Kent must do more to protect pedestrians

A mother who was walking with her two young children in a stroller was killed in a downtown Kent crosswalk last November.

It was midday and she had the walk signal, but the driver sped through the intersection and dragged her 35 feet in an intersection described as so dangerous, the nearby clinic warns patients about it: “… This intersection is horribly dangerous, we’ve almost been hit ourselves. … the clinic has warned patients in the past about the intersection, and some nurses have been given reflective clothing as a safety measure for crossing the street.”

On Feb. 24, another person crossing a street in Kent was killed: “A city of Kent employee was arrested after a pedestrian was killed trying to cross the road at 108th Avenue Southeast and Southeast 204th Street. … A man in his mid-70s was trying to cross the intersection about 6 p.m. Saturday when he was struck. Police say the victim was dragged about 200 feet and died instantly.”

For this area as well, neighbors identified the safety concerns of the high-speed, high-traffic street: “People who live in the area say there needs to be safety improvements too…There is no crosswalk at the intersection, even with a bus stop right there. … It’s hard for us to get through,” a woman said. “My God, I just took the bus an hour ago, that could’ve been me. Or anybody.”

As someone who walks and jogs, alone and with my child, I often notice the dangerous car and pedestrian interactions that occur throughout Kent. The recent fatal crashes are tragic, and in both cases there were serious driver errors that contributed. However, we can work to prevent these crashes can with additional analysis of these intersections and other high-risk areas of Kent.

Over the last five years, by looking at crash data, you can see trends start to emerge. Several major arterials, along with the downtown core, are where the most of these incidents occur. Combinations of several factors can contribute to higher risk for pedestrians. Often there are no crosswalks in places where a pedestrian would naturally cross due to bus stops, or a major destination.

On main arterials there are higher speeds, and the roads are optimized for vehicle traffic only. On many major streets in Kent and even ones that connect bus lines, there are no sidewalks. I often see people walking on the shoulder off the busy stretch of 132nd Avenue Southeast near a large Sikh temple, for example. Most serious crashes occur during the darkest months of the year – but the city could provide better lighting or other high visibility signage or signals.

I believe due to the growth of the city and region it is necessary for the city to take concrete actions to protect all citizens of Kent – including those who walk, run and bike – particularly in areas where the most vulnerable in our city are getting around to school, transportation and shopping.

Kent-Meridian High School is along a high volume area with poor pedestrian support where kids cross daily, often to get to local fast food and stores across the street. Additional crosswalk points, better lighting, reduced speeds, better managed traffic and signaling would make this high-risk school zone area safer.

Many much-needed sidewalks connecting transportation lines are not currently funded. We need to look at where pedestrian crashes are occurring (often consistently for many years) and prioritize those changes before another fatal crash occurs.

– Allison Hopstad

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