Opinion: Crosswalks needed at unsafe intersections

View 14th Ave. S. dangers in a larger map. This unsafe stretch of 14th Ave. S. should be improved, says Mark Holland.

by Mark Holland

The intersections at 14th Avenue South and College and Walker need crosswalks.

I live on the corner of 14th Avenue South and College. On August 6, the night of the rollover accident, I was on the street within 10 seconds of the impact which was deafening. I had to pull my car away from the wreck as it burst into flames, after stopping the passenger from fleeing as the driver ran down College toward the greenbelt.

In the last wreck at this corner, five teenagers in a stolen Honda roared up College eastbound toward 14th, crashing into the curb, taking out two trees, up onto the sidewalk where they nearly hit a group of kids on the corner. The suspension was damaged and they all jumped out of the moving vehicle which rolled up onto the sidewalk across 14th and landed against a retaining wall. The motor was still running and I saw there were no keys. I had to pop the hood and pull the plug wires to stop the engine. Every six months or so my neighbors and I have to deal with carnage on this corner. Luckily we have great neighbors around here. Any time something happens everyone is out on the street within seconds. Police and Fire respond within minutes. It’s a great place to have a disaster. Everyone does their part. I wish I could say the same for SDOT.

The bicycle lane on 14th gets painted every three months, but the center yellow line does not. SDOT just painted the center line after the accident, but before it was barely visible.

Cars speed on this section of 14th because it is engineered to be a speedway. Northbound Beacon traffic hits the “slip lane” (SDOT’s term) at 14th and takes the turn at full speed, bypassing the four way stop intersection, just as the traffic engineers designed it to. At the end of the “slip” lane the driver looks north on 14th and sees a green light three blocks down at Hill, and nothing in between. There is no cross walk, curb bulbs, signage or anything on 14th to tell drivers there is a lot of activity at College, or at Walker.

I just had an application for a crosswalk at 14th and College turned down by SDOT. It costs $15,000 to install a crosswalk. More if you want curb bulbs. For $30,000 we could install crosswalks at College and at Walker in front of the store.

SDOT said they did not see 20 people per hour cross at College, and the intersection is under bus trolley power lines, which is apparently a problem. Those are their reasons for doing nothing.

For comparison our lovely “Greenway” just cost $420,000 for a little over two miles and there were no accidents recorded at any of the intersections affected by the Greenway, according to SDOT. Except for the weirdness at Beacon and Hanford, most of the Greenway seems to consist of lots of stop signs in inexplicable locations and bicycle stencils on a quiet neighborhood street. Other than that, 18th is the same as it’s been for the last 100 years: missing sidewalks, curbs, and gutters north of College.

SDOT has the police reports. They know the accident numbers. Why is all the focus on an already safe Greenway, when we have truly dangerous roadways that are due to “bad” driving, but also due to “bad” traffic engineering, or lack of any engineering at all, like at College and Walker?

We need crosswalks, curb bulbs and ramps with “Stop when pedestrians are present” signs at College and at Walker. SDOT is installing crosswalks like this all over the city but there is not one on Beacon Hill. Why not?

The “slip” lane has got to go. It sends cars speeding through the intersection creating conflict with traffic merging onto 14th from the four way stop. Often vehicles “slip” through in a train of several cars. If the first car accelerates, they all do, while tailgating. That is when the honking and screeching of tires happens at College where the northbound vehicles are moving 40+ mph. The vast majority of honking and tire screeching interactions involve a speeding northbound vehicle on 14th and a westbound vehicle on College turning in either direction onto 14th. Most accidents involve a northbound vehicle on 14th.

The light at Hill is always green unless someone presses the button to cross. It simply draws drivers forward. Drivers think they need to make the light before it turns red, but it never changes unless a pedestrian pushes the button. Even the buses speed down this section of 14th. Maybe the light at Hill should be replaced with a yellow yield or crosswalk light with curb bulbs and a more visible crosswalk. What is the point of a 24/7 green light?

