Columbia City crash reveals dangers of density

The neighborhood's busy sidewalks are a sign that Seattle is achieving its goal of urban density. But are we taking the steps necessary to make that density safe?
Columbia City

Columbia City Credit: Rob Ketcherside/Flickr

Columbia City has been one of the great success stories of urban renaissance in Seattle over the last two decades.

Once known for gangs, drugs and violence, things began to change with the Friday Night Columbia City Beat Walks (art and music in various venues) in the early 1990’s and the Farmer’s Market later that decade. Both brought a positive new atmosphere and renewed civic pride.

A Landmark District status provided a important mandate to save historic buildings. This contributed to Columbia City’s character and appeal as new businesses moved into the area along Rainier Ave. south of Alaska Avenue. The nearby light rail station has provided further impetus for additional housing and renovation of existing housing. The historic Carnegie library at the corner of Alaska and Rainier anchors the neighborhood, surrounded by a modest but inviting park and greenspace. The library was one of twelve Seattle branch libraries remodeled in the last decade.

Signs of Columbia City's success are everywhere today; its sidewalks are crowded with pedestrians and city life. People sit at sidewalk tables in front of Tutta Bella, the Columbia City Bakery, Lottie’s and other restaurants, pubs and coffee houses. There are several new live music venues.

But all of this comes with risk: the risk of being on a busy thoroughfare where cars often move too fast and where police patrols are often few and far between.

The risk was evident last week when a grey SUV travelling south-bound on Rainier suddenly seemed to accelerate to 60 mph. The car careened off Rainier, crossing Ferdinand and slamming into the Carol Cobb Salon on the southwest corner of that intersection. The car took out the brick pillar at the corner of the building, shattered the salon's plate glass windows and broke through the wall into the Greek restaurant next door before grinding to a halt.

As it happened, I was riding my bike north on Rainer that Thursday afternoon. I had just left Bikeworks on Ferdinand and turned north as the grey SUV passed in the opposite direction. I made note of the idiot driving way too fast. Then I heard a crash that a server at nearby Geraldine’s Counter described as “an earthquake.” Soon smoke was billowing from the restaurant and people were racing to the scene.

I abandoned my bike and joined the crowd running toward the accident site. Someone shouted, “There’s a child in there.” On the sidewalk some screamed or sobbed. We began pulling debris from the Greek restaurant, piling it on the street as acrid smoke engulfed the scene and flames licked along the floor. Would the car, or gas lines, explode? We didn’t know.

After a few minutes, someone shouted, “We got them.” People applauded. The car had jammed a family of three up against the restaurant’s back wall. By the time they were freed, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles were arriving on the scene. Soon traffic on Rainier was completely shut down.

It was amazing that no one was killed in this accident. But seven people, including children, were injured, some critically. The driver of the SUV was reportedly a woman in her 40’s? Was she intoxicated? Did her accelerator stick? Does it matter?

The point is there are too many cars moving too fast within just a few feet of sidewalks crowded with the people and families who either live in the neighborhood or have come to enjoy the children’s toy store, or the bakery, movie theater or historic Columbia City Library.

Columbia City will only get busier when Puget Consumer Coop completes its new store on Rainier just north of the accident site. Atop the new PCC are 167 units of housing.

Seattle is achieving its goal of density. But are we making the adjustments necessary to make that density safe, or at least less dangerous?


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 9:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Martin Luther King was recently rebuilt into a two lanes in each direction with signaled turn pockets arterial to accommodate Link. It's time for a road diet on Rainier. Between Alaska and Orcas it would behoove the City to make the rightmost lanes "BAT" (business access and transit) lanes all day. Such lanes allow right turners access to the lane for up to one block before the turn is made. This would help the frequent 7 buses keep schedule and for the most part remove private vehicles from proximity to the curb.

Second, forbid left turns except at intersections which can be widened a bit to allow a turn pocket.

Third, drop the speed limit to 20 miles per hour through the dense area as suggested.

I also like the idea of the bollards.

Anandakos

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 2:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Let's start spreading roofing tacks on every bike lane. Gotta slow them down.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 4:26 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm in this area a lot. Rainier definitely goes too fast. Lower the speed limit, and enforce it.

Bollards make a ton of sense. But the is the US....what if a car gets damaged, or the driver gets hurt running into one, which I think might make the City liable? We don't care about killing pedestrians here.

