by Kirby LindsayAccording to Jim Curtin, Community Traffic Liaison for Seattle Department of Transportation, Aurora Avenue has the second highest collision rate in the city, after the Rainier Avenue corridor. A joint effort with the Washington Department of Transportation and the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, along with the Seattle Police Department and the Washington State Patrol, has formed as the Aurora Traffic Safety Project which aims to reduce collisions by 25%.
“It’s an ambitious plan,” Curtin admitted, as they will address the entirety of Aurora – eight miles of roadway/highway that cuts through Seattle from North 145th Street to Battery Street Tunnel. “Through the three Es, if you will,” Curtin explained, enforcement, education and engineering will be used to make drivers, and pedestrians, change their habits.
Billboards along Aurora warn about texting while driving, speed limit enforcement and the need to stop for pedestrians. Curb bulbs, channelization and signal light changes, and crosswalks have been planned. Stepped up enforcement efforts have resulted in over 9,500 traffic infractions being written since June 18, 2009. The steps may appear small, but preliminary data collected from June to December of 2009 shows the collision rate has dropped 30%.
More Work To Be Done
In our conversation, Curtin focused on the problems specific to Aurora Avenue between Lower Woodland and across the Aurora Bridge. Without traffic lights, or intersections, the roadway appears open in this area and drivers take advantage by letting their speed creep up - beyond the posted 40 mile per hour limit. Yet, pedestrians have taken to racing across two or three lanes of traffic, jumping the Jersey barrier and dashing in front of even more high-speed vehicles.
Drivers “are not expecting to see pedestrians,” Curtin allowed, and in these collisions, it won’t matter if the pedestrian shouldn’t have been on the roadway. “Eight out of ten pedestrians hit at 40 m.p.h. are killed,” when struck by a car, he expounded. SPD and the State Patrol have increased patrols of pedestrian safety, “trying to combine education and enforcement,” Curtin explained, but in this area, “it will be a little different than areas with crosswalks.”
“There are safe locations where you can cross,” Curtin said, “We want people to use the designated pedestrian crossings,” the under and overpasses built for that purpose. As a part of the Aurora Project, “our job is to get out there on a semi-regular basis,” he explained, to spread the word among residents/visitors of the motels, and pedestrians – and drivers too.
For Long Term Improvements
“We’ve been working on our action plan since 2008,” Curtin explained, as they’ve sought ways to make Aurora safer. Their model, the Rainier Corridor Traffic Safety Project, resulted in only a 7% decrease of collisions, but they’ve seen greater success on Aurora already. While originally scheduled to end in June 2011, the Seattle City Council has already asked for the Project to be extended – if further funding can be found.
Ultimately, though, the answers lie in the people who travel on Aurora. “The leading contributing cause,” Curtin explained after reading collision reports, “is inattention.” Second major cause has been ‘failure to yield’. “Take it slow out there,” Curtin warned, “you never know what is going to pop out at you!”
For more information, facts and figures, plus a safety quiz, check out the website on the Aurora Traffic Safety Project at http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/aurorasafety.htm
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.