The Seattle Times turned from seeking advice on how to improve and protect these imperfect pedestrian bulwarks to a campaign for getting rid of these targets for “the brotherhood of bad drivers . . . careless, reckless, defective, drunken and sleeping.”
PERHAPS NO OTHER Seattle street has such a record of carnage as its first “speedway,” Aurora Avenue. From Broad Street north to the new Aurora Bridge, the speedway opened to traffic in spring 1933.
A traffic expert from Chicago described the nearly 2-mile long speedway as “the best express highway in the U.S.” Its exceptional qualities were the six lanes — eight counting the two outside lanes for parking or rush-hour traffic — and the speed limit of 30 mph. Still, Aurora had the commonplace worries of cross streets, left turns and head-on traffic, plus the extraordinary risk of pedestrians negotiating the 90 feet from curb to curb. Traffic engineers built what they called “safety islands.” You see one here in the “then” photo, looking north from the Crockett Street crosswalk.
No pedestrian was injured in this mess made around 2:30 a.m., Jan. 19, 1934. Rather, it was 37-year-old Carl Scott who, heading south from the Aurora Bridge in his big Packard, crushed the north reinforced concrete pole of a safety island. The Seattle Times, then an afternoon daily, explained on its front page: “Autoist Dies Instantly in Terrific Crash.” Photographers from both The Times and the city’s Department of Public Works reached the scene after Scott had been removed. But the scattered parts of his sedan still were evident.
After a few more speedway accidents and deaths, The Times turned from seeking advice on how to improve and protect these imperfect pedestrian bulwarks to a campaign for getting rid of these targets for “the brotherhood of bad drivers . . . careless, reckless, defective, drunken and sleeping.” A headline on Dec. 2, 1937, read, in part, “Stop Murder On Aurora — Center-Pillars Are Death Magnets.”
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The following March, after another motorist lost his battle with a safety island, the newspaper’s librarian calculated that 38 people had “died in Aurora Ave. traffic accidents since the highway was opened” in 1933. Eighteen of these were killed hitting the islands. By then, Times reporters were instructed always to put safety in quote marks when running with island, as in “safety” island.