I also see a ton of cars blocking crosswalks in this neighborhood. Ticket the hell out of these morons.

mhays

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 6:28 p.m. Inappropriate


Darn, I can't upvote you on Crosscut. But YES! to what you posted.

Anandakos

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 3:32 p.m. Inappropriate

The "other" Washington has seen good results from automated crosswalk enforcement cameras.

Crosswalk violations are much more serious than simple red-light violations -- when you run a red light, you may hit someone, but that's usually someone inside a steel cage. When you run an occupied crosswalk, you hit flesh and blood, directly.

Invest in crosswalk enforcement cameras, properly calibrated to only ticket people who genuinely fail to STOP and REMAIN STOPPED for an occupied crosswalk as the law requires. Dedicate the revenue to funding all the other pedestrian safety improvements the neighborhood needs.

It's working well for school zones speed cameras, funding safety improvement entirely on the backs of scofflaws. Think of it as a tax on arrogance.

jputnam

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 9:56 a.m. Inappropriate

One suggestion from my Madrona neighborhood. Put in tiny parklets, taking up one or two parking spaces on the street. These are attractive in themselves, and they have the subliminal effect of making drivers slow down, since they see people sitting in the parklet much closer to traffic than usual. The assumption is these will help calm traffic in small commercial enclaves.

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 10:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Human bollards—now that sounds like a plan!

afreeman

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 11:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Nice pot stirrer Mr. Brewster. How about bistrolets...couple of tables, people washing down paninis with box wine, candles after dark. Or, daycarelets, with some toddlers stumbling around in traffic circles. Now that should REALLY elicit a visceral response from those tired tax-paying commuters who would just like to pass by small commercial enclaves situated on public streets.

jmrolls

Posted Thu, Sep 4, 11:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Nice, so the drug dealers can do their deals while sitting down at a table.

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 10:48 a.m. Inappropriate

The fewer parking spaces in commercial districts, the fewer people from outside the 'neighborhood' will come to dinner or to shop. That hurts the businesses too deeply.

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 12:54 p.m. Inappropriate

That's just fine with the "progressives." The only thing they hate more than cars and black people is businesses.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Sep 10, 7:22 p.m. Inappropriate

This "NotFan" personage - Can he or she not just STF up? He or she isn't funny, isn't original, tries too hard to be offensive. A tosser if ever there was one. Impotent, bored, boring, a real downer in every respect.

Cheonasty

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 12:45 p.m. Inappropriate

"Was she intoxicated? Did her accelerator stick? Does it matter?"

Yes, you Seattle "progressive" idiot, it matters.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 12:50 p.m. Inappropriate

"First, lower the speed limit to 20 mph for the stretch of Rainier Ave. from Alaska to 39th."

That's an arterial, jerk. What is it about you selfish bicycle freak yuppies, anyway? Typical Seattle "progressive" whackjobs. You hate cars until it comes time to soak someone for your bills.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 1:01 p.m. Inappropriate

There's a brand spanking new four lane with turn pockets arterial, a 35 mile per hour speed limit and limited cross streets just five blocks to the west. It has sophisticated signal timing that changes all the minor arterial crossings between the major streets green for a couple of minutes as a block and if you're lucky and get next to a train, you can go for over a mile without stopping or slowing.

Before MLK was rebuilt and widened there was some justification for having Rainier be a through arterial. There is no longer.

Anandakos

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 4:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Your hatred is amusing. You're not even man enough to use your real name.

mhays

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 9:06 p.m. Inappropriate

What is your real name, address, and phone number, "progressive?"

NotFan

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 9:43 p.m. Inappropriate

My name is Matt Hays. No secret. Now you.

You'll never come clean of course, lacking manhood.

mhays

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 10:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Well, good for you. I don't want your violent "progressives" in my face, Mr. Hayes.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 10:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Surprise! Notman won't even answer the same question he asked me.

mhays

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 7:12 a.m. Inappropriate

The one in Belltown, near Broad Street. If you see a tall guy tapping on the fenders of bad drivers in that area, or Downtown proper, it might be me.

Why are you still hiding? Of course we all know why.

mhays

Posted Sun, Sep 7, 10:25 p.m. Inappropriate

What's your street address and phone number, coward?