Beacon Hill should be paying more attention to what SDOT is doing or not doing in our neighborhood. The thing to remember about SDOT is the Mayor pretty much has all the control. There is little the City Council can do except approve or disapprove the Mayor’s plans. Just like the rest of us.

Mark Holland is a long time Beacon Hill resident, a founding member of the Jefferson Park Alliance (JPA), and served on the Jefferson Park Planning Committee (JPPC) during the North Beacon Hill Neighborhood planning process from 1998-2000.

Do you have something to say? Send us your own opinion pieces on this or other Beacon Hill-related topics.

View Larger Map. The “slip lane” shown on the right in this satellite image is hazardous, says Mark Holland.

16 thoughts on “Opinion: Crosswalks needed at unsafe intersections”

  1. The post-accident response from the city further demonstrates the almost complete abandonment of our roads and infrastructure on Beacon Hill. The hydrant that the vehicle ran into was completely pulled out of the ground attached to three feet of pipe. It lay in the grass planting strip for almost a week while neighbors called the city to repair it. The only response so far? Removal of the broken hydrant and placement of some orange cones over the hole.

    Neighbors call 684-ROADS every day asking for the hydrant to be repaired. No one from our city government responds. The destruction of an important link in the emergency response infrastructure calls for an emergency response to repair it. This is not just an inconvenience, it is putting people’s lives and homes in danger.

  2. I like your comment about the green light pulling drivers forward. Driving this section of road is scary at 5pm because the parked cars make the pedestrians and cars from the side streets invisible until they are almost in the travel lane.

  3. Yes.
    SDOT please remove all the “slip lanes” — they are inappropriate pedestrian hazards for a residential area. In addition to 14th and Beacon, there is Spokane and 15th near Jefferson Park. Sidewalk just ends, no crosswalk, on a slip lane. Drivers simply ignore pedestrians.
    (And still no crosswalks to Jefferson Park on Spokane?)

    Overall the traffic patterns on Beacon Hill suggest that SDOT thinks of Beacon Hill as a big I-5/I-90 on-ramp or interchange.

  4. That is becasue as you stated all “Bike and Ped” funding as well as pothole funds are ALL going to bike lanes and nothing to even repainting ped crosswalks unless it is a crosswalk for a bike route like Beacon Ave and the Jefferson Park crossing (the lights 2 blocks up and 2 blocsk down are too far away for bikes to go to it seems). I see bikes on beacon and never on the greenway. You’ll only get crosswalks or streets restriped IF a bike lane is put in.

  5. i totally agree with your post (excluding your greenway bashing… ) and believe the oversight of sdot priorities in regard to pedestrian improvements, especially in underserved communities, is sorely lacking.

    is there a voice for south seattle (or specifically north beacon hill) showing up for the seattle pedestrian advisory board meetings? http://www.seattle.gov/spab/

    other than calling 684-ROADS, what concrete steps can folks do?

  6. The current Chair of the Pedestrian Advisory Board is from Beacon Hill. I’m expecting him to chime into this comment thread soon…

    Thanks for the post, Mark. The south portion of the Greenway deserves the same attention as the north section–sidewalk improvements, curb cutouts and stop signs to calm cross traffic. I rarely bike, but I walk along 18th from McClellan to Jefferson several times/week, usually with a kid or two riding something. Smoother sidewalks and safer intersections are awesome and everyone deserves them.

    Mira’s followup comment about the hydrant is infuriating–I’m calling now to see why that hasn’t been fixed and I hope everyone who reads this calls in as well.

    I’m very concerned about pedestrian safety in our neighborhood–especially at intersections like College & 17th that are part of the route many kids will be taking to school. Someone is going to be killed in the crosswalk at the library unless something changes. While we wait for the slow financial/political/bureaucratic wheels to turn at SDOT, we can and should also be pressuring SPD to enforce traffic laws.

