Tragedy spurs road safety changes in Wedgwood

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SEATTLE — There have been more than 100 accidents along a one-mile stretch of northeast 75th since 2009. One of the most devastating happened in March, when Karina Schulte was hit as she tried to cross the street with her in-laws and newborn son. She and her son were seriously hurt. Her in-laws died.

schulte1Soon after, the city began holding community meetings to find out why the street was so dangerous.

“We had three engagement sessions with the community,” says traffic engineer Dongho Chang. “Some of the things we received was turning left was really stressful. And our collision data showed that was a concern.”

Speeding was also a concern. So was visibility, because of all the parked cars in the area. Crews will be making changes starting next week. There will now be one travel lane in each direction, and a center lane for left turns. Parking won’t be allowed except at Eckstein Middle School. Speed zone cameras will also go in at the school.

“What we found out was the speeds were almost 37 mph too high at a location where children are around.”

But even if those measures were in place, it might not have prevented the accident involving the Schultes. They were hit by a suspect who was on probation for drinking and driving at the time. An ignition interlock device had not been installed on his truck, even though he had received a fifth DUI arrest months before.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law last month to crack down on repeat offenders. And on Tuesday, the state’s DUI Task Force met in Olympia to discuss other ways to make our streets safer.

“Washington doesn’t have sobriety checkpoints,” says Shelly Baldwin of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. “We know that they would be very effective at reducing fatality rates.”

Another idea discussed was allowing officers to file DUI reports electronically, so they don’t lose time away from patrols. Those ideas will continue to be discussed, so the task force can work toward its goals of zero deaths by 2030.

In the meantime, the city of Seattle will implement the engineering changes in the Wedgwood neighborhood. They hope to finish by Sept. 4, the first day of school.

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