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Originally published Monday, May 4, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Seattle cracks down on drivers who don't stop at crosswalks

Seattle police are sending more pedestrian decoys onto city crosswalks, to nab drivers who blow through without stopping. The city is expected to run 10 sting operations in 2009.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

Seattle police are sending more pedestrian decoys onto city crosswalks, to nab drivers who blow through without stopping.

The city is expected to run 10 sting operations in 2009, an increase from previous years, said Barbara Gray of the city Department of Transportation.

Pedestrian safety is a personal issue for City Council members. They created a safety committee two years ago, after council aide Tatsuo Nakata was killed crossing Southwest Admiral Way, and Josef Robinson, stepson of Councilmember Nick Licata, was seriously injured crossing North 85th Street.

Seattle tends to rank among the safest U.S. cities for pedestrians. Nonetheless, 468 car-pedestrian collisions were reported to police last year, said Gray. She is project manager for the city's new Pedestrian Master Plan, soon to be released, which calls for more enforcement.

Police ran a sting April 24 on Stone Way North at North 41st Street, where 14-year-old Dominick May-Douglass suffered brain injuries in a 2005.

Seattle driver Peter Sherwin, a former monorail activist, got ticketed on Stone Way North and says he'll dispute the $124 fine. He said his view was obstructed by a parked SUV and that he had only 60 feet to react once the decoy, a woman wearing white, stepped off the curb.

"There was no way, at the point when I saw her, that I could stop, without being through the crosswalk," said Sherwin.

Police reported writing a total 61 right-of-way citations at that site and in the 800 block of Airport Way South, next to the U.S. Immigration building, out of 229 police and citizen crossings in just over two hours.

An operation in late March produced a combined 53 citations at Stone Way, and Martin Luther King Jr. Way at East Alder Street.

Police spokesman Det. Jeff Kappel said that while citations are a judgment call, he doubts police are citing people for borderline mistakes. When he worked as a decoy last year, drivers were blatant about rolling past him.

"We're busy enough; we don't have to look that hard for violators," Kappel said.

Kirkland and Redmond have used crosswalk stings, and the state Traffic Safety Commission sometimes offers grants to help fund city enforcement.

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Kappel couldn't confirm how many decoy operations Seattle will undertake, as the traffic division constantly faces new incidents and citizen requests for service.

Besides safety, another rationale was equity, said Charles Redmond, a member of the city advisory group. Advocates noticed that police were issuing hundreds of jaywalking citations but very few fines against errant drivers, he said.

State law requires drivers to stop if a pedestrian is "upon" the roadway, and at or near the same half of the street as the car.

This standard is less stringent than in some countries, as Dutch native Sofie Vriends observed Friday while crossing Stone Way with her vigilant 5-year-old son, Finn.

"Where I come from, people stop when you stand there. Here, you have to wait until someone's kind enough to stop," Vriends said.

But she's adapted; a greater concern are the syringes and condoms they see (and sometimes clean up) on a pedestrian bridge over Aurora Avenue North.

Sherwin wondered why the stings aren't more publicized. "This isn't producing safety. This is producing revenue," he said.

Crosswalk stings have occasionally been covered by news crews, but Kappel said it doesn't make sense to announced them in advance. Undercover work gives police "a much better snapshot" of traffic behavior than a marked patrol, he said.

In a related move, the city put Stone Way on a controversial "road diet" two years ago, when crews restriped the former four-lane street down to two lanes, plus a left-turn lane and bike lanes.

Road diets lessen the odds one car will stop and an adjacent second car roll through, the situation that killed 11-year-old Tia Townsend, of Shoreline, in 2002.

Nonetheless, Stone Way remains a visual mishmash where cars park within 10 feet of some crosswalks, without city signs or curb markings to ban it. People walk across at unmarked intersections and at midstreet.

A different crackdown is planned this summer for signalized intersections on Aurora Avenue North, where turning drivers often fail to yield to pedestrians, said Jim Curtin, community traffic liaison for the Seattle Department of Transportation.

"We want to stress for everyone, to be more aware," said Kappel. "There's probably some common courtesy that can be applied."

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

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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