The numbers confirm what residents of Rainier Valley have known anecdotally for years. Of the 168 times a light-rail train has hit a car, pedestrian or object since 2009, 136 of them were on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Eight people were killed in that 4-mile corridor.

King County Metro calls the risk of people or cars getting hit by light rail in the MLK Way corridor an “undesirable” hazard.

Undesirable is what you would call losing your car keys or missing an appointment — not getting hit by a train. A better way to describe that experience would be devastating, catastrophic and, too often, deadly.

Makalah Streeter knows this all too well. 

Streeter was crossing Othello Street in South Seattle on May 19 when she was hit by a train and dragged under it. She was left in critical condition and taken to Harborview, where she has been since.

From her hospital room last week, Streeter told me the collision broke a number of bones in her leg, ribs, nose and arm, fractured her skull, caused brain bleeding and left her unconscious for several days, among other injuries.

Streeter, 37, wasn’t even there to take the train; she was just crossing the street from her house on one side of MLK to get to the Safeway on the other, as she did frequently. 


Streeter readily acknowledges that she was using her phone at the time of the collision, but this is about more than a simple mistake. This is about a problem with the light-rail system. The accident was predictable.

As my colleague Mike Lindblom exhaustively reported in his story last week on the city’s “most dangerous light-rail stretch,” the MLK corridor’s surface-level tracks plus busy pedestrian and car traffic are a dangerous combination. 

At the Othello station in particular, the hazards are unsurprising. You have a mix of several huge apartment buildings, a shopping strip, bank, a grocery store, a park, eight lanes of traffic going in every direction and four crosswalks all next to surface-level train tracks carrying hulking pieces of metal that take many feet to come to a stop.

The danger of surface-level light rail has long been a source of anger and frustration for Rainier Valley. Dating back to the late ’90s, the Save Our Valley campaign pushed to protect the richly diverse community of immigrants and people of color from the impact of light-rail displacement on small businesses as well as advocate for an overhead or buried line to protect the safety of the community. Now, over 20 years later, a lot of what was feared has come to pass.

If you’ve lived in Rainier Valley a long time, the joy of being in one of the most economically and racially diverse parts of the city is tempered by the feeling that your community is often treated as second-tier.

Every other heavily populated area had their light-rail lines elevated or buried, but that was deemed not worth the cost in our community. Even in Sodo, where there is a short stretch of surface-level tracks, the three on-grade crossings have audible signals, grade crossing gates and flashing lights, none of which we have in Rainier Valley. 


And the prevalent attitude that getting hit by the train is the person’s own fault just adds to the community’s pain.

After the story on light-rail crashes came out last week, a huge number of comments were along the lines of these two: “People are too stupid to be alive. Plain and simple….” and “Just let Darwin deal with it. Survival of the fittest.” Others blamed the neighborhood itself, “When you’re in a bad area those things are bound to happen.”

But show me a person who has never made a mistake when they were driving, walking or biking. Show me a person who has never gone over the speed limit or never crossed against a light. Humans are by nature fallible, and it’s the responsibility of those who design our infrastructure to mitigate against inevitable human mistakes – as they have done in other parts of the city. For MLK Way, future mitigations could include left-turn blocking gates, push-through pedestrian gates that would remind users of the train tracks or pedestrian gates that raise. 

Any future mitigation on MLK Way is too late for Streeter, though. She is happy to be alive and grateful for the support of the community, but is facing a long recovery. Streeter is now relearning how to walk a bit with a walker, though was still not allowed to get out of bed by herself, she said. She doesn’t know what’s next for her, and the uncertainty is emotionally challenging.

“It’s a whole game-changer for your life. … It’s deeply affected me. I’ve lost the use of my body,” she said. “It’s not a walk in the park. And for some people, that’s their last walk.” 

Editor’s note: The comment thread on this story has been closed to new submissions because too many recent comments were violating our Code of Conduct.