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Residents meet to find solutions to speeding on 320th on Lea Hill

Auburn Assistant Police Chief Bill Pierson addresses a gathering of concerned residents about the problem of speeding on Lea Hill roads during a recent meeting. - Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter
Auburn Assistant Police Chief Bill Pierson addresses a gathering of concerned residents about the problem of speeding on Lea Hill roads during a recent meeting.
— image credit: Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter

On Feb. 2, 2011, a fiery, single-car accident near 320th and 116th Place on Lea Hill killed Chengjing "Julie" Tan, 17, a Green River College Community student from China.

Then, just shy of three years later, on Feb. 12, 2014, GRCC student, Zhenyu Yang, died on the same stretch of road, in another single-car accident. A fellow passenger, Weihao Zu, sustained serious injuries.

About both accidents, police say, drivers Ying "Tim" Xie and Qiang Lu, respectively, were certainly speeding,

Indeed, as Auburn Assistant Police Chief Bill Pierson said last week, not only was Lu speeding, but physical evidence at the scene indicates that he was moving well above 100 miles per hour when he went airborne, smashed into two power poles, spun and flung his two back-seat passengers out to their bloody fates.

For such an undulating stretch of road, Lea Hill residents say, speed like that, three times the posted speed limit, is light years beyond stupid. Fed up, eager for a solution, more than 75 of them met with Auburn officials at Wesley Homes on Lea Hill last Thursday to talk and work out solutions.

Said one resident, that particular stretch of road has turned into a raceway.

"I have seen numerous people move 100-plus miles per hour and blow through the stop sign, usually about 1 o'clock in the morning," he said, adding that he had seen actual races there.

"This is a reccurring event. Is there some way to do something about this ... because it is going to lead to death," said the resident.

"Always remember this," Pierson responded. "If we have a few individuals who just want to go well and beyond the speed limit, there is nothing we can do to the roadway to prevent that idiot from continuing to do those kinds of things, unless we absolutely catch him."

Another Lea Hill resident said that in the two years she's lived at the corner of 320th and 116th Place Southeast, she's figured out that the problem is a bit more complicated than a few fools with lead feet.

"The reason 320th is such a raceway is that when they come, there is more enough headway from the stoplight and there's not a lot of cross walks for people. And there's a little hump, and they go really fast, and when they hit the hump, it skyrockets them. And it's not just racing. It's that you have all these kids, and the school is growing and the environment is changing. We are getting more school kids and more transfer students, which is good, except that they are in a new area, and they're ready to have fun," she said.

Another resident argued that it's unfair to blame just college kids.

"Right now there are kids coming down from Auburn Mountainview High School, and they come down through 118th, which is a rich street to go really fast on because it's straight and bumpy. And they fly up, and it's only a matter of time before some kid on a skateboard gets run over because they can't see over the hill. It's just total disregard for other people's lives. You can't just fix the road, you have to fix the attitude," she said.

Among the suggested solutions: speed bumps; a roundabout at 116th Place Southeast to stop the flow of traffic; and red light photo enforcement cameras.

City Traffic Engineer Joe Welsh said that before a roundabout could be considered, studies would first have to find that a serious problem exists there. Engineers would then drive the area, observe where the speed limit signs are and determine whether people know what the speed limits are.

"We would also look at radar information, collision history, and the geometry of the roadway, including the vertical geometry. Also, on residential street it's easier to put in speed cushions, typically because we don't have school buses on them. With arterial roadways, with high speeds, high volumes and geometry problems, it's completely different," Welsh said.

Another issue with roundabouts, said Planning and Public Works Director Kevin Snyder, is that the City would almost certainly have to acquire more land to build one, whether with a house on it or a vacant parcel of property. It's also possible that the City would have to consultant to design the roundabout. Both would require dollars.

And State law, said City Attorney Dan Heid, specifies that red light photo enforcement cameras may only be used when two arterials cross. They can't be used on side streets.

Pierson offered details about the most recent accident.

"When you are going 100 miles per hour, there are roads at Pacific Raceways that you cannot drive a car 100 miles an hour on. So imagine a city street. If somebody chooses to take a car, a 6,000-pound machine — this car was an Audi A6 with a 400 (horsepower) motor in it — that car from what we can tell, from the time it first came down and made an impression in the road, by the time it landed and spun in a straight direction, it had traveled about 800 feet."

Something else that would not work, a resident cautioned, would be to personally challenge motorists.

"One of our Block Watch captains did that, and all the guys got out of the car and they roughed him up pretty good," the man said.

Pierson cited a five-day City traffic study at 113th and 320th taken the week before the meeting, which showed that of the 16,700 vehicles that went back and forth through the area in that time span, 85 percent were going 43 mph westbound and 83 percent of those heading east were going 42 mph. Of those 16,000 cars, he continued, only about 1.8 percent of them, 311 cars, were actually going 10 miles hour over the posted limit.

Most of the infractions issued there, Pierson added, have been for running stop signs.

"Honestly, what we see in our business," Welsh said, "is that the vast majority of people are driving safely. What we deal with in our business is the occasional handful of people who are not. And I think the high speed we've seen up there is perhaps 70 miles per hour, one or two vehicles. It's not a situation that occurs on a regular basis, but when you do these kinds of studies, you will occasionally see somebody come through at a very high rate of speed."

Residents weren't buying it, and some suggested that the study should be done again.

"Wrong," said one.

"I don't think that's correct," another retorted. "Obviously, the motorcycle rider, the one who goes about 115 miles per hour, wasn't riding the nights you did the test."

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