David Rue on a billboard, part of the "Don't Blend In" campaign by SDOT.
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David Rue on a billboard, part of the "Don't Blend In" campaign by SDOT.

How not to get hit when crossing Seattle's most dangerous street

Wear neon colors to avoid getting hit by cars when crossing Rainier Avenue South.

That’s what Seattle's Department of Transportation has been telling people on billboards and ads in a campaign called “Don’t Blend In.”

Rainier Avenue is Seattle’s most dangerous street. One out of every 20 pedestrians hit by cars in Seattle are hit within a block of Rainier.

The campaign has drawn a mixed response.

David Rue has achieved some fame in Seattle as a dancer. But when he’s crossing the street, he said he's just like anybody else.

“As a person in this color in this world – it’s easy to become invisible to the eye of the white gaze. And if you think about being a pedestrian, crossing a busy crosswalk, it can be an incredibly dangerous experience,” he said.

That’s why he worked with the city to tell people to dress brightly to avoid getting hit.

But the message bothers some neighbors. Suresh Chanmugam lives a block off Rainier.

“We don’t tell drivers who have a black car, ‘Hey, put some neon spray paint on your car before you go out at night so you don’t get hit by an 18-wheeler,'" he said. "So why do we treat pedestrians that way?"

Randy Ford takes a photo of Priya Frank in front of a "Don't Blend In" ad she's featured on.
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Randy Ford takes a photo of Priya Frank in front of a "Don't Blend In" ad she's featured on.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Chanmugam said he enjoys the ads, but fears the message blames pedestrians when the leading cause of crashes is drivers.

Seattle has been incrementally making safety improvements along Rainier Avenue, but not quickly enough for some.

Rue said he doesn't mean to take the responsibility off drivers and that neon clothes isn't enough to solve the larger public safety problem.

Randy Ford, who also worked on the SDOT campaign, said wearing bright colors is about more than safety. “It’s being seen, recognized, appreciated, affirmed,” she said.

And for people of color trying to stay rooted in the Rainier Valley, Ford said that’s important too.