsibility of a driver is the same whether or no a crosswalk is marked or unmarked, the features at this particular intersection suggest that a marked crosswalk will no provide the benefit that pedestrians require in order to cross in comfort.

If you have any further questions or additional comments, please feel free t contact SDOT’s William Burns, Associate Civil Engineering Specialist, directly at (206) 684-5114 or william.burns@seattle.gov.  Mr. Burns will be happy to assist you further.


Reiner Blanco, P.E.
Senior Civil Engineer
Seattle Department of Transportation

Subject: RE: Responding to your workflow message (Intranet Quorum IMA00434967)
From: Ms. Kennedy
To: sdotcrm@crm.seattle.gov
CC: Reiner Blanco; William Burns

Thank you very much for your response.  I appreciate the thought and consideration you put forth.  I can understand why a cross walk would be dangerous being mid-hill.  However, I think the bigger pedestrian and driver danger is that very few cars abide by the speed limit.  Sooner or later, someone trying to cross the street is going to get hit by a car flying down the hill at 50mph.  Is there anything to be done about speeders?


6 Replies to “A Reflection of What We’ve all Known. NE 75th Street is Not Safe.”

  1. There are several things that we should do to reduce the number of this kind of horrible tragic vehicular homicide.

    1. Implement significant traffic calming on NE 75th to reduce the incidence of speeding. For some reason, NE 65th Street seems much safer than 75th; why is that?

    2. Insist that much stricter laws be implemented for repeat DUI offenders, including, but not limited to, permanently banning anyone who has been convicted of 2 DUIs from ever driving again.

    3. Improving safety at the dangerous corner of NE 75th and 35th NE by putting signs that warn pedestrians to watch for right-turning motorists who don’t see them in the crosswalk because they are on their cell phones.

    4. Finding someone who can implement the above 3 suggestions, despite the infamous “Seattle Process”

  2. This is an incomprehensible tradedy. No words..

    Please consider car and pedestrians issues on 35th ave NE between 75th and 95th. With similar worries abut trying to cross the street safely to the bus stop I contacted SDOT several months ago. The response was generally saying that there were no incidents and the street is functioning as designed.

    1. Jean, to SDOT’s credit they’re finally moving ahead with part of a project we’ve been requesting for many years. They’re going to paint a crosswalk at 35th/80th in April-ish and revise the parking restrictions in places to help reduce the number of lanes and calm traffic on 35th in part of that stretch.

  3. One other problem the city has is that there is no other east-west options other than 65th and 75th that run from 15th NE to 35th NE (55th and 95th kinda, but not really.)

    With the UW being the workplace of so many people who live in NE Seattle, I think the east-west flow needs to be improved. Unfortunately, due to lack of options, I think that this likely means making 65th or 75th a true arterial and the other of the two truly residential. At least it wouldn’t be in this middle ground on both roads. The logical choice to me would be 75th residential and 65th arterial but beef up the crosswalks, sightlines, etc. on both streets – especially the arterial.

    Until this issue of lack of E-W routes in NE Seattle is solved, I think there will continue to be an issue on 75th.

  4. As I see it the hill is a big part of the problem. I am not suggesting you flatten it, merely consider its impact. From both directions drivers accelerate hard to get momentum going up the hill, even to get to speed limit. Then there is that moment at the top where they have to remember to take their foot off the gas. Many forget and begin to fly! Add to that a school at the top and all the extra traffic and pedestrians, sometimes and ill-timed sunset. This has been an accident waiting to happen even with sober drivers. I usually have to jog across the street even when it looked clear.
    Here are my proposals:
    1. A light on either side of the school. With three lights cresting the hill there is:
    a. You would be able to see the light as you climbed the hill, so it would not be a surprise over the ridge.
    b. A larger space created for the safe transfer of children.
    c. Less space to build momentum. If people know there are multiple lights they won’t get into the open highway mindset of an unobstructed road.
    2. Lights that are more responsive to pedestrians. This will encourage pedestrians to use and wait for the light. Currently the wait is long and many pedestrians don’t bother with them.
    3. Officer and/or camera speed trap like those used on NE 35th and NE 60th, especially during drop off and pick up to help drive the point home.
    Jennifer Gratzer, Eckstein Neighbor

  5. Hills are problemmatic for crosswalks, but I don’t think we should give up so easily. There has been, for years, a crosswalk on James/Cherry, on the hill between Broadway and 12th, so that Seattle U kids can cross between campus and their dorms. It always worried me (because of the fear that cars coming down the hill would not be able to stop in time when kids just “stepped out” in front of them — but it was there, and those of us who drove that street regularly knew to slow/stop for it. Finally, they put blinking lights that went all the way across the street when someone was using the crosswalk. That helped too (and there is a skyway, though not everyone uses it). The city needs to either enhance the crosswalk with blinking lights (and signs that warn motorists that it is coming) or another light.

    Nothing will fix every problem, but we need to do more to synch up the belief that pedestrians have that they are safe if they cross at an intersection (that cars can and will stop for them) with the reality for drivers driving on that street.

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