Everett-Herald_bicycle-bus-collision-35th-and-Wetmore

Dangerous Everett Neighborhood Intersections Result in Predictable But Avoidable Collisions

Earlier this month I emailed the City of Everett Transportation Engineering department about a pair of dangerous intersections on my street: 36th & Wetmore (which I live on the SE corner of) and 35th & Wetmore, one block north.

The main problem is that people (often on bicycles but also in cars) frequently ignore the stop signs on 35th and 36th and blow right across Wetmore Avenue, especially when heading east, since both of these streets have a steep hill leading down to the stop sign at Wetmore. This has led to many close calls already. Here are just two recent near-misses that I happened to catch on camera at 36th & Wetmore:

Here’s an excerpt from my April 5th email:

I have seen people coming down the steep hill eastbound on 35th blow through the stop across Wetmore, and when you’re coming southbound down Wetmore, you have zero visibility of oncoming vehicles from the west thanks to that row of hedges. I typically avoid driving that portion of the road at all since I am afraid I will run over someone on a bicycle or skateboard without any chance to even see them coming.

This is what it looks like as you approach 35th heading southbound down Wetmore. Note that this street view was taken in 2012. The hedges on the right are even bigger than that now.

Last Friday, April 22, the city traffic engineer responded to email. Unfortunately, the only action the city plans to take for these two intersections is to improve stop sign visibility and measure traffic to possibly recommend “emphasis patrols” by the Everett Police for speeding on Wetmore. Neither of these solutions really does anything to address the structural problems that make these two intersections so dangerous.

Sadly on Monday afternoon 35th and Wetmore was host to the exact kind of collision I warned the city about:

Bicyclist critical after collision with Everett school bus

Everett Herald: Bicyclist critical after collision with Everett school bus

EVERETT — A bicyclist suffered critical injuries Monday after colliding with a school bus in north Everett. The man, 52, was knocked unconscious but was breathing, according to police.

The man was taken to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. No students were injured.

The crash happened about 2:15 p.m. at the intersection of Wetmore Avenue and 35th Street. The southbound bus was carrying the Everett High School track team to Memorial Stadium, according to the school district.

Police believe the eastbound bicyclist ran the stop sign and collided with the school bus, which did not have a stop sign.

[Update: According to a May 2 update from the Everett Herald, the bicyclist has died.]

I initially requested that the city install “traffic calming circles” at these two intersections. These exist at quite a few other intersections in our neighborhood, and would serve to slow traffic in both directions. The traffic engineer rejected that suggestion, saying that “they restrict the ability of emergency responders (particularly fire department vehicles) while they have proven to provide little to no reduction in crashes or excessive speeding at locations where they have been installed.”

Therefore, my latest suggestion is that the intersections on Wetmore at 35th and 36th streets should be made into four-way stops. There is already a four-lane north-south road with a flatter grade and a higher speed limit that is designed for through traffic just one block to the west on Colby. If vehicles on Wetmore were made to stop at 35th and 36th streets, collisions like the one that happened yesterday would be far less likely.

Here is my email exchange with the city on this matter:


From: Timothy Ellis
Sent: Tuesday, April 05, 2016 1:33 PM
To: Ryan Sass; Engineering / Public Services
Subject: dangerous intersections on Wetmore Ave

Hello,

I have lived on the corner of 36th Street and Wetmore Avenue since 2011, and I am very concerned about the safety of this intersection. In the time we have lived here, we have seen many people driving much too fast down Wetmore (usually northbound down the hill), and also many people–usually on bicycles or skateboards, but sometimes in cars as well–blowing through the stop signs on 36th Street.

Frankly I am amazed that nobody has been killed yet, and I fear that it is inevitable if changes are not made.

