Stretch of Highway 99 a threat to pedestrians

David Hayes didn’t have a chance.

After getting off a bus about 10 p.m. Jan. 31, Hayes attempted to cross the four lanes of Highway 99 near Gibson Road. Pushing himself across the 72-foot expanse of pavement in his wheelchair, Hayes had to pick a path through cars passing at 50 mph.

He almost made it. A northbound bus slowed down for Hayes. But a driver in the lane closest to the curb apparently didn’t see anything until Hayes emerged from behind the bus.

Hayes, 58, of Everett, died at the scene from a head injury, just short of reaching Gibson Road and the nearby adult family home where he’d lived for about five months.

“With the bus there and this guy that came popping out in front of him, it would have happened to anybody,” Washington State Patrol trooper Keith Leary said of the driver.

Hayes’ death has raised questions about the safety of a strip of highway where pedestrians frequently risk dashing from one side to the other without the protection of a pedestrian crossing, even during rush hours.

The reason: There are no crosswalks for more than a mile, from Airport Road near Everett’s southern boundary to Lincoln Way in unincorporated Snohomish County.

Gibson Road wasn’t a good place for Hayes to try to cross the highway, said Kelly Klopfenstein, the owner of RV Town, a nearby business. “But there isn’t really a good place,” he said. “If the bus left him off on the other side, there is no crossing for a long way.”

Mohamed Hakizemaha, who helped care for Hayes, puts it even more forcefully.

“He died because of safety issues of the street,” he said. If the intersection was marked with a pedestrian crossing, “David Hayes would be here.”

Although it’s not illegal for pedestrians to cross the roadway at an unmarked crosswalk, they must use due care, said Washington State Patrol trooper Jeff Leonard. The highway is known for its problem with pedestrians crossing the highway at places other than marked crosswalks, he said.

Yet with bus stops both northbound and southbound at Gibson Road, roughly halfway between the major intersections to the north and south, there aren’t many options for crossing the street.

Bus riders getting off at the southbound Highway 99 stop and wanting to use a marked crosswalk to get to the east leg of Gibson would have to walk north about a half-mile to Airport Road, cross the street at the signal, then walk south another half-mile.

Or if their destination is to the south, they must walk seven-tenths of a mile to Lincoln Way, cross the street, and then continue to their destination on the east side of Highway 99.

Because of the highway’s heavy traffic, Klopfenstein said, he hesitates to cross the street at marked intersections such as Airport Road even during daylight hours. Even so, the only logical place to put a marked pedestrian crossing between the two major intersections to the north and south is at Gibson Road, Klopfenstein said.

After sunset, pedestrians have an additional challenge. Although the businesses along Highway 99 are well-lighted, the highway is not, he said.

Hayes wasn’t wearing reflective devices and was dressed in dark-colored clothing, according to the State Patrol.

Hakizemaha said he often drove to the nearby bus stop to pick up Hayes.

“They need to do something all around Highway 99 to make sure people can cross the street without running for their lives,” he said. “Nobody is willing to walk a mile to cross the road.”

On the 1.33-mile stretch of Highway 99 from Airport Road just south of the Everett city limits to Lincoln Way, there have been 14 car-pedestrian accidents resulting in 13 injuries — one a fatality — over the five years ending in December, said Meghan Soptich, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

Hayes’ Jan. 31 death is not included in this tally.

Four of these accidents were classified as serious injuries, in which someone suffered a broken leg or other disabling injury. Most were at Airport Road, which has signals and marked crosswalks.

Installing a pedestrian crossing might seem a simple enough task, but the project would be more involved, and costly, than it might appear, Soptich said.

Simply adding a crosswalk without a traffic light “can give pedestrians a false sense of security,” she said. “Vehicles aren’t expecting it.”

The cost of the hardware for a traffic signal, including the supporting metal structures, can hit a couple hundred thousand dollars, she said.

And because the east and west legs of Gibson don’t line up, installation of a traffic light would also require street realignment, rebuilding portions of the street and purchase of nearby properties.

“It would add up pretty quickly,” she said.

The intersection is on a “watch list” to see if a traffic signal is warranted because of collisions or a big increase in traffic volume, Soptich said.

In the past, the transportation department has recommended five to 10 such projects each year for funding, she said. But because of the souring economy, no similar projects were funded in the last state budget cycle.

Days after the accident, Hakizemaha still found it difficult to talk about Hayes.

Hayes had lived at the adult family home for only a few months, he said, and there was much he didn’t know about him. He didn’t know where Hayes went to high school or what jobs he might have worked in the past.

“He didn’t want to talk about the past; maybe there was some stuff he didn’t want to remember,” Hakizemaha said.

Hayes used a wheelchair because he was a heavy man who had balance problems and couldn’t stand on his feet for long, Hakizemaha said.

He remembers Hayes as someone who loved watching the Super Bowl and found it nearly impossible to pull himself away from NASCAR races. He described Hayes as always smiling, very polite and a gentleman.

“It’s so hard to know that somebody like that is gone,” Hakizemaha said. “It’s sad, sad, very sad to lose a guy like that.

“What happened to David Hayes can happen to anyone, with or without a wheelchair.”

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