Pedestrians to drivers: Back off!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Last updated 11:56 a.m. PT

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Brandy Sebron-Kelley, right, holds up a sign which details how she was hit by a car at North 130th Street and Linden Avenue North while in a crosswalk and in her wheelchair. Sebron-Kelley was joined by Steve Rice, playing the accordion, and others during a protest by residents of nearby senior communities at North 130th Street and Aurora Avenue North on April 3, 2009. (Photo: Joshua Trujillo / seattlepi.com)

City to unveil master plan after call for more crosswalk safety

By CASEY MCNERTHNEY
SEATTLEPI.COM STAFF

A couple of women used walkers to cross Aurora Avenue North at North 130th Street. Three others had motorized wheelchairs. Several protesters were in their 70s.

It wasn’t a typical demonstration, but the issue of pedestrian safety spans age brackets.

“I sure as hell wouldn’t want anyone else to go through what I’ve gone through,” said Brandy Sebron-Kelley, 69, who was among the demonstrators last month. “I’m in more pain than I ever imagined I’d be in.”

Sebron-Kelley was one of 468 pedestrians hit by motor vehicles in Seattle last year — in her case, last November at 130th and Linden Avenue North. She said a car turning right didn’t see her and the accident has caused months of pain.

“People just need to be more aware of pedestrians,” she said. “We don’t have bumpers.”

Richard Dyksterhuis marches in the crosswalk with a sign during a protest by residents of nearby senior communities at North 130th Street and Aurora Avenue North on April 3, 2009. The residents were in the intersection trying to draw attention to the dangers that pedestrians, especially seniors, face while on the streets of Seattle. (Photo: Joshua Trujillo / seattlepi.com)

That was the point of the protest — to make city leaders take notice of people saying crosswalks aren’t safe enough.

This week, the city is expected to unveil its Pedestrian Master Plan, which was outlined in a City Council resolution in 2007 — the year Mayor Greg Nickels and the City Council said pedestrian safety was their top priority.

“The goal of the Pedestrian Master Plan is to establish a strategic road map for enhancing pedestrian activities throughout the city,” Department of Transportation spokesman Rick Sheridan said. “It will focus on a number of key elements such as promoting pedestrian safety and promoting healthy lifestyles. It has a number of different elements it works to improve on.”

Seattle police, echoing some of Sebron-Kelley’s concerns, say some drivers are ignorant of pedestrian safety concerns.

On April 24, police conducted a sting on Stone Way North and North 41st Street, watching for drivers with little regard for walkers.

Three patrol cars were in the area and six motorcycle officers were visible, department spokeswoman Renee Witt said. Three officers and a sergeant were in plain clothes trying to cross the street.

“Some people completely disregarded the speed limit and safety,” said Witt, who watched the operation for about an hour. “One lady was on her cell phone and speeding. It was pretty interesting to see how it all unfolded and see how clueless people can be.

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A car continues to roll into the crosswalk, bumping a marcher as Brandy Sebron-Kelley, in yellow, and other members of nearby senior citizens’ residential buildings protest in the crosswalks at the intersection of Aurora Avenue North and North 130th Street. Sebron-Kelley was previously hit by a car at North 130th Street and Linden Avenue North. (Photo: Joshua Trujillo / seattlepi.com)

“The crosswalk was clearly marked. There were no alibis.”

That’s one reason Witt said the department planned 10 operations this year.

“When you hit people’s pocketbooks, that’s then they start listening,” Sebron-Kelley said. “Drivers need to be treated fairly, but as a pedestrian who has been hit, I know what it feels like.”

Between 2005 and 2007, 23 pedestrians were killed by vehicles in Seattle, according to the city. About 1,500 more people were hit by vehicles, in several cases suffering debilitating injuries.

Once an archer who had a 50-pound pull on a bow, Sebron-Kelley said she can now barely lift her arms because of damage to her rotator cuffs. She said she has short-term memory problems and, because she didn’t take an initial settlement offer, insurance hasn’t paid for medical costs.

“I think a lot of things need to be corrected, and the way crosswalks are set up is ridiculous,” she said. “I want to campaign to have no right turn on red on every corner and a special light so (pedestrians) can be treated fairly.”

The city optimized traffic signals on busy corridors such as Aurora Avenue North in accordance with standards approved by the Federal Highway Administration in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and other associated guidelines, Sheridan said. City traffic codes also come into play.

Even with that work, city officials say there’s a major obstacle: They can’t engineer against reckless human behavior.

“Drivers need to think of the other person,” Sebron-Kelley said, a few hours after getting an injection of pain medication. “We feel like a damn target.”

MORE INFORMATION

If there are traffic signals that raise concerns for motorists, bicyclists or pedestrians, they can highlight those for SDOT by calling 684-ROAD.

Casey McNerthney can be reached at 206-448-8220 or caseymcnerthney@seattlepi.com.

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