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How safe are Seattle's roads?

New data, relevant to tonight's Road Safety Summit at City Hall, suggest elderly pedestrians are being mowed down more than cyclists. The data indicates police ought to focus more on drivers who fail to yield to walkers and bikers. And we're not making much progress in reducing auto traffic.

A bike rider checks messages while at a street corner.

A bike rider checks messages while at a street corner. Flickr.com user Mo Riza/Wikimedia Commons

Three years of information from Seattle's Department of Transportation (SDOT), including 2010 statistics just released Friday, carry the startling message that elderly pedestrians, 25 of them in the last three years, are being mowed down by cars on deadly Seattle streets in disproportionate numbers to any other group at risk. Yet it’s media coverage of recent bicycling fatalities in Seattle, not elder carnage, that no doubt has moved Mayor McGinn and four city councilmembers to convene a Road Safety Summit this evening (Oct. 24, 6 pm) at City Hall.

The numbers are stark, starting with the death toll. In the three years 2008–2010, there were 62 traffic fatalities in Seattle. More than half involved pedestrians (25 deaths) and cyclists (7 deaths). Just to put the scale of traffic victims against the scale of crime victims, that toll of 62 deaths on the roads compares to the three-year Seattle homicide total of about 70, so long as you, like the Seattle Police Department, don’t drag in another  half-dozen “officer involved” shootings.

In traffic, who is being killed, as seen in three years of data? All seven cyclists killed were men save for one woman. They ranged in age from 35 to 60 with an average age of 47. The 25 pedestrians killed were divided 13 men and 12 women. They ranged in age from 19 to 92 with an average age of  64. Sixty percent of the dead pedestrians were senior citizens. Four (three women and a man) were in their 90s. Three (two men and a woman) were in their 80s. Six (four men and two women) were in their 70s. Two men wee in their 60s.

That elderly tally alone is more than double the number of fatalities of cyclists over the three-year period. In "Walk, Bide, Ride Seattle," who is taking up the cause of protecting the elders?

Of course, fatalities are only part of the problem. For just two years, 2009 and 2010, there were in addition serious injuries to 79 pedestrians and 32 cyclists, and hundreds of less serious injuries on top of those.

Is there a long-term trend from which one can draw encouragement? Yes, in one small respect: Auto collisions overall in the city have fallen pretty dramatically over the last decade (almost 30 percent lower in 2010 than 2000). Despite that, collision rates between motor vehicles and pedestrians and cyclists on a per capita basis have changed very little if at all over the same time period.

The share of these events involving pedestrians and cyclists in the overall tally is well over 10 percent of all collisions in traffic. For 2010 there were about 12,000 traffic collisions in the city. After discounting about 2,500 incidents when a vehicle hit a parked car, and another 850 when a vehicle struck a “fixed object,” and another 1,500 cases for which no incident type is found in the data, the city can account for about 7,000 instances when a vehicle hit another moving vehicle, a pedestrian or a cyclist. It was a pedestrian 529 times, and a cyclist 360 times.. Collisions with pedestrians were far more likely to have a fatal outcome than collisions with cyclists.

Cutting through the huge variety of circumstances in all these collision, the data reported by SPD points in one dramatic direction. Three-quarters of vehicle collisions with pedestrians and cyclists in 2009 and 2010 involved the actions of the driver as a contributing factor. In two-thirds of those cases (about half of the total) the problem was the most basic of driver derelictions: failure to yield the right of way to the pedestrian or cyclist. So, with a myriad of steps that can be taken to improve safety, the most fundamental lie with getting the drivers to mind the rules.

This creates a very troubling juxtaposition with what the statistics show concerning traffic enforcement. In 2010 the Seattle Police Department issued 27,348 traffic tickets for moving violations. This was down by 7 percent from 2009. In 2010 just 197 tickets were issued to drivers for failing to yield the right of way to pedestrians. That was down by over 50 percent from 2009. SPD did, however, issue 1570 citations to pedestrians in 2010. That was up from 1274 in 2009. That picture might suggest that the enforcement priority lies with picking the low-hanging fruit rather than focusing on the heart of the problem.

So it should be a spirited discussion at the Road Safety Summit. And some of the discussion may also reflect some basic facts about transportation in Walk, Bike, Ride Seattle.

