Fatal accidents in crosswalks lead to lessons

Judi Moore was driving through Shoreline, on her way back from the dentist, when two girls entered a crosswalk on 15th Avenue Northeast, a busy four-lane street. Wanting to do the right thing, she stopped.

As the girls strolled by, another driver passed on the right and struck them. Moore watched as 11-year-old Tia Townsend landed 59 feet away, dead. The other girl, whose arm was broken, crab-walked out of the road.

Moore still brakes for pedestrians, but whenever she passes that corner, she wonders if she made the wrong move that morning in March even though she obeyed the law.

"Actually, I'm trying to forget that day. It's been horrendous," she said.

Safety experts and police call these "multiple-threat" crossings, places that look safe but turn pedestrians into sitting ducks.

About pedestrian safety

• The T.I.A. (Traffic Intersection Awareness) Foundation:

• Feet First, a Seattle-area pedestrian advocacy group:

• City of Shoreline newsletter on 15th Avenue Northeast planning:
www.cityofshoreline.com/uploads/ attachments/Currents8-02.pdf

They are one reason why 4,700 pedestrians a year die in the United States, part of an overall traffic body count of 42,000.

"If we lost 114 people a day in terrorist attacks, what would be the response of this country?" wonders John Miner, a Redmond police lieutenant. "We as a society have sort of accepted traffic accidents, injuries and resulting insurance costs as a fact of life."

Pedestrian deaths have declined 27 percent since 1990, federal data show. Possible reasons include greater vigilance by parents over their children, and people walking less than they used to, researchers say.

But the death toll is still unacceptable, says Tia's father, David Townsend. Obsessed with saving other families from the same hell, he has created the T.I.A. (Traffic Intersection Awareness) Foundation to promote pedestrian safety. He hopes to speak to driver-education classes around the country.

Townsend converted his daughter's room into a research office where he works until 1:30 a.m. in front of the computer, Pearl Jam playing in the background and Tia's artwork on the walls, as he compiles databases and reads reports. Afterward, he needs four hours to fall asleep.

"A lot of it is nightmares. A lot of it is missing my daughter," he said.

He learned that three other pedestrians have died at the same intersection in the past five years. The driver who hit Tia, 82-year-old Arthur Pedersen, was fined $490 for negligent driving, a misdemeanor.

On July 31, a young Seattle man died crossing four-lane 35th Avenue Northeast in Seattle.

After two Redmond city employees were killed in a crosswalk in 1997, police devised decoy operations in which plainclothes officers step into crosswalks. It's hazardous duty.

"We've seen drivers flip them off, yell profanities, accelerate in front of and behind the pedestrians, all sorts of behavior," Miner said.

Compliance is improving, he said, but more than half the drivers break the law that requires them to stop when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk.

According to a recent Federal Highway Administration study, marked crosswalks actually increase the danger to pedestrians on streets that carry more than 10,000 cars a day.

Shoreline's 15th Avenue Northeast carries 18,000 cars a day, Townsend found out.

The city added overhead yellow flashers after Tia died, but that's not enough, Townsend said.

The federal study suggests additional safeguards are needed. Those include flickering lights in the pavement, which Kirkland uses, and raised medians and refuges such as those on Northeast Eighth Street in Bellevue.

Moore and Townsend both say the corner where Tia died, at 15th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 170th Street, needs a stoplight.

Shoreline Mayor Scott Jepsen says the city is studying traffic safety as part of a pending redesign of the North City area, along 15th. Townsend accuses the city of stalling.

So if you're a driver, and you see a pedestrian waiting at these risky locations, what should you do?

Stop 30 feet before reaching the crosswalk, Townsend says.

Doing so will provide better sight lines for other drivers so they notice the pedestrians. It also will give the walkers more time and space to react if a car doesn't stop.

The city of Kirkland agrees and will soon install experimental stop lines several feet before crosswalks.

Townsend hopes that "maybe instead of being a me, me, me society, we can start looking out for other people."

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com.