Seattle

Attention Seattle Drivers: New, lower speed limits in effect!

sdot-lowers-arterial-speed-limitHopefully making the most out of the extra hour yesterday, transportation workers were busy at work around Seattle yesterday. Why? They were installing 145 signs announcing the new 25 mph arterial-speed limit. The policy behind lowering the arterial speed limit is to reduce traffic related injuries and fatalities.

So…. take note:

The residential speed limit of 25 mph falls to 20 mph throughout the city, including hundreds of unmarked roads — in many cases, too narrow for drivers to exceed 20 anyway.

• The default speed limit of 30 mph for arterials drops to 25 mph citywide,“unless otherwise posted,” according to new signs at the city entrances.

This last point may confuse drivers because some outlying streets that were historically 30 mph have sporadic signs, due to abuse and neglect. The City Council unanimously approved the changes Sept. 26 and is looking to extend the program next year.

Friends at Seattle Greenways were big proponents of this change. Kudos to Cathy Tuttle and Gordon Padelford!

Cities: Listen up! Bicycles = “ordinary travel” & you must provide safe roadways.

Last week Division II Court of Appeals ruled that cities must provide safe roadways for all traffic, including bicycles. The three-judge panel found that cycling is a mode of “ordinary travel,” not just a sport. This means, Div II says, that cities must maintain roads for safe bicycle travel. What’s the big deal about calling bicycles “ordinary travel?” A lot.

In 2012, a Seattle judge dismissed the consolidated cases for injured cyclists. who argued that the South Lake Union Trolley tracks on Westlake were unsafe for cyclists because of the trolley tracks. Their bike tires too easily got trapped in the flangeways, where the trolleys’ wheels travel. However, the court in that case did not address whether bicycling was considered “ordinary travel” for the purposes of Washington Pattern Jury Instruction (WPI) 140.01. WPI 140.01 says that a municipality “has a  duty to exercise ordinary care in the design/construction of its public roads to keep them in a reasonably safe condition for ordinary travel. The judge focused on the fact that the plaintiffs’ attorney in that case (not from our firm) has not provided any expert to testify to the standard of care. In other words, not expert argued that the City of Seattle failed to design and construct the road that was reasonably safe for ordinary travel. Thus, the City was let off the hook.

Plaintiff Pamela O’Neill was seriously injured while commuting home on her bike from work in Port Orchard. When her bike hit a patch of road  with gaps in the concrete, her body flew onto the road. O’Neill sued the city, claiming it was negligent in maintaining  the road, when it should have provided safe travel for bicycles. A Superior Court judge granted the city’s motion to dismiss the case. The appeals court overturned that dismissal and sent the case back to the lower court “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

“Bicycles are an integral part of Washington’s ‘statewide multimodal transportation plan,” so cities must make roads safe for bicycles, the judges said.

O’Neill is an experienced cyclist who regularly commuted by bike to and from work and often took new routes to challenge her abilities, the court ruling said. Before July 18, 2009, she had never ridden down Sidney Avenue, the record said. As she headed down the hill, the road conditions changed from smooth to uneven. Photographs of the site of the accident showed “gaps between concrete slabs of up to 4 inches and height differentials of more than 1 inch,” the court said. At one point, Pamela’s handlebars jerked to the right, throwing her to the ground. She landed on her head and right shoulder and suffered serious injuries.

A city public works director said in his deposition that the city fixes roadways on a “complaint-based system” and the city had not received complaints about that stretch of road.

To challenge that claim, O’Neill offered testimony from an expert witness named James Couch, a U.S. Cycling Federation coach who owned a bicycle store in Tacoma. He said the breaks in the concrete slab were “enough to cause even the most skilled cyclist to lose control of their bike.”

The Superior Court found that Couch did not qualify as an expert witness and excluded his testimony, but the appeals court said Couch’s knowledge, skills and experience qualified him as an expert and the court erred by excluding his statements.

The judges also said the court erred when it said O’Neill “assumed the risk of poor roadway surface conditions” under the doctrine of implied assumption of risk.

“Falling is an inherent and necessary risk of the activity of cycling, and O’Neill assumed the general risk that she would fall off her bicycle and injure herself,” the judges wrote. “She did not, however, assume the enhanced risks associated with the City’s failure to repair an alleged defective roadway of which the City allegedly had constructive notice.”

Murder/wrongful death in Belize with ties to Washington State

Two SKW clients’ tangled story about the wrongful death and murder of their father seem made for a TV movie. KING5 TV draws out the details in a recent segment. Learn more about Plaintiffs Jennifer Ralston and Caleb McMamara here. You’ll want to play the story several times to make sure you catch the twists and turns of this sad and bizarre tale of how Jennifer and Caleb lost their father. Check back often for updates.

Seattle supposedly ranks #1 for pedestrian safety. Really?

Insurance company's study cites Seattle as safest for pedestrians.

Insurance company’s study cites Seattle as safest for pedestrians. (Credit: Mike Siegel/Seattle Times)

According to a Liberty Mutual study, Seattle is at the top of the list for the safest city in the country for pedestrians. Thanks to additional infrastructures like the wonderful new pedestrian walkway about a block from SKW’s building, residents are safer. The study cited Boston as the second safest among 25 cities studied. D.C. followed as #3 safest with Detroit at the very bottom as the most dangerous. Note that the study is based on “city statistics and residents’ and commuters’ perceptions of safety” between 2005 – 2010. People! This suggests that the “data” used is dated and doubtful. Regardless, here’s the insurer’s list:

Top 15 Safest U.S. Cities for Pedestrians
  1. Seattle, Wash.
  2. Boston, Mass.
  3. Washington, D.C.
  4. San Francisco, Calif.
  5. New York, N.Y.
  6. Portland, Ore.
  7. Pittsburgh, Pa.
  8. Minneapolis, Minn.
  9. Chicago, Ill
  10. Atlanta, Ga
  11. Denver, Colo.
  12. Philadelphia, Pa.
  13. Baltimore, Md.
  14. Columbus, Ohio
  15. Los Angeles, Calif.

Yes, I admit that I read the study with a cynical eye. The age and skewed nature of the data yield misleading conclusions. Remember my recent rant about distracted pedestrians? A more credible study is the one cited in the Seattle Times, which noted that 1/3 of us are dangerous pedestrians because of high tech distractions such as smartphones, iPods, etc.

At Stritmatter Kessler Whelan, we represent an increasing number of seriously injured pedestrians or the family of those wrongfully killed when struck as a pedestrian. The higher instance of catastrophically injured pedestrians that are calling belies Liberty Mutual’s study, although of course our information is a tiny sample based on a wide array of factors (perhaps it helps that we’re located in Lower Queen Anne, near a burgeoning hub of pedestrian activity?).

Well, at least the insurance company lists these commonsense steps to stay safe when walking:

Pedestrians:

  • Avoid using your phone while walking. Keep texting, emailing or browsing the Internet to a minimum while walking, and always put down the phone when crossing the street. Avoid the use of headphones and loud music while walking and crossing the street to ensure you can hear motorists approaching.
  • Observe all pedestrian traffic safety rules. Never jaywalk; use sidewalks and designated crosswalks, and always wait for the walk sign before crossing at lights.
  • Look both ways! It’s the first rule children are taught, yet adults often forget it. Even when there is a walk signal or stop sign, look both ways and be aware when crossing the street.
  • Make yourself visible to motorists. Wear light colored clothing and outerwear with reflective patches so drivers can see you on the road. If your children walk to school, make sure their backpacks and shoes have reflective patches. If you must walk on a roadway, walk on the proper side of the street so you’re facing traffic.
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