NotFan

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 1 p.m. Inappropriate

If people aren't paying attention to the present (IIRC, 30 mph) speed limit, what makes you think anyone will pay attention to a 20 mph limit?

orino

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 1:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Having lived in South Seattle for 27 years, I've driven that stretch of Rainier Avenue hundreds of times. Traffic always slows down in this area due to frequent left turns and the parked cars on both sides of the street. As scary as this accident was, lets not overreact and start changing speed limits.

jd8686

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 4:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Here's an idea for you, Tony. Leave your bike at home, get an Orca pass, and ride the #7. Try it at 11:30 at night. You probably won't have to worry about getting injured because a car hits you. Do you think you will feel any safer?

gabowker

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 6:48 p.m. Inappropriate

The 1999 Columbia City Neighborhood Plan calls for Rainier to go to 2 lanes, with a center turn lane and bike lanes. Why hasn't SDOT followed through with this in the last 15 years?

http://stb-wp.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Rainier-480x450.jpg

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Neighborhood Plan? What's that?

louploup

Posted Thu, Sep 4, 2:40 p.m. Inappropriate

There are a number of them around, from the days when conventional wisdom said the cities would be re-populated by empty-nester parents whose kids had moved away. Big demographic error, unacknowledged by those who have faith in predictions and planning.

simorgh

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 9:01 p.m. Inappropriate

That must have been terrifying to witness. Thanks for jumping to action to help!

But I don't think this points to the dangers of density per se (as the title implies), only the dangers of allowing high speed traffic in dense areas. Time for a road diet!

Posted Mon, Sep 1, 10:41 p.m. Inappropriate

All these idiotic road diets, bus bulbs, bike lanes and other features designed to force people out of their cars are really having an impact on traffic in Seattle. I recently listened to an [former] electrician explain how he had recently retired because it just took too long to drive around the Seattle area these days.

My neighborhood locksmith now charges a $75 "service fee" just to drive to my home, which is about half a mile from his shop.

Our plumber now charges a $105 "show up" fee just to drive his truck to our home.

This same thing applies to most workers, including plasterer/painters.

It is costing a lot more to have any work done at your home because it takes so much longer for those workers to reach the job sites.

This has also got to be affecting the cost of all shipping, the cost of concrete, mail, groceries and everything else that has to be delivered by truck.

How stupid.

Lincoln

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 1 a.m. Inappropriate

Lincoln,

Just be glad you don't live in San Francisco, New York, London or Paris. You know, other places that are even nicer to live and world famous. Places where it probably costs three times as much for the electrician or plumber to come to one's house.

You live in a world city; maybe you don't WANT it to be a world city, but it is. Either deal with it or, if the hassle is so onerous to you, sell to someone who wants the Seattle experience and retire with your money to Yelm. Or go with The Master of The Universe to Kennewick.

If you've lived in Seattle all your life, you may have inherited a home from your parents which is worth in the mid-sixes. You can buy a hell of a mansion in some ordinary place with lots of like-minded Republicans for 1/2 of that and live off the interest.

Leave Seattle to those stupid yuppies you so despise.

Anandakos

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 12:15 p.m. Inappropriate

No thanks. I'll stay here and try to keep those stupid yuppies from destroying my city.

New York and San Francisco are shetholes. I would never live there. They are certainly NOT "nicer" to live in than Seattle. If you think those cities are "nicer" than Seattle, please move to one of them.

Thanks.

Lincoln

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 12:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Well, you're probably right; I shouldn't have said "nicer". I should have said "more popular". But whatever, you're going to lose the battle with the yuppies because the skills they bring to the city are more valuable than those of most previous residents and, odds say, yours.

That's why housing prices have risen to the point that ever more long time residents are "house rich" but cash poor. They can no longer afford the cost of living in Seattle and so must move. Now that's a personal loss, no doubt, because it's the most pleasant large city in which to live within the United States. (Pleasant, but not necessarily best for getting rich which is why NYC, Boston, LA and SF are even more expensive).

But it's an unavoidable cost of Seattle having become a "world city" because of Microsoft and its beautiful location. Boeing alone couldn't do that because aerospace isn't the sort of industry that spawns endless profitable new companies. But software is the poster child for that, so thank -- or damn at your pleasure -- Bill Gates for bringing MS from Albuquerque.