Here are just a couple recent examples:

August 26: two bicyclists heading westbound blow through the stop sign and are nearly hit by a pickup truck heading south on Wetmore – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKUIbppnn88
April 1: a bicyclist heading eastbound blows through the stop sign and is nearly hit by a car heading north on Wetmore – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Oe708gx_KI

We also witness people driving far faster than 25mph up Wetmore on a daily basis (usually northbound as that is the downhill direction), occasionally even fast enough to catch a little air off the slight bump in the road just north of the intersection. It is ridiculous.

I would like to request that the intersection be modified in some way. I’m obviously not a transportation engineer, but it seems like the traffic calming circles solution in place at the intersections of 35th and Lombard and 35th and Oakes would sufficiently slow traffic in both directions to avoid any tragic events.

Also, I’m not personally there to witness it as often, but 35th and Wetmore has the same problems. I have seen people coming down the steep hill eastbound on 35th blow through the stop across Wetmore, and when you’re coming southbound down Wetmore, you have zero visibility of oncoming vehicles from the west thanks to that row of hedges. I typically avoid driving that portion of the road at all since I am afraid I will run over someone on a bicycle or skateboard without any chance to even see them coming.

Thanks,
-Tim​ Ellis


From: Michael Brick
Sent: Friday, April 22, 2016 11:53 AM
To: Timothy Ellis
Subject: RE: dangerous intersections on Wetmore Ave

Mr. Ellis,

Thank you for taking the time to make the City of Everett aware of your safety concerns. We have evaluated the line of sight for the intersections of Wetmore Ave with 35th Street and 36th Street, checked that the stop signs at these intersections are clearly visible, and checked crash records along Wetmore Ave.

Traffic Engineering has evaluated the line of sight at the intersections of Wetmore Ave with 35th Street and 36th Street and found them acceptable. For local street intersections such as these this line of sight check consists of measuring how far away vehicles approaching along Wetmore can be seen from the side-streets when stopped 10 feet back from the edge of the travel lanes. When stopped 10 feet from the travel lanes approaching vehicles should be visible from at least 155 feet away. The City of Everett does not check that drivers along the main road can clearly see drivers stopped on the side-streets, only that drivers stopping on the side-streets can clearly see approaching drivers on the main road. We assume that side-street drivers will respond appropriately and yield to any vehicles approaching along the main road. The large hedge on the northwest corner of 35th Street and Wetmore Ave does extend partially across the sidewalk and a letter is being sent to the property owner directing that the hedge be trimmed but this is to comply with a legal requirement that the sidewalk be kept clear and unobstructed, not to maintain sight lines at this intersection.

Stop signs on local streets should also be visible to approaching traffic from at least 155 feet away. The stop signs on the approaches to Wetmore Ave along 35th Street and 36th Street are clearly visible to approaching vehicles from at least 155 feet away. Because the eastbound approaches to Wetmore Ave along 35th Street and 36th Street are particularly steep the City has already installed “STOP AHEAD” signs mid-way between Colby Ave and Wetmore Ave to reinforce to drivers that there is a stop at the bottom of the hill. The City of Everett is in the process of replacing all of our “STOP” signs with new, highly reflective signs to improve their visibility so the signs at these intersections will soon be replaced with even more visible signs.

It appears that no crashes have been reported to the Everett Police at the intersection of 36th Street and Wetmore Ave in recent years. The intersection of 35th Street and Wetmore Ave does have an average of 1.5 reported crashes per year, but only about 1 crash every 2 years results in any injuries. While ideally there would be no vehicle crashes in Everett, the low incidence of injuries in this area is considered acceptable to the City. We will not be installing traffic calming circles at these locations because they restrict the ability of emergency responders (particularly fire department vehicles) while they have proven to provide little to no reduction in crashes or excessive speeding at locations where they have been installed.

It has been several years since the City of Everett collected speed data along Wetmore Ave near your home. We recently placed a traffic counter along Wetmore Ave in this area to collect vehicle speed and volume data. If this data shows excessive vehicle speeds at specific times of day we will forward that information to the Everett Police Department and request emphasis patrols to address the speeding at those times. As soon as we have reviewed the data currently being collected I will let you know our findings.