Vehicle traffic volume on Seattle’s arterials (and excluding I-5, I-90 and SR 520) on an average day in 2010 was about 541,000, up more than 15,000 or 3 percent from 2009 and higher than in either 2008 and 2007, but still about 3 percent lower than in the high water year of boom-times 2006.  Transit ridership was up slightly in 2010 over 2009. Pedestrian counts downtown were down very slightly in 2010. Bicycle commuters entering downtown on the annual count day were about 600 greater than the previous year for a total of about 3,251.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Oct 24, 11:49 a.m. Inappropriate

You do wonder what the city is thinking when getting a properly marked pedestrian crosswalk put in is like pulling teeth, and anecdotally it seems more and more difficult to get properly marked crosswalks put in the farther from downtown it is.

In Lake City, for instance, how many people had to get hit before they put in those roadway flashers in the crosswalks in the middle of the block on Lake City Way? In Northgate, how long did it take for the city put in a properly marked and signaled crosswalk across the heavily driven and sped-on Roosevelt NE right in front of the Perkins School? (After one had long been put in down the street where there is a women's shelter.) I mean, shouldn't the school crosswalk have been a no-brainer and installed, like 20 years ago?

But, no. The city and SDOT do not consider pedestrian safety improvements as important as myriad other noninfrastructure things the city funds.

I really do believe that the city and SDOT actually do not consider pedestrian concerns (eh? like my pun?) of north and south Seattle bedroom neighborhoods to be that important.

smacgry

Posted Mon, Oct 24, 12:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Pro tip: kicking in the door panel of the car that blows through your crosswalk can be dangerous, thus is NOT recommended. Carrying a good, solid and disposably economical briefcase for whacking cars on the roof is a much better option.

It's illegal, sure -- but not wrong. Strike a blow for the walking class!

Posted Mon, Oct 24, 12:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Ohhh my head hurts ... not used to all these numbers and facts ... I thought scofflaw smug spandex mcschwinn cyclistanazi no helmet no tax red-light running scofflaw cyclists were the source of all evil. like that woman they hit on the trail one time? or the one that gave me the finger downtown? that was so rude. and these crazy road diets that help old people cross the street and stuff. are those elderly walkers even paying for the road? shouldn't they have license plates in case they jaywalk or something? Dori Dori please help me I am a bit confuzzled by all this.

For those who think there's "a war on cars" in this town (there isn't), check the body count above to see who's "winning" ...

And to the photo editor - a cyclist texting in NYC seems appropriate here? How? Did you read the article?

joolian

Posted Mon, Oct 24, 1:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Is the Crosscut writer who advocates "whacking" cars with one's briefcase an example of the "thoughtful journalism" you want us to support?

BlueLight

Posted Mon, Oct 24, 1:57 p.m. Inappropriate

It is much easier to spot a driver who is speeding because they tend to do it for long periods of time. Failing to yield right-of-way to a pedestrian is something that is an event that happens in a very narrow window of time. Unless a cop is at that particular intersection looking in that particular direction they aren't going to notice it. A speeder on 99 might drive fast from Seattle Center to Winona Ave, and any cop in that 4 or 5 mile corridor will see the car. Don't confuse the low numbers with lack of concern from the police.

Cars always must yield right of way to pedestrians, so most accidents that involve cars and pedestrians could easily include that as a citation. The statistic that is missing from the above, though, is the location of the accidents. Did they happen while the pedestrian was jaywalking? Were they crossing mid-block? Were they crossing after the light had started flashing don't walk? Even though they have the right-of-way, did they step out assuming that the cars would stop before making sure that they did? Were they on the phone or texting?

This isn't to say that the accidents are caused by pedestrians, but we shouldn't be treating pedestrians as the automatic victim of every accident that happens. We need to be reducing the number of accidents and pedestrian deaths by addressing both sides of the equation. The statistics cited above make it very clear that the fault is seen as being entirely the driver's, but even on my short 15 minute commute this morning I saw several pedestrians jaywalking across busy streets within a hundred feet of a marked crosswalk.

Let's educate drivers AND pedestrians.

talisker

Posted Mon, Oct 24, 2:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Slowing down drivers on residential streets would go a long way to improving safety for everybody.

http://www.streetfilms.org/no-need-for-speed-20s-plenty-for-u

GaryP

Posted Mon, Oct 24, 2:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Or use a "diagonal" cross walk.

http://www.streetfilms.org/la-gets-diagonal-crosswalks-again/

ALL cars stop, all ways.

GaryP

Posted Mon, Oct 24, 3:02 p.m. Inappropriate

It has always fascinated me in old photos of Seattle people are out in the street, sometimes stopped for a chat, walking around with no sign of a crosswalk.

