Crosswalk crusader Man wants city to improve safety after being struck
November 24, 2008 · Updated 4:42 PM
By Ruth Longoria' email='Ruth.Longoria@mi-reporter.com
For the past several years, Islander Steve Ybarra has crusaded to get city government to do something about what he considers a dangerous crosswalk at S.E. 42nd Street and Island Crest Way. During the school year, children cross the street on a daily basis as they walk to the bus stop for the elementary school or middle school or walk along what is a popular trail to Mercer Island High School. Although there's the broad white markings on the street signifying it's a designated crosswalk, Ybarra fears the safety kids feel as they stay within those lines is a false sense of security. Cars don't always seem to notice the kids or the crosswalk.
At 3 p.m., June 17, Ybarra was a victim of what he fears for the kids who use the 42nd Street crosswalk. As he stepped off the west side Island Crest Way curb and into the crosswalk, a southbound 1999 Toyota Camry slammed into him. The driver, apparently, didn't see Ybarra. By the time the driver applied the brakes, it was too late. Ybarra hit the windshield of the vehicle and landed on the pavement, according to the police report. He was transported to Overlake Hospital with a laceration on his head, skin missing from his shoulder and back, and a knee injury. "If a car can do that much damage to a 200-pound man, it would just crush a child," Ybarra said. "I'm more than 6-feet tall, if drivers can't see me in a crosswalk, how are they going to see a 3-foot tall kid?" With two recent cases of children hit in crosswalks in Seattle and a couple of children killed within the past few years in Bellevue and Kirkland, Ybarra said he doesn't want to wait until someone dies on the Island to fix the crosswalk problem.
"I know I'm being a nuisance to the city about this, but I don't care if nobody likes me. This is about my kid, and other kids, and it's about me. I got hit and I don't want somebody to die here," he said. Two years ago, Ybarra spoke with Mercer Island Police Commander Ed Holmes, who provided police vehicles to help slow cars down as they approached the crosswalk during the first few days of school. However, although the police visibility is a deterrent and causes drivers to notice their speedometers, officers aren't available on a full-time basis. When a call came in for another law enforcement need, the officers had to leave, Ybarra said. This year, Holmes has again promised Ybarra that officers will help out at the crosswalk area. But, Ybarra isn't satisfied with that, helpful though it might be, temporary fix to the situation. "Something needs to be done here," Ybarra said. "The crosswalk was fine 15 years ago, when there was less traffic, but now it's not sufficient." Ybarra also has talked with city staff about the problem. Two years ago, city engineers studied the crosswalk and car traffic at that location, said Deb Symmonds, deputy city manager. It was decided that additional warning signs -- bright green signs pointing ahead to the crosswalk and an orange flagged sign at the crosswalk -- as well as re-striping the crosswalk, would be the route to go. Since Ybarra's experience and other incidents in that area, city staff again is "actively looking at" the problem, Symmonds said. One possible solution is to take out the crosswalk, so kids and adults don't cross there or feel safe about crossing where it may not be safe to do so. The intersection at S.E. 40th Street and Island Crest Way is only two blocks away, and is, understandably, a safer option. "The safest crossings are at traffic light signals," Symmonds said. "Drivers do stop at red lights." Another option, which Ybarra favors, is to add a light guard -- the white lights that flash from street level when someone is using a crosswalk. Symmonds said cost of a light guard crosswalk would be between $40,000 and $45,000. However, cost isn't the only consideration. "We might look at that option and think it's the right thing to do, but light guards don't work everywhere. Engineers would know more than we do about the distance from an intersection, and how and if they would work here," she said.
Whatever the engineers chose, it's not going to be a quick fix, and, most likely, not in time for the start of the school year, which is only a few weeks away, Symmonds said.
"This isn't something that would just take days to fix, it could be weeks or months," she said. "For now, we don't have an easy answer, but I'm reiterating that there are options for where to cross the Island's busiest road. The school bus has an alternate stop in the vicinity and if you feel it's not safe, don't cross there."