Benjamin Gedeon never made it back to work from his lunch break on Nov. 3, 2018.
After walking across Division Street to pick up something to eat, he was heading back to his job at Royals Cannabis when a Honda Element struck him and threw him “approximately 51 feet,” according to a lawsuit filed last week against the city of Spokane and the driver.
Gedeon survived, but not without sustaining serious injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, a right subdural hematoma and a skull fracture, the lawsuit says.
The 22-year-old was hospitalized, intubated for a week and had part of his skull removed. He underwent “intensive inpatient rehabilitation due to difficulty eating, significant cognitive problems, balance problems, and difficulty with activities of daily living,” according to the complaint filed June 21. He underwent a second surgery but has struggled with ongoing “cognitive and emotional problems as a result of the traumatic brain injury,” the complaint claims.
What happened to Gedeon, his lawyers allege in their complaint, was not his fault. After all, they say, he was “a pedestrian lawfully crossing in a marked crosswalk.”
He’d made it to the median after crossing Division’s three northbound lanes, the lawsuit says, and he waited for southbound traffic to stop before he went the rest of the way. Or at least he thought he did.
First, a pickup slowed to a stop in the inside lane. Then a second vehicle did the same in the outside lane.
“Mr. Gedeon made eye contact with both drivers and entered the marked crosswalk to cross the southbound lanes of Division Street,” the lawsuit says.
The driver of the Element kept going down the middle lane and when Gedeon reached it, the car hit him.
Gedeon’s suit accuses the driver of the Element of negligently failing to yield. It also argues the city of Spokane “negligently failed to provide a reasonably safe pedestrian crossing at Rhoades Avenue and Division Street.”
“Due to its inadequate design, maintenance and unsafe operation, the midblock crossing of Division Street at Rhoades Avenue is inherently dangerous for use by pedestrians,” the lawsuit says.
Marlene Feist, the city’s public works director, said Friday the city hadn’t yet been served with the lawsuit and that the city’s legal team “will review the information” when it does. She did not comment further.
The design of the crossing in question includes a striped crosswalk that snakes across Division, between Rhoades and Weile avenues.
But Gedeon’s lawsuit argues it’s what the crosswalk lacked that made it dangerous: a pedestrian-activated flashing beacon.
When a consultant prepared a study of pedestrian crossings on Division in 2008, the lawsuit notes, it stressed the importance of including such signals to alert drivers to exactly the kind of situation that unfolded Nov. 3, 2018, when the Element’s driver was apparently unaware of Gedeon’s presence.
“Crossings of high volume multilane roadways should be confined to signalized intersections wherever possible,” the authors of the 2008 study wrote.
At the time, no crosswalk existed between Rhoades and Weile. While the study recommended one be added, the lawsuit says, it “specifically recommended that ‘pedestrian actuated beacons’ be included in the design.”
The city did add the Rhoades crossing but never put in a pedestrian beacon despite a history of cars crashing into pedestrians after the crosswalk was installed.
Gedeon’s lawsuit cites four such incidents that have occurred since the crossing was added in 2012, including a 2016 collision that killed a 60-year-old woman walking across the street.
Those are far from the only instances of cars hitting pedestrians in Spokane.
Already this year in the city of Spokane, 35 collisions have involved pedestrians and bicyclists, one of whom was killed and eight of whom incurred “suspected serious injuries,” according to Washington State Department of Transportation data.
Last year, with fewer cars, bikes and pedestrians on the streets than usual, 123 such incidents occurred. They resulted in eight deaths and 27 serious injuries.
In 2019, 143 pedestrians were involved in accidents. Three were killed and 20 incurred suspected serious injuries.
Gedeon was one of 163 pedestrians hit in the city in 2018. Four pedestrians died that year, and 24 were suspected of being seriously injured.
Over the past six years or so, Spokane has made progress on adding pedestrian beacons around the city, with plans to add more.
The city of Spokane is also working with a host of other jurisdictions and agencies, including the Spokane Transit Authority and the Spokane Regional Transportation Council, to make wholesale changes to Division Street, reimagining the corridor as a stretch of the city that’s more friendly to public transit and pedestrians.
Those behind the study, called Division Connects, recently selected an alignment for a proposed bus rapid transit that will run in lanes reserved almost exclusively for them, with cars only allowed to enter when turning into or out of a business.
While STA moves toward selecting a consultant and beginning design of the bus line, work on the Division Connects study will continue, according to one of its leaders, Jason Lien, principal transportation planner for SRTC.
As they move toward completing the study early next year, Lien said he and his colleagues will begin to focus increasingly on “specific crossings and pedestrians facilities,” especially as they relate to the proposed rapid-transit stations.
Lien said the planners involved are hoping to hear from those in the community who “have safety concerns” or know of opportunities for improvement.
Gedeon’s lawsuit points out one opportunity.