I found this on the history of "jaywalking":

http://westnorth.com/2009/02/01/a-history-of-jaywalking/

"In 1921 a National Safety Council member from Baltimore confessed to his colleagues that, at least in pedestrian control… ‘You are affecting personal liberty when you keep people from crossing the streets at certain places.’ […] The cleverest anti-jaywalking publicity effort was in Detroit in 1922, where the Packard Motor Car Company exploited the new fashion for monuments to traffic fatalities. Packard built an oversized imitation tombstone that closely resembled the monument to the innocent child victims of accidents in Baltimore. But Packard’s tombstone redirected blame to the victims. It was marked ‘Erected to the Memory of Mr. J. Walker: He Stepped from the Curb Without Looking.’ [...]"

Little surprise that "jaywalking" is a manufactured crime instigated by the auto industry.

The "blame the victim" strategy is still alive and well, evidenced in @talisker's comment.

andy

Posted Mon, Oct 24, 3:26 p.m. Inappropriate

A discussion of safe streets in most cities includes the actual physical condition of the streets. Has Crosscut and this writer limited the discussion to accommodate the sponsors of tonight's meeting's implied focus?

At any rate, today the Seattle Times finally got around to investigative reporting worthy of the phrase and that if produced in a more timely manner would have precluded voters the task of having to tell the city's Mayor and Council to stop fooling around with blank check "solutions" and killing time with opportunities to vent and, instead, get on with the task that cities were invented to accomplish and that at least a few quaint souls still view as first order of business—safe streets for all users without pitting one mode against the other. I would venture that most of us use the streets in most of the modes.

There is less and less excuse for tardy reporting. One can now see/hear what the City is up to without ever having to leave the house or office. Boredom requires specialization. A problem with fewer reporters. However, fast forwardable videos are reasonably timely and indexed to reduce time otherwise wasted on pomp and circumstance.

The easiest way for the public to learn the names of elected officials is to see them in print more in the course of what they are or are not accomplishing. Sorry, that goes to another current Crosscut or P.I. thread.

Grrrr

afreeman

Posted Mon, Oct 24, 3:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Afreeman is right that the Seattle Times story is excellent, if belated. In today's Clicker for easy link.) The story duly credits Doug MacDonald and Crosscut for doing the first story on our decaying streets, which you can read at http://crosscut.com/2011/08/12/seattle/21197/The-sorry-state-of-Seattle-s-streets/.

Posted Mon, Oct 24, 6:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank God someone in Seattle government has finally woken up and seen that painting cute bike symbols on arterials is lunacy. Bikeways should be laid out on sidestreets wherever possible, which is most places. Those "sharrows" are nothing more than invitations to injury and death when painted on busy arterials. The kind of thing only someone who has never actually ridden a bike would do.

Posted Tue, Oct 25, 5:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Nice bit of reporting, but the question of consequences is left half answered. People on foot are whacked in a more unpleasant fashion than any briefcase can administer , but what happened to the drivers? The slaughtered Kirkland cyclist's prep was hit with a massive $42 fine, the Queen Anne cyclist-killer driver is at large, and the rest? Call these interactions "accidents" and it becomes an Act of a vengeful God, too bad for the poor victim but the law is kindly to the offending driver. As Taslisker pointed out, the violation window for failures to yield is very brief (oh yes, drivers do this as well as cyclists), educating the driving class one by one via citation will be a slow process. Jail time for careless drivers followed by a long period of loss of drivers license, reported via .gov webpage & linked by local media would have a much more salutary effect. Driving is dangerous when done irresponsibly, and in this incentive-heavy society little is done to provide disincentives to fatal driving, unless drunk. That exception was only made possible by the disincentives pushed by a loud and angry MADD when those in government and society at large were all too willing to let the problem fester. The solution has been modeled, why not apply the lesson?

NickBob

Posted Tue, Oct 25, 8:37 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm glad to see someone actually taking pedestrians seriously. However, as a driver, I sometimes find it hard to see pedestrians--particularly at dusk & in the dark. Also, stopping for pedestrians at an unmarked crosswalk on a busy arterial can involve a split-second decision, "Do I stop to let them cross or do I simply drive through the intersection?" Because the realization that I needed to let them cross comes AFTER I'm through the intersection.