    We can also work together: report report report! Call in license plates when someone speeds past as you’re trying to cross the street. Call in that downed hydrant. Call in cars parked illegally close to signs & signals. Report potholes.

    Signing off now to call about that hydrant.

  7. Fire hydrant was fixed today (Tuesday 8/20). For fire hydrant or water utility problems, call Seattle Public Utilities at (206) 386-1800. It took a while to order the parts.

  8. Per SDOT FAQ http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/sdotfaqs.htm
    SDOT annually remarks all the lane markings throughout the city beginning in the Spring. We remark arrows (left, straight and right) and crosswalks as they wear out, which may not be annually. Please contact (206) 233-0033 if you have any further questions about street (pavement) markings.

  9. Hi- Allie here from SDOT. We wanted to share that SDOT is planning to make it safer and more comfortable for people to walk and drive at 14th Avenue S and Beacon Avenue S and 14th Avenue S and S College Street. Safety improvements were identified in the Southeast Transportation Study (see: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/ppmp_sets.htm ) and are being funded through the Safe Routes to School program (see: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/saferoutes.htm ). They include:
    • Add curb bulbs, wheelchair curb ramps and new marked crosswalks at 14th Avenue S and S College Street;
    • Eliminate the slip lane and straighten the intersection 14th Avenue S and Beacon Avenue S, reducing the crossing distance and adding sidewalks, curb ramps and a fourth marked crosswalk; and
    • Make 14th Avenue S “out only” south of the Beacon and 14th intersection.

    Designs will soon be 30 percent complete and we’ll be holding an open house in September to share them and hear feedback from the community. Construction would happen in 2014.

    The neighborhood greenway project (see: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/beaconhillgreenway.htm ) is still underway and additional improvements are being installed this fall, including:

    • Sidewalk repair along the entire route (nearly complete);
    • Speed humps; and
    • Curb ramps and marked crosswalks at two crossings.

    We know the intersection of Beacon Avenue S and S Hanford Street may not be operating as planned; we will study it this fall and, if needed, additional improvements would be implemented next year.

    Physical improvements to our streets and sidewalks are one way we can help increase safety for all users of our transportation system. We have a strategy to make Seattle a city with zero traffic fatalities. Our approach is a combination of education, environment (street improvements), enforcement, evaluation and empathy. Check out our web site at http://www.seattle.gov/besupersafe to learn more.

  10. The intersection of 14th Ave So. and South College is extremely hazzardous for cars ,too.When making a left turn from College to 14th Southbound,one has to pull part way into the norhbound lanes to be able to see oncoming traffic–I often wonder how many accidents and near-accidents occur annually there..It seems that this could be solved relatively cheaply(compared to installing a stoplight) by making that intersection an all way stop, such as 17th So. and McClellan currently is.This would make it easier for pedestrians too,if the city is too cheap to paint a crosswalk.
    Also,it would be nice if the Seattle would install a “yield” sign at the north end of the slip way,perhaps just to the left of the bike glyph.

  11. In response to Allie’s message about the improvements at 14th and Beacon, what can be done to allow the grandfathered-in auto-oriented business on the corner (Lioe’s auto shop) to continue to operate without negating any safety improvements made at the intersection. I don’t mean to bash Lioe’s, but I think the worst part of that intersection is the shop customers and employees driving cars around, pulling into the shop, parking on the sidewalk, not paying attention, etc.. What could SDOT do to help Lioe’s safely continue to operate what is now a prohibited business within the pedestrian oriented light rail zoning overlay?

  12. Great discussion which I am very late too but I have one little thing to add – which is not directly related to safety on 14th but very close to the proposed improvement areas. At 13th and Beacon, 13th was blocked off to traffic on the North side of Beacon by the crude placement of several concrete ecology blocks. This appeared to a temporary fix which has around for at least ten years(?). Besides adding to abandoned appearance of sections of Beacon, the gap left between the blocks and curb is not wide enough to squeeze a bike through. Can SDOT consider improving this street blockage with something a little more professional and better for bikes? Thanks.

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