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On foot in Seattle: How risky is it?

We're safer than pedestrians in Portland and San Francisco - but you might want to avoid Third and Pike.


The intersection of Rainier Avenue South and Bayview Street had the most vehicle-pedestrian collisions in 2013. Credit: Bill Lucia

Jourdan Keith had just left work. She was crossing Rainier Avenue at South Edmonds Street in Columbia City, heading for the bus stop. It was about five o'clock on a November evening.

"Suddenly," said Keith, "I was on the hood of the car and on the ground. It happened really fast."

The driver had run a red light. The car struck the inside of Keith's right leg, cracking a bone below her knee and damaging ligaments around her ankle. Her foot got caught and dragged under the car's front end. She remembers looking down and seeing a hole scraped into the side of her shoe.

The incident happened in 2011, but the effects of her injuries linger. Keith (left) is the founder and director of the Urban Wilderness Project, a Seattle-based nonprofit, which runs outdoor and environmental restoration programs, including backpacking trips to the North Cascades. She has not led a trip since that November evening. "I can't carry a 50 pound backpack right now," she said.

There are also ongoing medical bills, which can still amount to about $200 each month; the muscle loss and weight gain she experienced while her leg was in a brace; the strain that the recovery process put on her spouse and co-workers; and the fear she still battles whenever she crosses a street. "It's just been a lot of time trying to recover physically and financially and emotionally," said Keith.

Vehicles hit 415 pedestrians on Seattle's streets in 2013, according to data from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). That number has remained relatively consistent in recent years — 487 in 2012 and 398 in 2011.

Most victims are not killed or badly hurt. But dozens are seriously injured each year.

The most hazardous intersections and streets tend to change from year to year, ranging from bustling downtown corners to major north-south thoroughfares. In late July, a garbage truck struck and killed a woman who was walking near Eighth Avenue and James Street on First Hill.


415 pedestrians were struck by cars or trucks in Seattle in 2013. Green dots indicate one collision. Pink dots show where two incidents occurred; yellow where there were three or four. Source: SDOT. Map: Bill Lucia

The city's average pedestrian fatality rate from 2008 to 2011 was about 1.2 per 100,000 people. Based on that number, walking in Seattle during that time period was safer than strolling through Portland, Oregon, San Francisco and Vancouver, B.C. Among those three cities, San Francisco had the highest pedestrian fatality rate, about 1.9 deaths per 100,000.


These rates reflect a four-year average for 2008-2011 and are based on accident data from local transportation and law enforcement agencies, and 2010 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau and B.C. Stats. Chart: Bill Lucia

Seattle's City Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang said that Seattle is currently the second safest big city in the nation for pedestrians. "That's something remarkable when you think about what we're seeing in Seattle," said Chang. "We have huge, tremendous growth."

That said, 60 Seattle pedestrians did sustain serious injuries in 2013, according to SDOT statistics. The serious classification refers to injuries bad enough to leave the victim unable to walk or drive after the collision, and includes broken bones, severe cuts and head wounds. Last year's total was in line with the three-year average for 2011-2013 — about 57.

Vehicle-pedestrian collisions that caused serious injuries happened all over the city last year. Three took place on the same two mile stretch of Greenwood Avenue North, which runs between North 90th Street and North 130th Street. Seven people were seriously injured in three collisions along Rainier Avenue. Four were seriously injured when they were struck by vehicles in the five-block section of Third Avenue that runs between University Street and Stewart Street in downtown.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

The onus isn't entirely on drivers. I notice that it is difficult to find data from SDOT on how many pedestrian-vehicle collisions happen when the pedestrian steps off the curb after the don't walk light begins flashing, or when the pedestrian is jaywalking.

If we are truly interested in reducing the accident rate, then pedestrians should be ticketed for stepping off the curb after the don't walk hand starts flashing and the countdown timer begins or for jaywalking. If pedestrians didn't start to cross against a don't walk light then cars would be able to safely make left turns.

Yes, cars should slow down, and streets like Aurora, Lake City Way and 145th need more signalized crosswalks. But pedestrians have some responsibility to look both ways when crossing to make sure that no one is running a red light. It's really hard to miss a car moving down the road if you're looking as you cross.

Enforce traffic laws for cars, buses, pedestrians and bikes and we'll eliminate the number of accidents we have.

talisker

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 8:41 a.m. Inappropriate

"Just south of NE 125th Street on Lake City Way is a mid-block crosswalk with fluorescent green pedestrian signs on either side. LED lights are also affixed to the signposts, and they flash brightly when a pedestrian hits the walk button to cross."

Those LED lights are also flashing a lot when there's no one waiting to cross, defeating their purpose by desensitizing drivers. In some sense, they're worse than nothing at all.

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 8:50 a.m. Inappropriate

One very simple thing that could be done in Seattle would be to paint the crosswalks. As the street maintenance budget has been squeezed tighter and tighter, it's not just broken pavement that proliferates, it's the disappearance of crosswalk markings as they slowly fade from sight. Downtown, except on the streets where crosswalk painting has been done as part of street reconstruction, there has been a big falloff in crosswalk repainting. Third Avenue has vestigial reminders of where crosswalks must once have been. Crosswalks are a good mnemonic to drivers and pedestrians, and would, if they were maintained, be a sign of a city that cared about pedestrians.

Don't get me started, though on SDOT sidewalk closures for the convenience of building contractors forcing pedestrians into either inconvenience or danger. Check Boren. This is not done this way in other cities,

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 10:24 a.m. Inappropriate

If we spent windfalls and unexpected increases in tax revenue on repainting crosswalks instead of accelerating the bike master plan we'd have plenty of money. We need better bike infrastructure, but we need crosswalks more.

talisker

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 11:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Drivers should also realize that an unmarked intersection is automatically a crosswalk...paint or no paint. I've pounded on way too many fenders belonging to idiots who didn't know this, some of whom even shouted that I was jaywalking.

mhays

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 4:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Stupidest law on the books. One even the cops ignore.

