Even before Maria Banda was fatally injured by a hit-and-run driver while crossing Northeast 125th Street with her husband, residents in Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood had been asking for pedestrian improvements along the busy arterial.
Now, as they mourn the loss of a community member — at least the second traffic-related death in the area in six months — the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) says it’s “fast-tracking” the neighborhood’s repeated requests for action.
At the intersection of 28th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 125th Street, where the King County Metro has a Route 41 bus stop, there is no marked crosswalk or pedestrian signals to help people get to the Lake City branch of the Seattle City Library or the Lake City Community Center.
Banda, 77, and her husband, Agustin, also 77, got off the bus and were walking to the community center around 9 a.m. Sept. 30 when a driver of what may have been a white sedan hit the couple, knocking them to the ground before taking off, police said. Officers are still searching for the suspect.
The Bandas were transported to Harborview Medical Center. Agustin was treated and released the same day but still has bruises to his face. Maria Banda died Oct. 6 from internal injuries.
The affectionate matriarch Maria was described by friends and family as a touchstone for those around her. She had a warm, calm and engaged presence and was known for her delicious cooking, creative bead-working, and new interest in dancing and yoga.
“She was always someone who remembered everyone,” said her granddaughter, Marcela Banda, 22. When she would travel to Mexico, where the couple was originally from, she would always take small gifts with her and bring items back for everyone, Marcela Banda said.
More than 100 people gathered Monday for a vigil honoring her life, recounting her dedication and care for others.
Pedestrians must walk to either 27th Avenue Northeast or 30th Avenue Northeast to cross 125th Street in a marked crosswalk to get to the library and community center, where Maria and Agustin frequently went to socialize and learn English language skills.
“Every intersection is a crosswalk, even if it is not marked as one,” said Janine Blaeloch, a co-leader of the Lake City Greenways, a safe-streets advocacy group.
“People are going to take the most convenient path to get from point A to point B,” and the intersection at 28th Avenue Northeast is a natural crossing for the area, which receives heavy pedestrian traffic, Blaeloch said.
Safety has long been a concern for people living in and visiting Lake City.
In a survey of 174 randomly selected residents, “lack of and condition of sidewalks and dangerous crossings/fast traffic were a common complaint,” according to the Imagine Lake City Together Neighborhood Planning Project. Of 1,400 Lake City land parcels surveyed by volunteers in 2017, 59% did not have a sidewalk.
The Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee selected a project to install crosswalks along Northeast 125th Street at 12th, 28th and 35th avenues, for funding as part of the Neighborhood Street Fund (NSF) program for the 2019-2021 program cycle.
Design would have started in 2020 and construction underway in 2021. Now, the project is being pushed ahead for construction in 2020.
“This was already a high priority intersection for us, and we prioritized advancing the timeline after the recent collision,” SDOT spokesman Ethan Bergerson said by text message.
Another pedestrian, Jesse Gurnett, 32, was killed on Lake City Way Northeast and Northeast 127th Street on March 29 of this year, according to SDOT data.
“NE 125th has long stretches between cross streets with stop lights, and yet it has bus stops along it where bus riders are crossing the arterial to get to and from the bus,” according to one comment posted in support of the crosswalk project.
The NSF program and the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods’ Your Voice, Your Choice program give members of the community the opportunity to leverage neighborhood knowledge and propose projects, but Blaeloch said the process can be frustrating for groups who have to compete against each other for basic safety needs.
Residents of City Council District 5, which includes Lake City, submitted 57 project requests, the most among all council districts, pitting some projects within the district against each other for resources.
Seattle City Councilmember Debora Juarez, who represents District 5, said in a statement that her “constituents repeatedly asked for a crosswalk and pedestrian signal at this intersection.” Some people in the neighborhood, however, said those requests went ignored until recently.
“Every traffic death is preventable. I am committed to keeping our pedestrians safe and will do everything I can to prevent anyone else from being injured or killed on our streets,” Juarez said.
Data show Seattle is far from meeting its stated Vision Zero goal of eliminating all traffic-related deaths and injuries by 2030.
“Conditions have grown worse,” Blaeloch said, “especially for pedestrians and vulnerable road users,” like Maria and Agustin Banda.
Editor’s note: Out of concern for those involved in this story and their loved ones, the comment thread has been removed.