If you have any further traffic related questions or concerns please feel free to contact me.

Sincerely,

Michael Brick, P.E.
Associate Traffic Engineer
City of Everett Public Works


From: Timothy Ellis
Sent: Friday, April 22, 2016 4:33 PM
To: Michael Brick
Subject: RE: dangerous intersections on Wetmore Ave

Thanks for the thoughtful response. However, I do feel somewhat like my point was not quite understood. My main concern is not that the stop signs are not visible or that people are otherwise not aware of them. My concern is that especially on the steep hill eastbound on 36th, people just don’t care to stop. Adding a “stop ahead” sign and making the stop signs more reflective will likely do nothing to change that.

Also, the location that you’ve put the speed/volume strips up at 34th street are not likely (in my opinion based on my observations) to measure nearly as much speeding as we see down the stretch of Wetmore between 37th and 36th. Since that portion has the steepest hill, it seems that most of the speeders are going their fastest at the bottom as they pass through the intersection of 36th & Wetmore, and may have slowed somewhat by the time they get to 34th.

I understand the downsides of the traffic calming circles, but I also think that something more than just improving existing stop sign visibility and possible “emphasis patrols” would be prudent to prevent a serious incident from eventually occurring here. I also find it odd that the city would be willing to go on record saying that a dangerous intersection like this “is considered acceptable to the City.” That seems like the kind of statement that might be problemati should there ever be a serious injury (or worse) that results in a lawsuit.

Obviously I still think some sort of modification would be advisable, even if it were just to make the intersections at 35th and 36th into four-way stops. With a wider, flatter north-south route one block west on Colby, I don’t see the harm in intentionally slowing traffic on Wetmore.

Thanks,
-Tim


Instead of refunding my money for a defective DVD, Target lied to me about “copyright law”

I originally shared this story about attempting to return a defective DVD to Target back in 2008 on the personal finance site Get Rich Slowly. However, at some point this year the original post seems to have been deleted by the site’s new owner QuinStreet.

You can still view a copy with all its original comments on the Internet Archive, but I decided to also republish my story here for posterity.


One way our family keeps the entertainment budget slim is by not buying new release DVDs, but waiting to buy movies until they drop below $10.

About a month ago, my wife purchased the DVD movie “Never Been Kissed” for $5.50 from the discount shelf at our local Target. A few weeks after buying it, we tried to watch it, but after trying multiple DVD players it became clear that the disc was defective. On our next trip to Target we brought the DVD and the receipt back to exchange the disc for a working copy.

There were no copies of that movie in stock, so we waited another week and tried again. Unfortunately, this time not only was the movie not in stock, but an employee looked it up and informed us that Target no longer carries that movie at all. (Well, they carry it, but now it’s in one of those double-feature disc sets.)

I figured that this was no big deal, that since they don’t stock it anymore, they would accept a return for cash or store credit for the defective product they sold me.

Wrong.

The employee informed me that Target does not under any circumstances accept returns on DVDs, CDs, or video games. I asked to see the manager, who affirmed the policy and told me that he cannot override it, because of “copyright law.”

I know my rights as they pertain to copyright law, and I know that there is no provision in Federal law or Washington State law that prohibits a retailer from giving a customer their money back for a defective DVD. In fact, I verified with Costco that they are glad to issue refunds for DVDs. (Their return policy contains no exception for disc-based media of any kind. [2015 addendum: I have since successfully returned DVDs to Costco on two occasions. Once a disc was defective, another time two of the three discs were completely missing. Costco staff was friendly and helpful both times, fully refunding my money without question.])

Unfortunately it seems that this “copyright law” excuse is being fed to Target employees from the top. An internet search revealed multiple accounts of similar tales across the country. It’s a store policy — nothing more. I can understand the rationale behind such a policy, but it’s pretty lousy that they give people with an actual defective product the shaft like that.

