The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Monday, March 3, 2008

West Seattle Death-Trap Needs Urgent Fix

One death too many at perilous traffic spot


I'M SITTING in my parked car Monday near the intersection of Southwest Admiral Way and 47th Avenue Southwest, waiting for an accident to happen. In less than one hour, several nearly do.

A gray van turning left onto Admiral from a side street almost collides with a sedan going down the hill toward West Seattle's Alki.

One car turning right onto Admiral barely misses getting clipped as another vehicle races up the hill toward California Avenue Southwest.

Then, around 2 p.m., a man in an electric wheelchair rolls into the marked crosswalk at Admiral. The man doesn't see it, but a sports car shoots out from a blind curve and bears down on him. The driver hits the brakes -- just in time.

"I always feel scared," Leroy Jones, 59, told me moments after surviving the crossing.

Jones, who has suffered three strokes and uses a wheelchair to get around, said he lives at the nearby Life Care Center nursing home. He crosses the intersection three times a day, often to go to Safeway.

With each trip, he feels as if his life is out of his hands.

"People are always driving and speeding and talking on the phone," he said, glancing at the five-way intersection. "It's unsafe."

Hundreds of West Seattle residents agree with Jones about the intersection -- one of the city's scariest and the same place where City Council aide Tatsuo Nakata was fatally hit Nov. 14, 2006. Back then, Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz, was on his cell phone when his '91 Olds- mobile plowed into Nakata.

Last week, a municipal judge ordered fines, no driving and community service for Schwartz, 37, who was found guilty of the crime.

The punishment is so feeble when you consider a life was stolen, when you consider the rabbi's conviction will be wiped off the books in a couple of years if he follows the rules.

The tragedy also underscores what can happen when drivers get so caught up in chatter they turn into road menaces, or when pedestrians aren't as alert as they should be. Nakata, for example, may have been listening to his iPod.

In the aftermath of his death, plenty of public focus has been put on Schwartz and his poor driving history. Clearly, the man needs a permanent bus pass. Driving is a privilege, not a right.

But attention shouldn't shift from what West Seattle has known for some time: The crossing is bad news.

While Nakata's death has been the only car-pedestrian incident from 2002 through 2006 at the intersection, the spot has had a handful of car collisions since the mid-'90s. After spending a couple of hours there, I agree with fearful neighbors. I almost got run down trying to cross.

"I've seen nearly a dozen people almost hit by cars there," said Judy Townsend, a West Seattle activist who has been trying to get City Hall's attention.

"Soft speed bumps? Traffic light? I don't know why it has taken so long. The city is probably short of money, right? They'd much rather build stadiums."

Don Wahl has leaned on city officials, too, dialing up the Department of Transportation -- but to no avail. He even helped get hundreds of signatures asking for more improvements.

Wahl has a front seat to the danger. He runs Alki Mail and Dispatch, a delivery service with a coffee stand, at the intersection. At least twice a week, he hears cars screeching to the crosswalk, and pedestrians and motorists honking and yelling. Other times, he says, a car stops for a pedestrian, only to get bumped by a speeding car behind it. Not long ago, an impatient driver swerved around a driver who had stopped for a woman with a stroller. If the woman hadn't seen the impatient motorist, she could have been run over.

After Nakata died, two crosswalk signs hanging over the intersection were changed from orange to fluorescent yellow.

A pair of flashing yellow lights was installed above the crosswalk in both directions.

Concerned people put flags on both sides of the crosswalk for pedestrians to carry.

But flags don't stop speeding cars -- and neither do flashing lights or signs. Not at this intersection anyway, with a sharp, down-sloping curve that may make the crosswalk invisible until it is too late.

Wahl says a light at 47th and Admiral makes sense because there is hardly anything to slow traffic "between California and the bottom of the hill" -- a distance of roughly 15 blocks. He calls the stretch "a drag strip."

A traffic light would check heavy-footed drivers and help those who cross Admiral Way to get to nearby bus stops, stores or the nursing home. It also would allow cars to turn safely onto busy Admiral Way from both sides of 47th, and from Southwest Waite Street.

Pedestrians would benefit. Drivers would benefit. West Seattle would benefit.

The city ought to do more because the next time a person is killed -- a matter of when, not if -- there will be a long paper trail of petitions, complaints and letters, and no good excuse for why an intersection of death wasn't made less deadly.

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