Another thing I often see is drivers coming straight through crosswalks at red lights cutting off safe pedestrian access to cross the street. Drivers & right turns on red.....aargh! (I was once roadkill when a right-turning driver knocked me down in a crosswalk when I had the right of way! I was NOT hurt either!) I make it a practice to wait until the pedestrian is at or very near the curb or median before I turn.

Posted Fri, Sep 28, 11:54 a.m. Inappropriate

"However, as a driver, I sometimes find it hard to see pedestrians--particularly at dusk & in the dark."

Here's an idea: If you're having trouble seeing people that you might hit, SLOW DOWN.

bigyaz

Posted Tue, Oct 25, 9:30 a.m. Inappropriate

talisker,
Who is treating the pedestrian as a victim in EVERY accident that happens?
The stats stated above don't say EVERY (pedestrian or driver) like you do. 3/4 or 75% and 2/3 or 66% aren't EVERY, but they are very high percentages. High enough to obviously ruffle your dry, commuting and thoroughly protected feathers.
And thanks for clarifying the time and distance factor in recognizing different traffic infractions. Not sure what that has to do with addressing the difference in tickets issued to drivers who failed to yield to the right of way vs tickets issued to pedestrians though.

McMullet

Posted Tue, Oct 25, 9:53 a.m. Inappropriate

The intoxication level of bicyclists and pedestrians involved in wrecks is also a missing component to the story....especially within the 8pm-6am time frame. We deserve more statistics related to pedestrian, jaywalking, and bicycle 'moving violations' and tickets issued. How many citations were given to bicyclists; I am betting that the number is EXTREMELY low.

animalal

Posted Tue, Oct 25, 11:34 a.m. Inappropriate

The war against pedestrians so vividly revealed by Mr. MacDonald's superb reporting – for which kudos to both the writer and Crosscut – is in fact an old story to those of us afoot here in what is undoubtedly the nation's most savagely autocentric region. But this is the first time I have seen its savagery confirmed in print.

And – yes – "most savagely autocentric region" is an accurate statement: the problem seems the same (if not worse) in Tacoma, Bellingham and Olympia, all jurisdictions in which I have been a pedestrian and thus experienced the murderous hatred Western Washington drivers so often have for anyone who dares use the streets and roads without first donning the armor of an automobile or truck.

Lately even transit riders are under attack. Note the (brutally successful) assertion "transit is welfare" (and therefore should be first slashed to the bone, then eliminated entirely) – the argument by which the anti-transit, auto-uber- alles cult is radically downsizing the region's bus systems and has shunted light rail onto an obviously permanent dead-end siding.

Nor is there any surprise in the fact the preponderance of the motorists' victims are elderly. We seniors are among the groups capitalism deems nonprofitable and thus specifically targets for elimination. Our companions on Death Panel Road are therefore any other people who are disabled or chronically unemployed – all of us no longer exploitable for profit.

Once capitalism finishes abolishing the charade of U.S. constitutional democracy – probably soon after the 2012 election (and no matter who wins) – it wouldn't surprise me a bit if we're all rounded up and eliminated. After all, Nazism was never more than capitalism's logical fulfillment.

Meanwhile the drivers who run us down or honk their horns and shout "hurry up and die" as we hobble across the region's crosswalks are literally acting in the name of the Ruling Class. Which is precisely why – exactly as proven by traffic enforcement statistics – the cops don't care.

(Disclosure: despite my oft-repeated description of automobiles as "the rotting albatross around our necks," I was an automobile owner nearly all the years I worked outside New York City. But my 1992 Ford Tempo died in mid-2009, six months after the Bush/Obama economy terminated all my non-Social-Security income, which left me permanently, inescapably afoot. Now 71 years old and physically disabled, I thus encounter nearly every day the anti-pedestrian, anti-transit-rider hatred that increasingly defines the Western Washington motorist.)

Posted Tue, Oct 25, 12:39 p.m. Inappropriate

"However, as a driver, I sometimes find it hard to see pedestrians--particularly at dusk & in the dark."

Here's an idea: If you're having trouble seeing things, SLOW DOWN!

bigyaz

Posted Tue, Oct 25, 1:36 p.m. Inappropriate

@smacgry -- you're right that SDOT is very reluctant to install crosswalks, but with good reason: they know perfectly well that crosswalk compliance by motorists is so abysmal that installing marked crosswalks sometimes gets more pedestrians killed, because they expect motorists to obey the law.

