Seattle traffic-safety advocates press for more school-zone spending in city’s proposed transportation levy.
A friend of mine has been spending a lot of time looking at pedestrian safety around schools. Like so many aspects of getting from A to B around here, it’s not good enough.
Rapid growth meeting insufficient infrastructure is frustrating, dangerous and expensive to fix. And just about everyone has horror stories and a list of priorities: bike lanes, pothole fixes, parking, faster routes, safer speeds, better transit, more lanes for cars.
The friend I mentioned, Cathy Tuttle, is a big supporter of walking and biking and for the moment is focused on school-zone safety. Tuttle is co-founder and executive director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, a coalition of volunteers in more than 20 neighborhoods who advocate for safe streets for everyone. I know her as a mom, but she also has a Ph.D. in urban planning and design from the University of Washington.
She wanted to show me what she’s concerned about, so last week, she picked me up in her car and we drove to 32nd Avenue South and South Orcas Street, a short walk from Dearborn Park Elementary School in Southeast Seattle.
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We walked around the neighborhood, and she pointed out places where children walking between home and school might be at risk. Her goal is to get the city to spend more of the money from a proposed transportation levy on safety measures near schools.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has proposed a $930 million transportation levy for this fall that includes projects from mass-transit improvements to bridges. It started out as a nine-year, $900 million levy, but the mayor added $30 million after surveying residents and finding them supportive of a whole bunch of stuff. And it could keep on going up because there’s almost no end to what’s needed, but of course there is a limit to what people will pay for.
City Councilmember Nick Licata put forth his own tweak to the proposal, suggesting that about a third of the cost be moved from property taxes to a mix of taxes on businesses.
We’re into the public-comment period now, so you get to have a say in what will be on the ballot.
For her part, Tuttle says there’s lots of good and necessary stuff in the levy proposal, and she doesn’t want to mess with that. She’s suggesting the city maybe move just a bit from here to there, and look for more ways to leverage spending on some other priorities where there might be money from the state or federal governments.
The plan already does some of that under safe routes to school, which would get $7 million from the levy, likely matched by an estimated $7 million from other sources.
Tuttle’s group focused on the safety needs around 28 elementary schools, where at least half the students qualify for free lunch. She said more children in those neighborhoods are likely to walk alone because parents are working or don’t have cars. They believe at least $40 million is needed to make the worst areas safer.
She said nearly 84 percent of Dearborn Park’s students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.
There were no sidewalks on the street where we parked, a common problem in Seattle. Sometimes children have to walk in the streets, especially getting around parked cars and other obstacles.
Each year in Seattle there are about 450 pedestrian-vehicle collisions, according to the city’s pedestrian master plan.
Tuttle showed me a couple of busy intersections children must cross. Cars are supposed to stop when pedestrians want to cross but often don’t.
The group enlisted two University of Washington students to monitor crossings and record whether cars stopped for pedestrians or not. Most of the time drivers didn’t comply with the state law that requires them to stop.
At Wallingford Avenue North and North 43rd Street, near Hamilton Middle School, 34 percent of drivers stopped. That’s about average nationally and was the highest compliance in the local study of school walk zones.
The intersection of Northwest 58th Street and 14th Avenue Northwest near St. Alphonsus Parish Elementary School in Ballard was lowest, with 15 percent of drivers making a full stop and about 39 percent a rolling stop.
Those schools aren’t in the targeted areas, but studies elsewhere have found compliance tends to be worse in poorer and minority areas.
Tuttle said adding speed tables (raised crosswalks) and rapid flashing beacons can improve compliance.
Safe streets are a health issue in more ways than one, she said. Across the U.S., the percentage of students who walk or bike to school has been dropping since the 1970s, even as more children are overweight.
Walking and biking to school should be safe choices for more children in all neighborhoods, Tuttle said. Prosperous parents often opt to drive their children. Tuttle said she enjoyed walking her son to school in their Wallingford neighborhood. It was fun and good exercise, too.
The organization is gathering signatures on a petition available online, along with detailed proposals for making school walk zones safer.
The city can’t solve every transportation problem at once, but doing a little more to make streets safer for children and adults too would be well worth the effort.