Road safety plan re-energizes Second Street revamp concept

A city transportation plan open house is scheduled 4-7 p.m. April 30 in the Carnegie at First and Cedar

SNOHOMISH — Two serious car crashes, one a fatality caused by unusual circumstances, last month at Second and Maple gave the city’s public works director Nova Heaton a lot of deep consideration to do.

She was already lined up to present a clarion call for better road safety to the March 19 council meeting, and then these crashes happen right before it?

It’s not coincidental transportation is in the spotlight. Still, after calls about risks to pedestrians and perennial speeding complaints, the city will be asking the public where to focus efforts.

This week at Tuesday’s City Council meeting after press time, a city consultant will walk through suggestions for Snohomish’s transportation system, including arterials such as Second Street.

Know of an unsafe road? People can weigh in at a Transportation Master Plan open house on Tuesday, April 30 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Carnegie Building.

City Hall has been slowly setting the table for safer roads for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists alike.

A couple of years ago, it initiated a plan toward revised road design standards that consider pedestrians’ and bicyclists’ needs more heavily into account.

A couple of weeks ago, the City Council approved pursuing Heaton’s plan to reduce the number of people injured on roads.

The city has possessed a near-complete redesign for Second Street done by professionals since 2020 but has no money yet to act on it.

The idea turns Second Street into a tree-lined road with a median. A state bicycle-and-pedestrian-safety grant the city won paid for almost the entire design job.

The plan for Snohomish’s busiest thoroughfare by traffic volume takes away the road’s width, and the design is meant to limit on-street parking and limit entering and exiting some businesses. Officials have said these changes will slow down traffic with a side effect of dissuading cut-through traffic coming off of U.S. 2 and Highway 9.

The city will restart pursuing grant funding for Second Street, Heaton said in March.

A key step for Second Street is done: Last summer, the city put in new utilities underneath, including a sewer-stormwater separation trunkline and building a 24-inch pipe to guide the downstream part of Swifty Creek right to the Snohomish River.

Crash data

Snohomish saw 620 collisions between 2018 and 2022, the latest data available, although most were between cars, with just 20 collisions with pedestrians and 6 with bicyclists.

Even so, residents frequently complain to officials that they feel unsafe walking in town.

More than 30% of the collisions happened along Avenue D, Second Street and Bickford Avenue, in that order.

Pine Avenue and Tenth Street was Snohomish’s most crash-prone intersection.

Fatalities have been few.

Before the March 17 fatal crash at Second Street and Maple Avenue caused by the driver excessively speeding and crashing (see story), Snohomish’s last road fatality was in 2016 when two vehicles crashed in the 3300 block of Bickford Avenue.

Serious injuries, though, have happened.

In almost four out of 10 of these 620 collisions, someone didn’t give right-of-way or didn’t stop at the stop sign. In some cases, the pedestrian caused the collision.

Distracted driving caused almost one-third of the accidents.

Road safety and pedestrians

The road safety plan council just adopted looks to reduce collisions by 10% in one year. It will include reviewing intersections to make targeted safety improvements, speed enforcement by police and conducting safety education campaigns.

The city will also work to paint crosswalks more clearly and identify high-risk pedestrian crossing areas.

In the past 20 years, there have been only two pedestrian fatalities in Snohomish, one in 2008 and one in 2006. Both pedestrians died later in a hospital. The 2008 death was at 13th and Avenue D; the 2006 death was at night after being hit while crossing Second Street at Avenue A in dark and rainy conditions; a stoplight has since been added there partially because of this incident.

In 2021, the city came close to lowering speed limits to 20 mph across much of town to address speeding. It didn’t authorize making a blanket change, though, instead creating a method to petition the city where officials decide on a case-by-case basis.

Pedestrian safety factored into Snohomish’s then-push for reducing speed limits.

Pedestrian fatality studies say that 9 out of 10 people survive being hit by a car going 20 mph, but the chances of survival drop to 5 out of 10 if a car going 30 mph hits you, according to 1990s data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration utilized by Vision Zero Seattle. The same data showed most collisions are at slower speeds.

Automakers have changed vehicle designs to create blunt front ends for pedestrian safety. The idea, originating from Europe, says it is safer for the body to take a broader blow versus being hit at a narrow point and being thrown onto the hood.

However, cars are heavier and larger than before. Bigger vehicles are incidentally due to each automaker having to work around tightening U.S. fuel economy standards, which have a sort-of loophole “determined by the literal ‘footprints’ of the vehicles it makes,” noted the University of Michigan.

In 2011, U of Michigan scientists Kate Whitefoot and Steven Skerlos predicted tightening fuel economy standards would cause vehicles classified as light trucks -- all SUVs, all pickups, and some crossovers -- would grow in size for the sake of ‘making the grade’ with the government’s CAFE standards.

Unlucky you if you are hit by one.

Nationally, pedestrian deaths are up, according to database work by University of Hawaii researcher Justin Tyndall.

“Between 2010 and 2021 the number of pedestrians killed annually in collisions increased by 72%, from 4,300 to 7,400,” Tyndall wrote. The annual death rate was falling from 1995 onward until we reached 2010.

In a 2024 paper, Tyndall directly cross-relates pedestrian deaths with vehicles getting bigger -- specifically vehicle nose height and vehicle weight. These heights and weights can be attributed together with the rise of SUVs and trucks in sales market share. Tyndall suggests setting a federal limit of 4.1 feet for maximum vehicle nose heights to improve pedestrian safety.
Add-on: He wrote a 2023 paper on the effect of vehicle size and pedestrian safety as well.

In related news

For crosswalk safety, the city will install rectangular rapid flashing beacons at Fifth Street and Avenue E near Snohomish High School and at Maple and Pine avenues where the Centennial Trail goes through, city Public Works Services Manager Tim Cross said. These could be up by this summer.