Until scofflaw motorists are brought under control, marked crosswalks are at best a warning that killing a pedestrian within the lines might cost $120 instead of $42.

jputnam

Posted Tue, Oct 25, 2:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Spending millions on paint and PR to encourage pedestrians and cyclists into close proximity to automobiles is as much a part of the increase in accidents as anything. I wouldn't be surprised if some precedent for liability isn't set due to transportation planners experimenting with half-baked designs and scenarios that actually increase the probability of lethal accidents.

jmrolls

Posted Tue, Oct 25, 3:09 p.m. Inappropriate

I have to compliment the writer. For an article filled to the brim with numbers and data, I found it compelling reading and made it all the way to the end.

Posted Tue, Oct 25, 6:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Secretary -- Great piece complete with data. Notice the photo to this article shows a woman on a bike. Do you know how few women ride bikes in this town? How few African Americans? (A TV Comedy line was -- "Have you ever seen a brother on a bike?")

My point is this. It would be interesting to examine the data by gender and race. Our City priorities seem to be targeted at white men 30-60 with trust funds, or high paying jobs that do not require tools or equipment.

I've lived on a bike route for 10-years and I love the notion of bikes in the city. My problem is that I've seen the bike men punch-out my neighbors, disobey cops patrolling my street, not slowing or stopping for pedestrians, talking on their cell-phones while riding, blowing through stop signs and red lights, riding on narrow sidewalks, and otherwise being Gladiators. Road safety in my book starts with following common sense and courtesy.

Posted Wed, Oct 26, 7:34 a.m. Inappropriate

A classic example of how Seattle really deals with elderly pedestrians is located at 5th Ave NE just north of Northgate Way, the cross walk for all the assisted living apartments located there to the shopping complex (Target, Best Buy, etc) is a very pretty cobblestone.crosswalk, but it is absolutely horrible for the elderly to navigate with their walkers and canes.

ccrd

ccrd

Posted Wed, Oct 26, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

What shoddy journalism on your part!

Page 8-14 of the report reveals that 57% of pedestrian collisions lack sufficient data to analyze. Of the 230 accidents with data, another 19 are impossible to interpret from the data provided ("ther actions") and need to be excluded by a report reader due to the ambiguity. That leaves 211 accidents to consider.

Of those, 69 of them, or one-third, involved jaywalking or other pedestrian culpability: crossing midblock no crosswalk, crossing at intersection against signal, from behind parked vehicle, at intersection not using crosswalk, standing or working in roadway, walking in roadway.

The level of pedestrian deaths in Seattle is low. We are the 15th largest metro area in the country, but have the 46th highest pedestrian fatality rate. Last year, collisions of all kinds were down by 11%, and pedestrian fatalities were the lowest since 2002.

Yet your report speaks of "stark" numbers and of pedestrians being "mowed down." There is clearly an agenda at work here, which is to join Michael McGinn -- a mayor whose approval rating is the same as Richard Nixon's after he was impeached -- and his bicyclist friends in their war on the automobile.

Did you really imagine that no one would comb through the report and find the real numbers?

Posted Sat, Oct 29, 10:48 p.m. Inappropriate

I guess since 230 pedestrian casualties is the 46th lowest pedestrian death rate, it doesn't matter that those 230 HUMAN BEINGS died and we shouldn't strive to be 50th on that last and have, in fact, no deaths.

smacgry

Posted Sat, Oct 29, 10:50 p.m. Inappropriate

The photo shows a woman without a helmet, wearing high heels, and texting. That's the best photo you could find of a bicyclist?

sarah90

Posted Mon, Oct 31, 10:47 a.m. Inappropriate

My, my. Two hundred citations to drivers for failing to yield to pedestrians--in the entire city, for an entire year? That's ludicrous. One could observe that number of violations at a single intersection in a single day. Why not increase city revenues,pedestrian safety, and driver awareness by posting idle cops (or some other official with ticket-writing power) at busy intersections to record violations? Without consequences, drivers will continue to flout the law and drive right on by pedestrians waiting to cross streets at corners. It happens at least a dozen times a day during my walks in Ballard.

Posted Fri, Sep 28, 11:58 a.m. Inappropriate

swmccredie: Exactly. Put a cop at any downtown intersection for an hour and he could write enough tickets for failing to yield to buy doughnuts for the entire police force.

bigyaz

Posted Thu, Nov 3, 12:08 a.m. Inappropriate

And there ya have it: cyclist checking cell phone, wearing no helmet, and red high heels.

Great pictorial of what I think of sharing the road with cyclists.

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