So, thanks to Target’s lousy DVD return policy, instead of a “cheap” $5.50 movie, we’re now stuck with a rather expensive $5.50 coaster.

The moral of this story is something that seems to be a good deal at the time can be turned into a complete waste of money by a lousy policy and stubborn or poorly trained employees. I’ve learned my lesson that it is important to be familiar with store policies and know your risk when assessing apparent “deals.”


Here are some other pieces I wrote for Get Rich Slowly. Some have been deleted, and others are still live. I don’t know why no one at QuinStreet bothered to mention to me that they were deleting my stories.

Best Protein Shake Ever

I had to post this excerpt from the Malcolm in The Middle episode “Malcolm Holds His Tongue” (Season 4, Episode 7) for my buddy Phil.

Best protein shake ever.

little-free-library-carved-into-cedar-stump_05

Giant Cedar Tree Repurposed as a Little Free Library

Just up the street from my house (near downtown Everett) there was a large cedar tree.

a majestic giant cedar tree just up the street from my house (photo via Google Street View)

a majestic giant cedar tree just up the street from my house (photo via Google Street View)

Recently, the owners of the property had a tree service come and cut the tree down. I was sad.

Strangely though, they did not cut the tree all the way down. A bare stump about twelve feet tall was left behind, a lonely testament to the cedar’s former glory.

Then a few weeks later, something magical happened…

Over the course of a few days, the sad stump was transformed into a the most creative Little Free Library I’ve seen to date.

little-free-library-carved-into-cedar-stump_01

Little Free Library carved into a giant cedar stump

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Bears, Owls, and Books!

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Some old cabinet doors serve to keep the books out of the weather.

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The current reading selection.

I’m still sad that the tree is gone, but I have to admit, this is a pretty awesome alternative, and it definitely adds some cool character to our neighborhood. Well played, neighbor. Well played.

[Update]
A couple weeks after I posted this, the Everett Herald wrote up a more in-depth story about the library: Everett woman turns beloved cedars into whimsical library

It all started when Sara Sanders’ beloved cedar took a turn for the worse.

It dropped a big honking limb onto Wetmore Avenue.

“It came down just before that big windstorm (in late August),” Sanders said. “It was time for it to go. The city sent me a letter that said ‘You must.’ ”

Still, it was hard letting go.

“The tree meant a lot to me. One of the reasons I bought the house 17 years ago was because of the tree,” Sanders said. “I wanted to be able to commemorate it in some way because it was a wonderful tree.”

What was once a 120-foot cedar is now a bear bearing books.

A couple days after that, KOMO News ran a video story:

[Update: Unfortunately KOMO deleted the story and the video from their website.]

Great stuff!

Red-Light-Camera-Lynnwood-WA_by-Dan-Bates-Everett-Herald

Forget Red Light Cameras, We Need Yellow Light Lines

Red light cameras are sold by the companies that install them and the cities that use them as a “safety” feature. Whether or not they actually improve safety is up for debate, but there is no doubt that they are big money makers for the cities that use them. If cities were primarily concerned with safety instead of generating revenue they would get rid of red light cameras and replace them with a yellow light line.

A Yellow Light Line?

tl;dr – Paint a yellow line on the road. If you’re traveling the speed limit as you approach an intersection and you’ve passed the yellow line when the light turns yellow, just keep going and you’ll clear the intersection before the light turns red. If you’re behind the yellow line, hit the brakes because the light will turn red before you clear the intersection.

How it Works

Actually there isn’t much more to it than that. Here’s what a city would need to do to implement yellow light lines:

  1. use the speed limit and the length time the traffic light stays yellow to calculate distance
  2. paint the yellow light line on the street at the distance calculated in step 1
  3. there is no step 3

Simple, effective, and cheap.

