City’s dangerous design: Roosevelt Way NE protected bike lane
1. Background: SDOT’s Commitment to Safety Fails to Translate to Safe Roads for Pedestrians
While Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) often invokes its commitment to pedestrian safety1, the roughly $8 million, multi-year Roosevelt Way NE project remains confusing and dangerous for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers in the University District.
According to a recent SDOT Transportation Technical Report, 620 of the 1,158 crashes in its study occurred at midblock locations. The Roosevelt and University District areas experienced the highest number of midblock crashes. In the City of Seattle.2
2.Facts of a preventable pedestrian collision.
In a Complaint filed this month, attorneys Catherine Fleming and co-counsel, Ron Park, allege that SDOT failed to design, construct, and maintain Roosevelt Way NE in a manner that provides a reasonably safe road for travelers. Travelers, such as pedestrians, who use the crosswalk from the transit island north of NE 42nd St. to walk towards the UW Medical Center at Roosevelt, must navigate through the crowd of commuters and hospital visitors, while also attempting to look past the bus shelter for bicyclists. Bicyclists descending on the PBL down and around the curved PBL, must also read all of the signage around and on the PBL while also looking out for pedestrians with the bus shelter obscuring their view. This precise issue faced Angelina Kolomiets, the plaintiff in the recently filed lawsuit against the City.22126PedInjuryFLEMING
On July 19, 2019, Ms. Kolomiets had disembarked a UW shuttle along with the other morning commuters. Amidst others from the bus island, she looked for oncoming bicyclists before she crossed the Roosevelt PBL, to her office at the UW Medical Center. However, Angelina never made it to her first morning meeting.
A UW medical student Dylan Walker was on his bike, when he had built up too much speed riding southbound
on Roosevelt Way NE PBL. As a result, he couldn’t stop in time to avoid colliding with the unlucky pedestrian in his way: Unlike those in front of her and behind her in the crosswalk, Angelina Kolomiets never had a chance to dodge the bicyclist. Mr. Walker slammed his
bike into the right side of Angelina, sending her body up into the air and then landing face first on her left side on the curb.
Unresponsive for several minutes after the collision, bystanders pleaded with Angelina to stay put as an ambulance was on its way. As she regained consciousness, she realized that the blood on her hands was from her face. She felt throbbing pain from her head to her feet.
As Angelina crashed to the ground, the bicyclist, as explained in the February 2022 lawsuit, Dylan’s momentum had propelled him
…over the handlebars of his bicycle, and he and his bicycle landed on the other side of Angelina in the marked crosswalk at the intersection of Roosevelt Way NE and NE 42nd Street.
While she asked about whether she needed to miss her meeting, Angelina did not fathom what she would have to endure in the coming months and years.
3. Injuries sustained from walking on the new Roosevelt Way NE crosswalk
Angelina suffered a mild traumatic brain injury, fractured bones, a partially paralyzed face. On the left side of her face, she had injuries to her eye, her jaw, her cheekbone, and teeth. Her memory and attention, which allowed her to soar in academia, was suddenly lacking.
As soon as she learned about the collision, Angelina’s mother flew out from Louisville, KY to help her with every possible task. She was at her daughter’s side 24/7 for the next several weeks.
Angelina’s friends and mother rallied to keep her spirits strong, while she lived on soft foods and apartment bound. However, anxious and worried, she was far from her usual extroverted and exuberant self. Instead, she suddenly felt like an oddity, conscious of her highly visible injuries.
Her friends and mother also grew concerned because overnight she exhibited poor short-term memory. Always a top student, she prided herself on an almost photographic memory, which helped her to excel in undergraduate and graduate programs. The dramatic change with her memory was too painful for her to admit for the first year. Her morther confronted her that she couldn’t recall what she said after 20 minutes had passed.
Angelina and everyone who knew her well were confident that her less visible injuries would resolve as quickly as her bruises and abrasions healed. However, that vibrant, accomplished, and people-loving person is now more cautious, more introverted, yet ever ambitious version of her pre-incident self.
Now, after almost three years from the collision, Angelina wants to make sure that the City of Seattle addresses the visually noisy roadway that caused this incident. She hopes this lawsuit will help to prevent others from suffering the pain, permanent scars, injuries and trauma she still carries from that day.
4. The Problem: SDOT designs lead to serious harm.
Only a year ago, SDOT’s head transportation engineer, Dongho Chang, admitted that the City’s designs were harming people. While still at SDOT, Chang provided his perspective about the spike, explaining that it was more than the increase in population and heavier vehicles. He understood that design issues were leading to serious pedestrian injuries, “Our street design is harming people.”
“Conforming to the rules is hurting and killing people outside the vehicle in urban cities where people are the priority.” He wishes that the City would prioritize pedestrian safety when designing road. In a statement for a more recent article, “The alarming trend [in Washington] really highlights the fact that we need to think about how we ensure that if someone does make a mistake that it’s survivable,” said Dongho Chang, WSDOT’s state traffic engineer. [Emphasis added.]
He cites rules that have engineers forced to prioritize “excess traffic lanes” that encourage speeding, as part of “conditions dictated by our profession.” Efforts to design streets in ways that prioritize pedestrian safety can often flout existing rules, too.
Ad hoc attempts to address its unsafe road designs worsens and confuses people who travel its roads. By adding the Roosevelt PBL to the congested arterial, SDOT created a new set of hazards for people, including the transit island with shelter in an ill-considered location, the abutting crosswalk, the various signs on/ by the road and PBL, along with the randomly angled southbound bike lane. Roosevelt Way NE is sloped downwards, which adds momentum for bicyclists on the one-way PBL. Last year, Seattle Bike Blog reported:
Without any advance warning, the Seattle Department of Transportation has added “speed bumps” to the Roosevelt Way NE protected bike lane around the bus stop island near N 43rd Street. The two bumps are plastic with reflective tape on them and come up fast on people biking. Per Dongho Chang, City Traffic Engineer, the bumps were installed in reaction to at least one bad collision between someone biking at fast speed and someone using the drop-off space here for UW Medicine.
In response to community stakeholders and comments, SDOT made several revisions to its initial Roosevelt Way NE Rapid Transit Project to include the University District Protected Bike Lane (PBL)3. Before the Roosevelt Way NE project began, SDOT knew about several collisions involving bikes reported between 2010 to 2014. The new Roosevelt Way NE PBL was aimed at “safety improvement and creat[ing] better connections to Seattle’s citywide bike network and multimodal system…”
A Seattle Times article reported more than four times the SDOT reported number of bicycle crashes alone on Roosevelt Way NE in that area. Since then, the 1.7-mile PBL that connects NE 65th St to the University Bridge has seen dozens of incidents involving pedestrians, bikes, and cars. The Roosevelt Way NE project.
5. Lawsuit seeks straightforward answers.
Nothing will ever adequately resolve the damage that the collision caused to Angelina in every aspect of her life. Her medical bills and care from the collision continue to mount, even though she was an athletic and healthy 20-something at the time of the crash. But now, Angelina is in an unenviable position compared to her peers, where she and her husband must worry about her finances, despite having good jobs and promising careers. She wants to hold the City accountable for the negligent design and hopes that fixes will finally materialize so that no one ever has to experience what she did that one morning. As the Roosevelt RapidRide project proceeds in the University District, how will SDOT make sure that it does not repeat its many mistakes to create a safe means of travel for pedestrians and bicyclists?