SDOT directs traffic patrols to U-District

SPD cruisers patrol University Way Northeast as part of the Be Super Safe campaign. Photo by Jimmy Lovaas

Those who received a traffic citation last week in the U-District can blame a new safety campaign led by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).

As part of the “Be Super Safe” effort, the Seattle Police Department (SPD) conducted emphasis patrols in the U-District Thursday, Oct. 4, and Friday, Oct. 5. According to SDOT, the SPD sent out an aggressive-driving response unit, officers trained to identify drunk drivers, and officers on bicycles — with their eyes peeled for speeding and distracted drivers. SPD did not confirm how many officers were sent to the U-District.

Although this is the first time the effects of the campaign are being seen in the U-District, the effort began in 2011 with a Road Safety Summit at the request of Mayor Mike McGinn after it appeared there had been an increase in road fatalities.

“Back in 2011 there were a couple of really tragic incidents,” SDOT Spokesperson Jim Curtin said, “one of which was in the University District.”

Last September, 23-year-old Robert Townsend, who delivered sandwiches for Jimmy John’s on his bicycle, died after a collision with a car at the corner of the Ave and Northeast Campus Parkway. His death, along with others that summer, led to a new emphasis on creating an action plan to improve road safety in Seattle.

After further studies, SDOT found that the problem was nothing new. According to its research, more than 54,000 collisions occurred in Seattle between 2007 and 2010. These motor vehicle collisions caused 473 serious injuries and 77 fatalities in that three-year period. Such collisions are the leading cause of death in Washington for people ages 5 to 24.

“People should feel safe and comfortable,” Curtin said. “It’s outrageous that people are losing their lives on our streets.”

In the U-District, pedestrians and bicyclists need to watch out the most. In Seattle, nearly 50 percent of motor vehicle fatalities between 2007 and 2010 involved pedestrians or bikers.

Last week’s increase in patrols was noticeable to some residents but perhaps not to the degree expected.

“I’ve seen a lot of cruiser presence on the Ave today — more than normal — but not any extra bike patrol cops or anything,” said Gary Raub, a U-District resident who spends most days on the Ave.

SPD public-information officers could not confirm the number of extra officers focusing on the U-District or even if these emphasis patrols were happening.

Curtin said the U-District has a higher number of pedestrian versus vehicle collisions, citing the cross-sections of Northeast 45th Street with the Ave and 11th Avenue Northeast as the most troublesome intersections.

“The U-District is unique in the very high number of pedestrians,” said Josh Kavanagh, UW Transportation Services director. “And also the fact that the distraction level on the streets is very high.”

Kavanagh said both drivers and pedestrians need to be aware when they’re on the “shared space” of the streets. He cited the statistic that a person hit by a car traveling 40 mph has an 85 percent chance of being killed, while the person has a 65 percent chance of surviving if the car traveled 10 mph slower, according to SDOT.

“That is a really stark difference,” Kavanagh said. “It’s something that is not intuitive to a lot of drivers.”

While the increased enforcement was only a two-day effort, the “Be Super Safe” campaign won’t be absent from the U-District for long. SDOT will be tracking the results of the campaign, hoping to see a reduction in collisions and other road safety violations, and Curtin said the campaign plans to return to the U-District in November with a focus on education.

“The National Safety Council estimates that 90 percent of collisions are preventable,” Curtin said. “We want people to realize that the choices we make when we’re on the streets can affect the lives of other for the long term.”

Reach Editor-in-Chief Sarah Schweppe at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @Sarah_schweppe

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