Why It’s Needed

Intersections controlled by traffic signals have a basic design flaw that red light cameras only serve to exacerbate. Drivers are unsure of how long they have to clear the intersection once the light turns yellow. Should you slow down or speed up? Every intersection has different timing, and when an intersection is equipped with a red light camera that doles out $124 tickets, drivers are much more likely to slam on the brakes even if they could make it through safely. This leads to more rear-end collisions.

With yellow light lines, that ambiguity is completely eliminated with a simple, clear visual. If you’ve passed the line when the light turns yellow, continue on at the speed limit and you will safely clear the intersection before the light turns red. If the line is in front of you, you’ll need to stop. No more uncertainty, no more slamming on the brakes.

Yellow Light Line Calculator

In order to help visualize this concept I’ve created this handy calculator. Simply edit the speed limit and/or the yellow light length to see how far from the intersection the yellow light line would be painted.

Addressing Objections

This section has been added to address some of the objections brought up by Redditors at /r/Seattle.

It’s not illegal to be in the intersection when the light turns red, it’s illegal to enter the intersection after the light turns red. – davethegr8

Indeed, the relevant law here in Washington State (RCW 46.61.055) indicates that it is only illegal to enter the intersection on a red light. However, since the purpose of the yellow light line is not to adhere to strict legal definitions but rather to improve safety, I think it would be best to measure the distance from the end of the intersection rather than the entrance.

How about telling people what you did so they know what the lines are? – Sir_Dude

This is a good point. Above I jokingly said “there is no step 3,” but in reality step 3 would be driver education.

Oh, and how are these lines going to work with heavier vehicles? An SUV is going to need more room to stop than a Prius. One line isn’t going to work for all cars. – Sir_Dude

The yellow light line is not placed based on how long it will take you to stop. The line is placed based on where you can clear the intersection while traveling at the speed limit.

Example: A driver in a Prius is driving the limit on a 35mph road and the light stays yellow for three seconds. They will travel 154 feet during the three seconds that the light is yellow. A driver in a big rig, will still travel the same 154 feet if they are driving 35mph for three seconds. So we paint the yellow light line 154 feet from the end of the intersection.

If three seconds is not enough time for a big rig to stop, then the length of time the light is yellow should be adjusted by the city. This obviously would move the location of the yellow light line, but the correct location of the line is not variable for different vehicles, it depends only on the speed limit and the length of time the light is yellow.

Currently, judgement is all drivers depend on. If you suddenly give drivers a “tip” for determining if they should go or stop, what will change? People tend to be aware of their current speed, their braking capability based on vehicle characteristics, and how far they have before the stop line. – steve_mcgee

It is true that drivers are (or should be) aware of those things. However, what drivers are often unaware of is how long the light will stay yellow, and whether or not that is enough time to make it through the intersection from their location when it turns yellow. This issue is exacerbated by the fact that different intersections have different yellow light timing. The yellow light line is a simple way of providing exactly that piece of information to drivers.

Light timing changes (gets shorter) on many intersections late at night. The timing would be off on clearing the intersection or you’d need two lines. – eran76

The overall cycle of a given traffic signal may get shorter at night, but the length of time the light is yellow is constant regardless of how long the light stays red or green, and does not change throughout the day.

What’s Next?

Like this idea? Contact your local city council and point them to this post. Share it on your favorite social media site and spread the word. Or if you’re really ambitious, file a statewide citizen’s initiative. If you feel like living dangerously, you can run the calculator for the intersections in your neighborhood, grab some yellow paint, and engage in some “Guerrilla Public Service” like L.A. artist Richard Ankrom, who installed his own freeway sign in 2001.

I’ve also provided a handy embed code above so you can easily share the yellow light line calculator.

Or maybe you think I’m a clueless idiot and this is an incredibly stupid idea? Point out the flaws in my logic in the comments below.

As always, thanks for reading.

Yellow Light Line Example

Featured photo by Dan Bates, Everett Herald