Cyclist dies on Rainier Avenue as neighborhood keeps waiting for safer street

SEATTLE — The latest person to die crossing Rainier Avenue South was a bicyclist, killed Monday by a driver who never stopped.

Irina Roganova's co-worker saw the impact.

"She saw, literally, his body fly," Roganova said.

The man's shoes were found 60 feet apart.

While police investigate the hit-and-run, looking for a white sedan with front-end damage, advocates for pedestrians and cyclists are calling for a safer road.

"We're all heartbroken. There are too many tragedies on Rainier Avenue and this is just the latest example," said Gordon Padelford, of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.

He's frustrated the city's plans to improve a southern section of Rainier Avenue keep getting pushed back.

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​"It was supposed to be 2016, then 2017, then 2018, then 2019, and now the city is saying it will take until 2020 to make that full section safer," Padelford said.

In 2014, KIRO 7 covered a 15-vehicle crash on Rainier Avenue.

In 2015, we went to a community meeting where then-Mayor Ed Murray promised changes.

"We're not going to have any more 5-year-olds hit and we're not going to have 10 more deaths in the next decade," Murray told the crowd.

The Seattle Department of Transportation did make safer the stretch of Rainier Avenue through Columbia City and Hillman City by rechanneling traffic and improving pedestrian crossings.

"What the city did in 2015 was a good step and we need them to finish the job," said Jasmine Bechlem, of Rainier Valley Greenways.

The work between South Kenny and Henderson streets still hasn't started, and won't be finished until next year.

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In an email to KIRO 7, SDOT officials wrote the original design would have made bus rides too long and didn't include enough safety improvements.

The city says there are also technical issues with overhead trolley wires for buses.

Each time something bad happens on Rainier Avenue, like three girls being struck last year in two incidents in the same intersection, neighbors share the same frustrations.

And the number of fatalities is staggering.

"We're facing three deaths in less than one year on Rainier Avenue," Bechlem said.

"Ignoring the need on the most dangerous street in Seattle is upholding the inequities that let some neighborhoods in Seattle thrive and leave behind so many others," Bechlem said.

Last year, when Mayor Jenny Durkan met with neighbors after the girls were hit at Rainier and Henderson, she promised improvements.

"It breaks my heart that this has to happen to any family. We are better than that as a city and we need to really make sure that as we really grow as a city, that no parts of our city are left behind," Durkan said.

SDOT officials said no one from the department was available for an interview, but a spokesman wrote that after the girls were struck last year at Rainier and Henderson, the city did several improvements, including widening the crosswalks and changing signals to give pedestrians a head start.

The spot where the cyclist was killed Monday, at Rainier and Sturtevant avenues, is just outside the boundary for the next round of work on Rainier Avenue.

But SDOT officials say they do have $500,000 secured by Councilmember Bruce Harrell for that stretch of road and that improvements are expected in 2020 and 2021.