A couple of times each week, Scott Jones gets a pack of cigarettes from Tobacco Street on Aurora Avenue North near North 141st Street.

He takes a break from his work as a salesman at Hyundai of Seattle on the other side of the road and crosses Aurora. The nearest marked crosswalks are a few blocks north at North 145th Street or a few blocks south at North 135th Street. So he waits until it’s clear both ways and hurries across. 

Sometimes, “that leaves me standing in the median for a minute before it’s safe,” he said, chatting along the side of Aurora on Thursday afternoon.

“A few more crosswalks would be helpful,” Jones, 58, said.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, Kemper Development Co., Madrona Venture Group, NHL Seattle, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company and Seattle Children’s hospital. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

A crash Wednesday night that killed a woman on Aurora has renewed calls for safety improvements on the busy thoroughfare. 

A driver struck and killed the 58-year-old woman as she tried to cross Aurora at North 137th Street around 6 p.m., according to police. Police said the driver did not exhibit signs of impairment. 

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Aurora Avenue North ranks among the routes in Seattle with the highest number of crashes, according to city data. About 71,000 drivers a day travel Aurora near the Aurora Bridge; 33,000 a day drive the stretch farther north near North 145th Street, according to the state.

The city and state have both pledged to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries on city streets by 2030. However, in Seattle, the number of serious injuries and deaths has remained roughly stagnant in recent years. 

The death Wednesday was the eighth fatal or serious-injury crash on Aurora this year, according to preliminary city data. The two deaths were pedestrians. Last year, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) recorded 15 serious injury and fatality crashes on the road, eight of them involving pedestrians. 

The King County Medical Examiner identified the woman killed Wednesday as Cynthia Cantrill.

Cantrill previously worked as a social worker and was a “human rights advocate, to say the least,” said her son, Jesse Seibert, 33. Cantrill, who was experiencing homelessness in recent years, was passionate about immigrant rights and homelessness and was once a member of AmeriCorps and the Green Party, Seibert said. “She always helped anybody she came into contact with,” he said. “She was very non-judgmental.”

Seibert said he grew up on Aurora. “I’m 100% aware how dangerous that road is,” he said. “Running across Aurora was an everyday thing I had to do my entire life.” The area needs better lighting, more sidewalks and a traffic signal and crosswalk near North 137th, Seibert said.

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Dozens of people cross Aurora each day to get to a business, restaurant, school or senior living facility, said Pam Lim, 30. She grew up working at her family’s establishment, Aurora Donuts near North 135th Street, and watches from the front window as pedestrians, especially seniors, cross the busy arterial.

Many are using wheelchairs or walkers and some are carrying oxygen tanks, Lim said.

“A few more steps for us is a lot for them,” she said. “If they’re lucky, people will wait for them. But sometimes, it’s dark, visibility is not there, and they nearly get hit.”

A few weeks ago, Nicole Viator, a barista at Gourmet Latte Espresso Drive-Thru, said she saw several police cars stopped along Aurora a few blocks up from North 135th Street. Several customers told her a man in a wheelchair had been hit.

“You get used to it, when you see it so much,” said Viator, 24.

Lim said brighter streetlights would make her feel safer as a pedestrian along Aurora. Brandon Cruz, a front desk receptionist at Lee’s Automotive Collision Repair, said flashing yellow lights at pedestrian crossings would “make people more aware.”

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“We see a lot of crashes here,” said Cruz, 21, who has been working at Lee’s for about two years.

To improve safety, Aurora needs lower speeds, more crosswalks and sidewalks, and eventually fewer lanes of traffic, said Lee Bruch, a longtime advocate for safety in the area.

“The city and the state have known that Aurora is horribly dangerous for the last 20 years,” Bruch said. 

As part of its preliminary planning for new light rail and rapid bus service to North Seattle, the city created a list of potential improvements for walking and biking, based on public feedback. The list included better crossings of Aurora at North 137th, where Cantrill was killed this week, and at several other cross streets. The projects are not yet funded.

Although SDOT has made some improvements this year, advocates for street safety say the process has been slow. 

SDOT has added a new signal on Aurora at North 92nd Street, updated crossings at North 83rd Street and added new curb ramps and other improvements at North 125th and North 130th. Last year, SDOT promised $2 million in spot improvements and traffic calming over two years as well as a process for designing more safety projects.

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The agency requested a $1.5 million grant from the state to fund design of sidewalk and crossing improvements along Aurora between Roy Street and North 145th Street, but it’s not clear whether the city will receive that money, said spokesperson Ethan Bergerson in an email. SDOT estimates the cost to complete the full sidewalk network on Aurora at between $25 million and $30 million.

Aurora represents a special set of bureaucratic hurdles because the route is also a state highway and the city and state both have some jurisdiction. Under state law and an agreement between the state and cities, the state is responsible for the road’s pavement and shoulders while the city is responsible for crosswalks and sidewalks.

When Seattle announced last year it would lower city speed limits on arterials, SDOT officials said Aurora wouldn’t see a change right away because the city needed permission from the state to lower speeds there. The speed limit on Aurora varies and is 40 mph northward from North 115th Street.

Officials still have not lowered speeds on Aurora. The city and state are “planning concurrent speed studies” on the road but are having trouble establishing baseline speeds because the pandemic has decreased traffic, said Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) spokesperson Bart Treece. 

Seattle’s traffic engineer “has been in discussions” with WSDOT on lowering speed limits on state routes in phases, Bergerson said, but he did not provide a timeline of when those changes will occur.

State Sens. Reuven Carlyle and David Frockt, whose districts border Aurora, both said the route would be a high priority for state lawmakers next session but did not offer specific proposals for improvements funded by the state. Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who chairs the council’s transportation committee, cited improvements already made by SDOT.