The two friends, ages 10 and 9, were rushing west against a red signal across five-lane Rainier Avenue South when they were struck.
Seattle Mayor Durkan has heeded a community outcry after two girls in the Rainier Beach neighborhood were injured by a car Aug. 9, by ordering safer walk signals and a crackdown on speeding there.
The two friends, ages 10 and 9, were rushing west against a red signal on South Henderson Street across five-lane Rainier Avenue South — a former state highway that passes four schools and a public swimming pool near the intersection.
A crash per day occurs in the southern Rainier corridor, double the rate of other major arterials, city data show.
That includes 61 crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists in the 1.8-mile stretch from Hillman City to Rainier Beach, during 46 months ending October 2014.
Traffic-slowing proposals raise the perennial question: Whom are Seattle streets meant to serve?
Neighbors plead for safer walking conditions, while about 30,000 vehicles per day use the Henderson and Rainier intersection.
When the transportation department reduces lanes and speeds on arterials — as done on Rainier farther north in the Columbia City area — frustrations build among drivers who pass through. Some divert onto other streets.
Durkan visited the intersection Saturday to endorse installation of automatic traffic cameras by the time school starts Sept. 5 to enforce the existing 20 mph school-zone limit. Drivers would be fined $234 for speeding while lights flash yellow, before and after school.
At other times of day the limit is 30 mph, but drivers often speed to 40 mph when open lane space presents itself.
Technicians adjusted intersection signals Monday, to give pedestrians a three- to seven-second head start before cars gain their green light. That puts people into clearer view of right-turning drivers. Signal times might be eased soon to give people more time to cross all five lanes, said Dongho Chang, city traffic engineer.
A provisional “curb bulb” was painted Tuesday at the northwest corner. That way, only one lane of Henderson continues across Rainier east to west — rather than two lanes whose drivers compete to “merge” where Henderson narrows alongside South Shore K-8 school.
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) was already planning these safety improvements, but moved faster after the girls were hit, Chang said.
“What happened was an incredible tragedy for the children, for the family, for the people they knew and loved,” Durkan told community and walk-bike activists on Saturday. “We the city have to stand up, take notice, and make sure we’re doing all we can to make every community safer.”
During the mayor’s talk, an elderly man with a cane couldn’t make it across Henderson before his walk signal expired. A driver rolled past him two feet away. Others ran a left-turn signal, or sped through the crosswalks.
A third girl was injured there in May, said Rainier Beach High School science teacher Jennifer Goldman. “It was the day before Ramadan. She explained to the students what Ramadan meant to her, and an hour later she was at Harborview.”
The crash Aug. 9 remains under investigation. Just after 1 p.m. the two girls crossed Rainier without a walk signal, police said, when a Hyundai struck them going south with a green light.
“I heard the sound, and I saw the girl go flying,” said witness Amar Komi, who was at a nearby auto-detail shop. One girl lay motionless face down, while the other landed near a curbside bus shelter, bystander video shows.
A third girl who stayed on the sidewalk cried afterward and mentioned, “I told them not to cross,” according to Komi. The driver had a girl in her car the same age, and they got out and cried too, he said.
One girl is recovering in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center, while the other was released for outpatient therapy, one of their mothers said on social media.
SDOT’s intersection tweaks won’t necessarily prevent this type of crash. Officials say education is needed.
“People do make mistakes, even going against a light,” said Susan Gleason, spokeswoman for Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. “Still, that intersection needs to be a place where the speeds are slow enough, for awareness of people on foot, on bicycles, wheelchairs, that there won’t be fatalities or serious injuries.”
A person hit at 20 mph has a 90 percent chance to survive. The chances of survival drop to only 50 percent at 40 mph.
Earlier this year, some activists accused Durkan of neglecting safety when she postponed a Fourth Avenue bike lane until 2021. A man at her speech held a sign, “We need a mayor not a delayer.”
Three years ago the city proposed a Rainier safety makeover from Hillman City to Rainier Beach, scheduled for this year but postponed until 2019. The leading option depicts one traffic lane each way, a two-way left-turn lane, and a northbound bus lane, but no bicycle lanes.
Phyllis Porter, a longtime Rainier Valley safety advocate, suggests a “walk all ways” signal for Rainier and Henderson, to protect transit users. “You see people that are always running, trying to catch the bus,” she said.
But Chang said all-walk isn’t suitable for such a heavily trafficked area. The waits between green lights would be so long that people would walk or drive before their turn, he said.
SDOT is studying whether to ban right turns on red there. When drivers look for gaps in traffic, they nose into the crosswalks and block people.
The Rainier-Henderson junction is safe if you cross carefully, said Alicia Goosby, a volunteer who led two dozen kids to a bus stop Friday morning.
“We have a mentor in front of the group, and another behind the group, to make sure everybody is crossing in a timely fashion, so we can get across the road as quickly as possible,” Goosby said.
For years SDOT has introduced safety adjustments, notably three crosswalks with amber flashers between the schools and family apartments, plus lane reductions on Henderson, said South Shore principal Justin Hendrickson.
Still, some drivers zip across lane lines to bypass kids, and even crossing guards, he said.
“Like anywhere, we want our kids to be safe.”