November 22, 2014
By Cathy Tuttle
This is a story of how community activism, police, courts, the press, and engineering have worked together to make our streets safer.
Jake Vanderplas is an sweet, caring man. He lives in West Seattle, and as a student decided the best thing for his health, wallet, community, and environment would be to bike commute daily between West Seattle and the UW. (He’s smart too — he really is an astrophysicist.)
A few years ago Jake realized he could make his commute and his community a lot safer if greenways came to West Seattle.
Jake and Stu Hennessey (another sweet, caring man who owns Alki Bike and Board), formed West Seattle Greenways and started leading scouting and policy bike rides around neighborhood streets trying to map out the most connected, least hilly routes through some pretty challenging geography.
I had the pleasure of going on some of these slow rides: with Stu on a Spokespeople Ride and Jake on a policy ride showing potential greenway routes to City Councilmembers, SDOT, and local business people.
As part of our Seattle Neighborhood Greenways coalition, Jake was able to advocate for the Delridge Greenway. Jake also joined his North Delridge Neighborhood Council to be a good citizen and to help smooth the way for a greenway through the community. In many ways Jake’s path to greenways followed that of other local leaders of our 20+ local groups.
Jake also is a regular participant and organizer of Memorial Walks and Bike Rides and was a lead organizer of the Memorial Ride for Sher Kung. Jake’s photo here is from our Vigil Walk he attended in Madison Park.
So it was particularly ironic when Jake was attacked by a woman speeding on the Delridge Greenway. His actual assault happened later, on SW Andover & 26th SW. The West Seattle Blog describes the crime:
“The investigation indicated that Soerensen had first passed Vanderplas “at a high rate of speed” while northbound on 26th SW, a neighborhood-greenway street; he then passed her, and after following him at 20 mph for several blocks, repeatedly honking her horn, she swerved into Vanderplas, who suffered a hand injury, and then she drove away; police tracked her down about a week later. As noted in charging documents, her 2002 Nissan Sentra “has a curb weight of 2,519 pounds” while Vanderplas’s 2007 Schwinn LeTour bicycle weighs about 30 pounds.”
Because it was a hit and run assault, Jake used a letter to the Seattle Bike Blog as one way to help the police identify and track down his assailant. The police found and charged the assailant, King County Superior Court took the case to trial, and yesterday, the jury upheld the charges of second-degree assault. Sentencing will happen early next year.
What is extraordinary about this case, in addition to Jake being a safe streets advocate with Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, is the outcome. Jake is back on his bike when many who’ve been struck face a lifetime of rehabilitation. Many hit-and-runs remain unsolved, while the police were able to solve this crime. In this case, police charged the assailant, while in too many cases, even people who have killed with their cars receive only a small ticket. And the King County Superior Court was willing to take and successfully prosecute this case.
We need the police and courts to reliably do their jobs and to be a deterrent to traffic violence as they have in Jake’s case.
We also need our streets engineered to not allow deadly mistakes. Intersections where “the sun was in my eyes”, “it was too dark”, and “it was confusing and I didn’t see her” are places where different modes must be separated, slowed, and signaled.
All of our systems, police, courts, engineering, health and education, and the press need to work together with the community to make our streets safer. In short, we need Vision Zero.