Honor the victims. Mobilize for Safer Streets. Educate for Traffic Safety.
On Sept. 5 more than 400 people gathered for a Memorial Bike Ride in downtown Seattle to honor the life of Sher Kung. An attorney and new mother, Kung was hit and killed by a truck driver while biking down 2nd Ave. — just ten days before the new 2nd Ave. protected bike lane was installed. The Memorial Ride, organized by Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, Cascade Bicycle Club, and West Seattle Greenways, paused at the Garden of Remembrance for a Memorial, and then continued on to Occidental Park to discuss how to make sure this kind of tragedy never happens again.
Sadly, tragedies like this occur all too often. Seattle averages eight pedestrian fatalities and three bike fatalities each year. Over the past 18 months, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has helped local community groups produce 12 Memorial Walks and Rides. In just August and September, there were three: a Memorial Ride for Sher Kung, a Memorial Walk for Rebecca Scollard (Walk supported by Central Seattle Greenways and Women in Black), and a Memorial Walk for Caleb Shoop (Walk supported by Kirkland Greenways and Lake City Greenways). Scollard, a 42-year-old woman known in the homeless community for her generosity, was killed on First Hill on July 30 by an apparent hit-and-run by a CleanScapes garbage truck driver. Shoop, a 19-year-old who hoped to become a firefighter, was hit while biking in a crosswalk in Kenmore last spring.
Each new tragedy is a piercing reminder of how much work still needs to be done to achieve safe streets with zero fatalities and serious injuries. Memorial Walks honor the victims and their families, increase general community support for engineered safety improvements (such as reduced speed, parking restrictions, and new signals), and push politicians and city staff into action. An integral part of our Memorial model is a Solutions Meeting to gather the local community, the broader advocacy community, and city leaders with the goal of bringing positive solutions to terrible tragedy.
These Memorials and Solutions Meetings have had an impact. The Memorial Walk to honor James St. Clair helped bring about a multi-year SDOT traffic safety project in the High Point neighborhood. Our actions have also contributed to several legislative changes that address traffic violence. As a direct response to the Schulte family tragedy in the spring of 2013, our otherwise paralyzed state legislature increased penalties for impaired driving, making jail time mandatory after a second conviction and strengthening requirements for alcohol-detecting interlock devices after conviction. Seattle Department of Transportation also instituted numerous engineered safety improvements, including the rechannelization of NE 75th St. within a year after the Schulte tragedy.
In 2012, before we began our Memorial Walks and Rides, Washington State adopted a Vulnerable User Law, providing increased penalties for people driving cars and trucks who injure or kill people walking or biking. Unfortunately, because law enforcement officers and prosecutors are largely unaware of this law, a huge public education task remains. The man who hit and killed Caleb Shoop was issued a $175 ticket for “failure to yield.” We are making progress, but we have a long way to go.
In addition to the legal and policy solutions, our Memorial Walks and Rides aim to change the cultural paradigm that defines the automobile as the only “normal” transportation mode. That’s what bikers and walkers do every day — we reframe walking and biking as normal, healthy, safe components of everyday life. When we bring together people from various branches of city government and diverse communities, we challenge the silos within government and within community. We insist that the disease of traffic violence has a cure. We come together as people to heal and create the safe streets we all need. The victims of traffic violence deserve nothing less.
Note: We are developing a template for successful Memorial Walks. We presented a draft on September 11, 2014 at the Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place conference in Pittsburgh.