Dangers of Aurora, part 2: Safety Project will benefit pedestrians

Aurora Traffic Safety ProjectAs we saw in part 1, Aurora is a dangerous highway, especially for pedestrians. The Aurora Traffic Safety Project is making Aurora safer for all users through a three-pronged approach of engineering, enforcement, and education.

There is only $250,000 available for engineering improvements along Aurora, so “getting word out is a critical piece” of the plan according to project manager Jim Curtin. Because many pedestrian collisions are caused by inattentive drivers who fail to yield the right of way, the tag line of the project is “Expect the Unexpected.” “We want people to be ready for anything at any time,” says Curtin.

New billboards on the corridor remind people to slow down and watch for pedestrians. Also, five radar speed signs will remind drivers how fast they are going. This method can lower speeds in these targeted areas by 3-5 miles per hour according to studies referenced by SDOT.

STOP for Pedestrians billboard design

Billboard to remind drivers to be careful

There are also pedestrian safety patrols on Aurora to make sure that drivers properly yield to pedestrians. Drivers who don’t yield to pedestrians will get a ticket and a brochure to remind them to drive safely around people on foot.

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission has supplied seventy-five thousand dollars for additional police work during the duration of the two-year project. Citations issued on Aurora are up 110%, and 10,000 citations have been written since the project launched in June of last year.

Meanwhile, SDOT is doing what it can to address the road design. “If we had funding in place, we would like to re-engineer the roadway and put changes in place to slow people down,” says Curtin. The majority of pedestrian collisions occur in intersections and the existing signals are already “the highest form of traffic control that we can provide.” Still, SDOT has repainted crosswalks at all signals at a cost of $1,500 per crosswalk, and added new crosswalks at 115th and 130th Streets.

But Curtin says there’s more than just new paint. “When the Traffic Safety Project is complete in June of 2011, we will have installed more than 30 new curb ramps along Aurora (fourteen of which are already complete). In addition, we have applied for a grant to install a new traffic signal at N 95th and Aurora. This is the mid-point of a ten block stretch that lacks crosswalks despite busy transit stops on the east and west sides of the street.” Just a few weeks ago a pedestrian was struck at 95th St, so this improvement can’t come soon enough.

SDOT has applied for an additional grant to install curb ramps at N 135th St, another site of serious accidents. Other improvements that have already been made include reclaiming part of 84th Street to create a bus stop plaza and adding a left turn signal to traffic lights at 80th St.

The project team will continue to evaluate conditions along Aurora, looking deeper at collision patterns as well as lighting along the corridor.

SDOT is still evaluating how to reduce pedestrian collisions near Green Lake. There were some good ideas shared on this blog last time someone was hit there. According to Curtin:

We are currently leaning toward an option similar to one of your reader suggestions. In this option, we would install signage or paint directly onto the jersey barrier with the “no pedestrian crossing” symbol (the ped symbol with a red circle with a line through it). Beneath the symbol we would paint “crosswalk X blocks” with an arrow pointing in the direction of the nearest crosswalk. We would install these markings in areas where we see this behavior most often. We’ve identified several areas thus far including: the Green Lake area, near the N 50th St underpass, near the N 46th St underpass, near the N 41st St overpass, near the N 38th St underpass/north end of the Aurora Bridge, near the south end of the Aurora Bridge, near the Galer St overpass, near the Broad St underpass, and near Denny Way. Believe it or not, most of the ped collisions on the south end of the corridor happen within one to two blocks of a safe crossing. Again, there is no guarantee that pedestrians will take time to read the message but we feel that this is a viable option.

While Aurora will still be a dangerous roadway without re-engineering, the project is already seeing success. Curtin says, “We’ve seen a 30% reduction in collisions and want to sustain that for the next couple years and beyond.”

More information about the project can be found at the project website, or from this interview with SDOT project manager Jim Curtin on Aurora Seattle.

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