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Originally published Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 8:08 PM

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A little more courtesy could save a life

Hundreds of pedestrians and bicyclists are hit by cars each year in Seattle. Many of those collisions could be prevented with more empathy and caution by drivers.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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A vigil is planned this evening for a teenager who was hit and severely injured by a car while crossing a Seattle street. Hundreds of pedestrians and bicyclists are hit by cars each year in Seattle. Many, if not most, of those collisions could be prevented by a little more empathy and caution.

Fifteen-year-old Trevon Crease-Holden and his younger brother were on their way home from a community center on July 19. A southbound car struck Trevon sometime between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. while they were crossing Martin Luther King Jr. Way South at South Walden Street. He was hospitalized with a head injury and is in critical condition in intensive care at Harborview Medical Center. The boys were walking in the marked crosswalk when he was hit.

As happens far too often, the driver left the scene without stopping to help. Trevon’s mother made an impassioned plea on KIRO 7 for the driver to come forward, so that she could at least know why her son’s life was put at risk.

A crash like that could happen to anyone who walks or bikes in any neighborhood. A week ago Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin was biking to a picnic when he collided with a car in Madrona and suffered a broken shoulder blade. But some areas are more dangerous because of traffic volume, geography or other factors.

The city has been trying for years to make streets safer for pedestrians, and for growing numbers of bicyclists, often by adding bike lanes or other traffic revisions. Those are important steps when done effectively, and so is addressing the human element.

I spoke with Deb Salls, the executive director of Bike Works, which promotes safe bicycling. She and her organization are involved with several efforts to make streets work for everyone. Salls said, “Some of it is about infrastructure, but some of it is about people looking out for each other.”

Bike Works has held memorial walks for people who’ve been killed in collisions with cars in the past as a way to increase public awareness of the need for everyone to be involved in road safety. Seattle is trying, she said, but it seems to her there have been a lot of incidents lately, and far too many hit-and-run crashes.

Jim Curtin, Seattle’s traffic-safety coordinator, said Seattle is near the top in safety among U.S. cities, but zero is the only number the city could feel good about. That’s the number of serious injuries aimed for in Seattle’s Road Safety Action Plan.

Curtin said there are three major causes of crashes of all kinds, speeding, distraction and impairment. In 99 percent of crashes, he said, the main contributing factor is not the roadway, but human behavior. Research shows more than 90 percent of crashes are preventable, he said.

Seattle has more than 300 bike-involved crashes and about 500 pedestrian-involved collisions a year. Traffic fatalities on Seattle streets were 33 percent lower in 2011 than in 1992. There were 12 collision deaths in 2011, among them two pedestrians and two bicyclists.

Curtin said the AAA estimates collisions in which there are severe injuries or death cost about $6 million each in public costs (such as fire, aid and police response; investigations; and medical care) and lost wages. AAA estimates Washington state taxpayers pay $665 million a year to deal with traffic collisions. I agree with Curtin that we could find much better uses for that money.

Before moving to Seattle two years ago, Salls lived in Chicago, and before that Minneapolis. She said, and Curtin agreed, that Seattle has challenges the Midwest doesn’t; the hills and water mean we don’t have the space that some cities have for keeping cars separate from pedestrians and bicyclists.

I live in Southeast Seattle near Lake Washington Boulevard, and I remember it wasn’t too long ago when bicyclists along the boulevard were rare except on weekends. Now at any time of day there are lots of people on two wheels and many more people walking along the lake and crossing the street than there used to be. There are more cars, too. But along much of the route, the roadway is pinched between the lake on one side and hills on the other. I’d like to see some physical separation, but I don’t know how the city would manage it. So courtesy has to be the primary guarantor of safety, and sometimes it’s in short supply.

Salls hopes the vigil and a walk afterward will help raise awareness and change behaviors. Trevon’s mother, Quianna Holden, gave Bike Works and the other sponsor, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, her blessing and will be one of the speakers. The event will begin at 5:30 p.m. at QFC, 2700 Rainier Ave. S., and the march will proceed from there to the site of Trevon’s injury.

Curtin said the city’s constant message is that we should look out for each other on the streets, because everyone out there is someone’s friend, relative, co-worker.

No mother should be left wondering whether her son will live because someone didn’t think enough to avoid tragedy and in this case didn’t care enough to help afterward. We should be a better city than that.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com

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About Jerry Large

I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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