Oh, and by the way, I'm one of those people who chose to live in a different place -- Vancouver USA -- because of the costs there. Fortunately I still have friends I can come and visit for the Seattle experience.

Seriously, if your neighbors irritate you so much, you'd be happier some place else and would probably live longer.

Anandakos

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 7:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Lincoln. New York City is a wonderful city. Expensive yes. But a thriving amazing, people friendly city. Awesome subway system. Bike sharing. Pedestrian friendly. Beautiful vibrant parks.

And yes, I did leave Seattle and moved to NYC. I got so sick of people in Seattle thinking they 'owned' the city. Nobody owns a city. Only people in Seattle talk that way. They should renamed Seattle 'Whine Country' since that seems to be the city's past time.

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 9:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Anandakos, you don't even live anywhere near Seattle, but you'tre here commenting anyway. What is it with you deadbeat failure "progressives," anyway? You couldn't ever hack it in Seattle, which is hardly first rate, but you can't let go. Yeah, and I'll have some fries with my Big Mac. Make it snappy. I'm in a hurry.

NotFan

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 2:06 p.m. Inappropriate

NotFan,

Coming right up, ma'am.

Anandakos

Posted Sun, Sep 7, 10:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Anadakos, for the moment anyway, whoever runs this site isn't a typical "progressive" Stalinist like you. Of course, you do realize that you and your kind are just as stupid and just as nasty as Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney, right? Not as rich though.

They knew how to play the game. And you, well, you're teaching in a community college and pouring espresso drinks on weekends, and feeling resentful about it. Oh well. By the way, no room in mine. Thanks.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Sep 8, 8:22 a.m. Inappropriate

.

Anandakos

Posted Thu, Sep 4, 11:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Agree.

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 8:41 a.m. Inappropriate

Just a quick note to thank you for responding to this accident!

As for preventing such accidents in the future, google smart driving cars is one solution but then there are always software bugs. Probably the only way would be not allow any motorzied vehicles, but that's not going to happen. Bus drivers occasionally veer off, as to car and truck drivers, the only way to prevent the damage would be to limit the size and speed of the vehicles and we aren't going to do that as we need the capacity to move stuff around. Heck even horse drawn wagons had accidents where people were hurt being run down by the horses.

GaryP

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 10:24 a.m. Inappropriate

"First, lower the speed limit to 20 mph for the stretch of Rainier Ave. from Alaska to 39th."
Sounds good except that Seattle's arterial speed limits must meet the federal requirements of 30 or 35 mph.

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 10:45 a.m. Inappropriate

States and most local governments also have the authority to change speed limits on the basis of an engineering study in sections of roads where the statutory limits do not fit specific conditions. The speeds posted in these speed zones designate the maximum reason-able and safe speed, based on favorable conditions.

... obviously high pedestrain and bicycle traffic warrent lower speeds.

HOWEVER that will not stop crashes due to mechanical failure or driver inattention.

GaryP

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 11:15 a.m. Inappropriate


Gary,

It WILL make those crashes due to mechanical failure or inattention less severe.

Anandakos

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 10:10 p.m. Inappropriate

Why 20 mph? Why not 10 mph?

NotFan

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 9:09 a.m. Inappropriate

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipnJbSnmc24

Will show you why 20 is plenty.

GaryP

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 10:56 a.m. Inappropriate

You want NotFan to "Think!"? lol

louploup

Posted Sun, Sep 7, 10:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Why not just give all the bicyclists an ounce of dope and a one-way ticket to Boulder on the condition that they accept a tracking chip implant and are prohibited from ever stepping foot in WA State again?

NotFan

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 1:05 p.m. Inappropriate

I thought I read somewhere that it was a stroke or heart attack, not sure though.

MarkB

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 2:31 p.m. Inappropriate

One of the dangers of simple-minded thinking is to take a single event and somehow morph it into a trend.

Another man-bites-dog story.

