Capitol Hill resident Marilyn Black is still mourning the loss of her husband, Max Richards, who was fatally struck by a vehicle while walking their dog a block from their apartment on Sept. 21.
“I’m asking how I’m meant to live without him, because it doesn’t seem possible,” she said.
Black’s loss was one of three traffic fatalities shared inside Seattle City Hall during a World Day of Remembrance for Victims of Traffic Violence program hosted by Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.
There are an average 30 traffic collisions in the city every day. There have been 240 traffic deaths in Seattle over the past decade.
Seattle Neighborhood Greenways will pay tribute to those victims on Sunday, placing 240 silhouettes at 20 dangerous traffic areas around the city on Sunday, said SNG executive director Cathy Tuttle, which is the actual World Remembrance Day.
Thursday’s event at city hall wasn’t just to highlight the dangers that exist for pedestrians on Seattle streets, but to honor the families that have lost a loved one and also thank the first responders charged with caring for victims. There were 2,400 people injured in traffic collisions over the last several years, and traffic fatality is the leading cause of death for Seattleites 5-24, said SNG volunteer Brian Estes.
“Seattle families deserve and expect safe streets,” he said. … “The statistics are simply unacceptable. We can, must and will do more to make Seattle streets safer for everyone.”
That’s the focus of Seattle’s Vision Zero program, which seeks to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. The Seattle Department of Transportation is working toward that goal using data-driven strategies and working with the police, fire and public health departments, said Vision Zero program manager Jim Curtin. He told guests at the Nov.17 program about how his fifth-grade band teacher was killed in a traffic collision and later how a friend survived being struck by a vehicle.
More than 35,000 people were killed in traffic collision in the United States last year, Curtin said, “which is a staggering loss of live. We have to do better.”
For law enforcement, a lot of its work is in educating people about traffic safety, while also emphasizing DUI, seatbelt safety and distracted driving campaigns, said Capt. Eric Sano with the Seattle Police Department’s traffic section. SPD works to identify problem areas where many traffic complaints are received and focusing officers there, he said.
The city reduced speed limits in the city center from 35 mph to 30 mph on Nov. 7, and from 25 mph to 20 mph on residential streets in certain areas of Seattle. According to SDOT director Scott Kubly during the announced plan, 42 percent of fatality collisions downtown are related to speed.
Sano said the police department will work with SDOT to provide education to drivers, adding it will take time to get motorist acclimated to the change. Those education efforts will include an SPD blog post and communications through Nextdoor, he said.
For the holiday season, SPD moved three officers to DUI patrols, where they’ll remain until January, Sano said.
Seattle Fire Lt. Harold Webb told program attendees he knows when medic first responders are on the scene of a collision or other emergency calls, they can seem robotic and detached. That’s just because they’re focused on the task at hand, he said.
“Please know that at some point we take pause and we try to figure out in our minds that the patients that we deal with are our neighbors and our friends,” Webb said. “They have family. They have people that care about them.”
Max Richards, 79, was crossing the intersection of Belmont Avenue East and Bellevue Place East on Wednesday, Sept. 21, when he was struck by a car. He died at Harborview Medical Center around 7:30 p.m. that night. Black spoke about her husband, a retired professor and poet, during a memorial walk on Oct. 2.
She shared a poem Richards wrote about her a year ago during Thursday’s program, the poem telling the story of her first visit to the Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University, where Black is studying theology. They’d been there to remember a cousin who passed.
Black said she recently went to the chapel, where she wrote Richards’ name in the book of the dead. Feeling better, she said she tried to take a picture of the entry.
“But when I pointed my iPhone at the altar, the phone died,” she said, adding the battery had been at 70 percent. She ran into a classmate outside, telling her the story. “‘Oh,’ she said, ‘did you feel Max with you while you were there?”
Black said she doesn’t really buy in to such beliefs, but did feel a calm while inside the chapel.
SDOT recently installed a crosswalk at the intersection where Richards was struck, having begun collecting traffic data there prior to the collision. A curb bulb is also planned for installation at the north end of the intersection in the spring.
“I’m really glad that went up,” Black told the Capitol Hill Times. “I know that Max was a very socially minded former professor of English literature, and I know he would always be self-effacing; if he could do something for the community, he would sacrifice.”
While she misses her husband terribly, Black said she sees the traffic improvements as something good that came from Richards’ death.
“The whole community had been pitching for it,” she said. “There was celebrating in the (apartment) building, for instance.”
Black said she’d also like to see a speed hump in the area, to slow down traffic.
The driver that collided with Richards was released at the scene, said Black, who last received an update on the open case from SPD about three weeks ago.
“It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know,” she said, “and it didn’t explain the accident.”