Two Rose Hill students hit by car: Neighbors outraged, citing unsafe intersection in need of lights, crosswalk

Two eighth-grade girls from Rose Hill Junior High School were hit by a car and seriously injured in January while they were crossing Northeast 70th Street at 120th Avenue Northeast. According to police, the driver of the car, a 78-year-old woman, was not at fault.

But the accident highlights a long-running concern about the safety of streets for children in the South Rose Hill and Bridle Trails neighborhoods, according to Deirdre DeWan Johnson, a co-president of the Rose Hill Elementary School PTA.

"It's something we've been talking about forever," she said.

"We have seven schools, and you can't get to the schools safely," Johnson added. "Our walk routes (for school kids) are atrocious." She also charged that Kirkland city government is paying more attention to downtown safety concerns than they are safety concerns in her neighborhood.

That includes the recent installation of a permanent electronic radar speed sign near Peter Kirk School, Johnson said. "Excuse me," she railed, "Rose Hill has squat."

Johnson would like to see additional lighting, striping and a raised crosswalk installed at the Northeast 70th Street intersection, but she doubts the city will pay for flashing crosswalk signs because they're too expensive.

Alma Kruse, the mother of one of the injured girls, would also like to see something done to improve safety. "I think there should be lights," she said. "It was starting to get dark and it was raining," she said of the afternoon of the accident.

Kruse added that she talked to her daughter on the phone and asked if she and her friend wanted a ride home. They turned down the offer and decided to walk home instead, she said.

Sgt. Mike Ursino from the Kirkland Police Department said it was dark and raining buckets when the driver hit the girls in the crosswalk. "She just didn't see those kids," he said. "She braked but couldn't stop in time."

One of the reasons the woman couldn't see the girls was because they were dressed in dark clothes and because the background is dark, Ursino said. Looking at the conditions at the time of the accident, he said he was not inclined to charge the driver, although Ursino said the ultimate decision was up to the city prosecutor.

He also faults the girls in part for the accident. "It was far easier for the girls to see the car than it was for the driver to see them," the police officer said. "I'm an advocate that it's a shared responsibility," Ursino said of pedestrian safety.

Dave Godfrey from the Kirkland Public Works department said orange crosswalk flags were installed at the crosswalk on 70th following the accident.

He said he knew of no "ultra-rigorous testing" that has been done on the effectiveness of the flag system in improving pedestrian safety. "On the other hand, the little bit of testing we have done shows it is an effective device."

There are a number of other improvements that might be made at the crosswalk to improve safety, but a lighted sign is probably not the first alternative, Godfrey said. Speed bumps are another alternative, but there's a problem with that option. "Some in South Rose Hill are not fond of speed bumps," he said.

Godfrey also denied the city is ignoring the neighborhood's safety concerns. "We've been working with South Rose Hill for quite some time," he said. "The neighborhood has been sorting out what they want to do."

Echoing Godfrey, Deputy Mayor Joan McBride said the city is serious about pedestrian safety. "It's not OK when our children are hit," she said. But McBride also said the flags are step in the right direction. "I believe the orange flags are the best defensive things a pedestrian can use to cross the street."

She also said the city council is planning to set up a meeting soon with neighborhood residents and the local schools to discuss safety issues. The council also plans to set up a committee to deal with pedestrian safety for school children, but McBride stressed that the city is already focused on the "Three Es: Enforcement, Engineering and Education" in terms of safety in the streets.

Johnson from the PTA concedes education is already in the mix. "We introduced walk-your-child-to-school week," she said of programs for the area's elementary schools. There is also a special day at the schools when safety is discussed, the school children take pedestrian- and bike-safety quizzes, and there is a safety mascot dressed as a giant bee, Johnson added.

"We're putting together refresher materials to send home with the elementary school kids," she said. But Johnson noted that the two girls injured in the accident are in junior high school. "The city does not consider where junior high and high school kids walk," she complained.

A member of the Kirkland school-walk-route committee herself, Johnson thinks the junior and senior high schools should send representative to the committee.

Johnson appreciates that the city put in the flag system at the crosswalk, but she's not overly impressed. "It's too little, too late," she said. Johnson also appreciates that the city is putting together a committee to study pedestrian safety, but she was dubious that much will come of it. "We're afraid they're just going to give us lip service."

Kruse, whose daughter was injured in the accident, said she also has a son who attends Lake Washington High School. Kruse added that she is concerned about him walking home while it's still dark in the afternoon.

He says she's being paranoid, but Kruse said she picks her son up from school every day now.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or (206) 461-1309.

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