Treker

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 6:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Lowering the speed limit is unnecessary. This was a random unfortunate accident that could have been caused by any number of reasons(e.g. gas pedal stuck, drunk or high driver, medical condition interfered etc.) And BTW, people who regularly speed will continue to do so. There are just jerks out there who break the law. 20 mph will not deter them. Stop using every opportunity to push your car hating agenda. Bikes, pedestrians and cars need to move smoothly through the system. The current culture in Seattle is toxic, pitting drivers against bikes and pedestrians. We need a solution that works for all but no concessions are being made on the anti-car side.

mjbg

Posted Tue, Sep 2, 9:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Of course it's unnecessary to cut the speed limit. But Seattle's "progressives" hate cars, and love collective punishment. So that's what the pissants do.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Sep 8, 4:13 p.m. Inappropriate

What exactly is a progrerssives (sic)? Is this an off-shoot of the Tea Bagger Party?

Treker

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 2:36 a.m. Inappropriate

yes,it is very good! www.sacensolde.com

laoxia

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 3:24 p.m. Inappropriate

You can increase access to businesses at the same time you protect them from cars leaving the roadway if you use bike corrals as the buffer.

A single bike corral, protected by well-set bollards, can accommodate eight to ten times as many customers as a typical parking space. (See, for example, the struggle of West Seattle businesses to get enough bike parking to meet customer demand, and the new bike corral that's helping them serve more local customers.)

Nobody wants their bike to be the buffer, of course, that's why the bike corrals have good bollards. But if a vehicle is moving too fast for the first bollard to stop it, wouldn't you rather have it run through a bike rack in the parking lane, rather than an occupied sidewalk?

jputnam

Posted Wed, Sep 3, 9:31 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm trying to figure out what is behind Seattle "planner's" fascination to put EVERYTHING on one street (business, all modes of transportation, all entrances, sidewalk cafes, bike racks, trees, 20 SDOT signs plus two pay stations, sculptures, benches, and I'm pretty sure I can find a kitchen sink if I look long enough). Part of this stems from the 1/2 block deep zoning we did (like on 15th Ave NW north of 65 for example). But really, that's a poor excuse. There's simply no reason that we couldn't focus one roadway on mass transit, freight, and cars, and have a parallel street that is TRUELY focused on pedestrians and bikes, maybe even to the point of having delivery vehicle access only, and only during certain hours. It can't be done everywhere, and it certainly can't be done overnight, but what we're doing now is insanity.

Anything that puts people into parking spaces along arterials, is unsafe. Bike corals, parks, whatever - adjacent to even 20mph where you are encouraging people to not pay attention to their environment by intending them to do something different, is an invitation to write a big fat check for negligence out of the city coffers. I toured a bunch of these things in Portland... they're poorly maintained, full of evidence of having been hit by cars, trap garbage, and in talking with two cafe owners, the spaces are very hard to maintain because you have to stand in traffic to repair them.

Catherine

Posted Thu, Sep 4, 7:59 a.m. Inappropriate

If you can slow the cars down, it all works better. Columbia City should operate like any town along a highway.

mhays

Posted Thu, Sep 4, 10:53 a.m. Inappropriate

In an ideal world you'd put the truck access in the back of the stores as they need to stop and unload. You'd also move car access away from the front of the stores as well. It's why they don't put parking inside a shopping mall, but rather in an adjacent lot/structure.

The trick is that once you've zone the arterial into the main business area you have vested interest in using other people's money to move the road.

GaryP

Posted Tue, Sep 9, 12:36 p.m. Inappropriate

In an ideal world, we'd hook up all the bicyclists to stastionary models to generate electricity for the productive adults who pay the bills. If they resisted, we'd permanently ship them to Antarctica to study the effect of climate change on penguins and krill.

NotFan

Posted Tue, Sep 9, 9:42 p.m. Inappropriate

But you don't think climate change exists.

louploup

Posted Tue, Sep 9, 11:05 p.m. Inappropriate

It doesn't, but who cares? The "progressives" will be in Antarctica, "studying" it. Of course, their "reports" will be lost, but they don't need to know that.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Sep 4, 9:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Big concrete planters can do the job of bollards, if well anchored. State Department on DC's C Street uses them.

wcalvin

Posted Fri, Sep 5, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Cafe society and cars doing 45 in a 30 don't mix. Even a drop to 25, with additional signaled mid-block crosswalks, could slow things down considerably.

That his abandoned bicycle wasn't stolen is testimony to the "pacification"
of the area.

Posted Thu, Sep 11, 11:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Transportation Non-sequitur: There are no EV charging stations in Columbia City.

Holla

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