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Originally published March 26, 2013 at 9:25 PM | Page modified March 27, 2013 at 7:43 PM

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Heavy traffic on Seattle’s Northeast 75th a worry for neighborhood

Neighbors in the Wedgwood area say heavy traffic brings safety hazards daily.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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Even before a suspected drunken driver hit four people in North Seattle, neighbors worried about the hazards of busy Northeast 75th Street.

The one-mile corridor between the Roosevelt Reservoir and the Wedgwood shopping area is striped for two lanes but is wide enough that drivers often treat it as a four-lane road.

“During the morning and afternoon commutes, it is a gantlet out there,” says Per Johnson, president of the Wedgwood Community Council. “Anywhere between 15th and 35th, cars are jockeying around each other like an Indy race.”

Many drivers use the largely residential street as a direct route to Interstate 5. Traffic counts show 21,000 cars drive past the reservoir on weekdays, while 17,000 pass Eckstein Middle School, a block from the crash site — about the same as a decade ago.

The city has been planning some safety improvements, and may look at more in the wake of the crash.

Mark Mullan, 50, was driving west on 75th about 4 p.m. Monday when his pickup struck and killed a couple and left their daughter-in-law and her infant son critically injured at the crossing of 33rd Avenue Northeast.

There is no crosswalk striping at the intersection, but motorists are required to yield to pedestrians. Police said Mullan told them the sun was in his eyes, according to the affidavit of probable cause.

At a hearing Tuesday, Seattle District Court Judge Mark Chow said Mullan’s blood-alcohol level was .22 after the crash, nearly three times the legal limit of .08.

Mullan was arrested on suspicion of two counts of vehicular homicide and two counts of vehicular assault. He is being held at King County Jail in lieu of $2.5 million bail.

Drunken driving causes nearly half the city’s injury crashes, said transportation spokesman Rick Sheridan. But all day long in Seattle, some drivers are speeding, swerving or distracted. Or traffic is just heavy, and pedestrians cross when they see a gap — as on Northeast 65th Street nearby, and other streets.

“What people do is run across the street. It’s real dangerous,” said Julia Cadieux, walking with two young daughters, several blocks from the crash site. Cadieux would like more stoplights, and for some sidewalks to be widened, where cars swoosh right by.

On the other hand, Monday’s crash is the only car-pedestrian collision in 10 years in the school zone.

“Speed studies have shown people in the area are behaving fairly well,” said Dongho Chang, city traffic engineer. Samples showed 85 percent of drivers going 34 mph or less eastbound and 37 mph or less westbound, in the 30 mph corridor.

Recently, a bigger problem has been the commercial intersection of 75th and 35th Avenue Northeast, where four pedestrians and one bicyclist have been hit since 2008. New left-turn signals and pedestrian countdown signals have been installed.

Five days ago Eckstein held a bike-to-school day, and typically 30 to 100 students ride, said Johnson, of the community council.

Neighbors say that in such a hectic environment, pedestrians can’t trust that motorists will notice them.

“Sometimes, even if you’re waving at them, they don’t stop anyway,” said Yao Ratanansopa, out for a noon walk.

Police increased traffic patrols on 75th on Tuesday. The city already planned to add yellow flashing lights to the speed-limit signs that decree 20 mph when children are present.

There’s a pedestrian activated signal crossing 75th near the middle-school entrance.

“We’re going to take a close look at 75th, to see what changes can be made,” Mayor Mike McGinn said Tuesday. Citywide, he is seeking more automatic cameras to ticket speeders in school zones. “Bringing down speeds makes a huge difference in safety to neighborhoods,” he said.

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

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