After 4-year-old Haochen Xu was killed while walking in an Issaquah crosswalk, neighbors’ demands for safety upgrades have prompted a plan to review all Issaquah street intersections.
Amy Miller considers Summerhill a “kid-friendly neighborhood.”
In the cul-de-sacs off Issaquah’s Northwest Oakcrest Drive, she says, children ride their bikes, teens play basketball and parents push babies in strollers.
But getting to and from the neighborhood can be dangerous, she said.
On June 26, 4-year-old Haochen Xu, who lived kitty-corner to Miller, was struck by a car while crossing Northwest Oakcrest and Newport Way Northwest at the crosswalk in an intersection leading into the Summerhill neighborhood. The boy’s mother was walking behind him, pushing his bike, according to Issaquah police.
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Xu was taken to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, where he died the next day.
The driver, a 67-year-old woman from Klahanie, stopped and cooperated with the police. The accident is still under investigation by the Washington State Patrol.
Residents of Summerhill say the intersection has been a danger for decades.
The crosswalk at Newport Way Northwest and Oakcrest Drive is bookended by two curves and shaded by large trees, making it difficult for drivers to see when traveling at — or above — the 40-mph speed limit, residents say. The only walking path is across the street from the Summerhill entrance, meaning residents have to use the crosswalk to leave their neighborhood on foot.
Summerhill residents have asked the city of Issaquah for improvements to the intersection before, and received some — like a lighted walking path and lighted pedestrian crossing signs. Xu’s death, they say, makes it clear that the crossing still isn’t safe.
The lighted walking path was installed across the street from Oakcrest Drive, and in 2012 city engineers reviewed the street and added additional flashing lights to the signs and reflective markers at the crosswalk. The 40-mph speed limit was not changed.
“Once the child passed away, people became very upset about what had happened,” Miller said. “There are so many families in the neighborhood that have young children that people think, ‘This could have been my child.’ ”
Miller’s first thought was of her 11-month-old son, Nathan, who just learned to walk, and the dangers he might face when he is older. The day after the accident, she started an online petition, asking that the city lower the speed limit on Newport Way Northwest or install speed bumps, a stop sign or a traffic light at the intersection. She got more than 1,000 signatures in 10 days.
On Monday, Miller and her neighbors went to an Issaquah City Council meeting to speak about the need for traffic improvements at the intersection.
Summerhill resident Troy Scholzen told the council he was walking his two service dogs at the intersection one morning in 2012 when a truck came hurtling toward him at full speed. He had time to jump back, but his two dogs were crushed in front of him.
“In the neighborhood, we all knew it was only a matter of time before a child was going to be hit,” Scholzen said.
City Council President Paul Winterstein and Mayor Fred Butler say the neighbors’ comments had emotional impact.
“They were all heard,” said Winterstein.
Hart Sugarman, who has lived in Summerhill for 19 years, says he has asked the city to address dangers at the intersection at least four times since 2007.
“We’ve done all of these things and we’ve seen it doesn’t work,” Sugarman said. “We cannot change the geography, but we can change the speed.”
Butler says the city will be responsive to the “heartfelt” concerns of Summerhill residents. In the past, the city has taken the action it “thought was appropriate” at the intersection, he said.
On Wednesday, Butler and other city leaders decided to review all 530 intersections in Issaquah. They plan to hire an outside consultant to help in the review and propose improvements in the 2016 budget. All factors, including speed, will be considered, Butler said.
If an intersection is found to need improvement, the work could be expedited before next year.
“I heard a number of specific requests from their testimony, and I believe we’re moving forward,” Butler said. “What this is helping us do is focus on a community concern … and make improvements as warranted.”
He plans to call a community meeting to discuss pedestrian safety by early August.
Tina Conforti lives next-door to the parents of Haochen Xu. The little boy was at her house almost every day, she says. She misses him dearly.
“We need to move ahead and have something change,” Conforti said. “We cannot recoup the loss, but we can probably work not to have any more little kids die on that corner.”