Simon

Posted Tue, Aug 12, 6:57 a.m. Inappropriate

In my interactions with SDOT - they claim - and I have not verified and I suspect the statistics - that painted crosswalks are less safe than unmarked crosswalks.

Catherine

Posted Wed, Aug 13, 6:57 a.m. Inappropriate

They removed a few marked crosswalks on Boren near O'Dea and said just that - they gave pedestrians a false sense of safety.

talisker

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 9:49 a.m. Inappropriate

I've run across what I consider an odd pedestrian behavior several times downtown. An example: I was travelling in a car going south on Western Avenue and had the green light when a pedestrian steps into the crosswalk and assertively crosses the street. This was a professionally dressed woman, not an absent minded teenager.

I was surprised and came to a quick stop while she gave me a dirty look. I beeped the horn and pointed to the red light she had, she responded by indicating she was in the crosswalk.

So - somehow that negates the fact that you were crossing against the signal??

More often than not, however, I see distracted drivers in a rush causing some close calls, particularly when making a left on red onto a oneway street and not paying attention to the pedestrians crossing.

Lily32

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 7:35 p.m. Inappropriate

A lot of drivers also are ignorant of traffic laws. I've watched drivers stop at green lights to let pedestrians cross. The green light gives the car the right of way. This is not an isolated incident.

Another problem is drivers stopping at inappropriate spots to let pedestrians cross. Pedestrians do have the right of way at unmarked corners but not at mid-block.

Seattle has installed a ton of crosswalk signs with miniature stop stops. These are not stop signs, but a reminder for drivers to stop for pedestrians.

The reality is most of the safety issue is borne by pedestrians themselves. A combination of Seattle P.D.'s de-policing and a general antipathy toward drivers has become ingrained in our civic culture. We're at the point that I now routinely see elderly pedestrians using walkers jaywalking across Boren, One day I watched two daycare workers escort a group of pre-schoolers across the Boren/Eastlake intersection against the light.

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 11:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Here's a question. When a speeding driver kills a pedestrian that's crossing with right of way, how it that just a ticket vs. manslaughter? Or maybe lynching?

mhays

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 1:08 p.m. Inappropriate

If a speeding car hits a person who is crossing in the middle of the street or against the light, who gets a ticket -- or worse, a judgment against them? If I fail the breathalyzer test, I'm assumed at fault even if I was not breaking any traffic rules but the pedestrian is. How fair is that?

My mother told me to "look both ways before crossing" and "always walk on the side of the road facing traffic" and "don't argue the right-of-way with automobiles while you are riding a bike". Well, my body has a lot of infirmities, but I'm still around at 76, maybe because I paid attention to her.

A woman in Seattle was standing in the middle of the street, texting away. I drove right up to her -- three feet away -- and she jumped when I honked and just ambled away without any indication that she had dodged a bullet or had done anything stupid, not to mention illegal.

Seattle is so solicitous of pedestrians and bike-riders, no matter how outrageous their conduct may be, that a good quantity of these morons seem to think, "So what if I get hit, it'll be found to be their fault."

Similarly, you never see people walking across busy intersections or through a parking lot swiveling their heads to check for oncoming vehicles, apparently assuming that the deities will look after them.

I'd like to send all of the drivers, bike-riders and pedestrians to New York or LA for mandatory exposure. Either they would learn their place in the universe or come back in a box -- with a Darwin Award tacked onto it.

Do I jaywalk? Sure do, but I'm damn careful and accept responsibility for any incident that involves a car (or bike) being driven legally.

kmeyer

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 1:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Just reading the several SDOT releases and language about road safety shows that they view the driver as being at fault almost every time, regardless of what might have happened. Their statistics are carefully crafted to leave out any mention of whether or not the accident happened mid-block or when the pedestrian was jaywalking against a don't walk light. The language in this article and many others is entirely about what drivers are doing without mentioning any possible culpability on the part of the pedestrian.

It is really difficult to get hit by a car if you're paying attention to your surroundings and paying attention to the traffic signs, unless the car is specifically aiming at you. The disingenuousness of the SDOT safe streets campaign is obvious when you realize that the only users that they insist need to make any behavioral changes are drivers.

talisker

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 1:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Really? Try crossing an arterial with no markings and cars coming. The majority of drivers are complete morons (or homicidal?), and won't stop per the law unless you start walking in front of them, or look like it.

mhays

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 1:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Maybe we have a deal then. Pedestrians should obey right of way when a car is coming, and always watch every direction. And drivers should learn about right of way, and respect it always.

You drove to within three feet? That would be too close for comfort. You can be right but still an asshole, and dangerous.

mhays

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 4:17 p.m. Inappropriate

"Third and Pike"

the danger at 3rd and Pike is the pedestrians. Or at least, folks strolling around.

Simon

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 5:22 p.m. Inappropriate

As a driver, I despise those pedestrian turkeys who saunter across the street against a red light when the drivers have the right of way and/or who cross against a red light with little kids in tow. WHAT are they teaching their kids about pedestrian/traffic safety?!?!? As a pedestrian, I generally won't cross an arterial at an unmarked crosswalk because the drivers don't get they need to stop for a pedestrian. However, pedestrians are generally more at risk because they're not encased in a rigid carapace.

Posted Mon, Aug 11, 10:44 p.m. Inappropriate

I read an article somewhere recently that rated cities for pedestrian safety (maybe the same source used here - I don't know) and the surprise was that the #1 city for pedestrian safety was Boston. To me that made sense. In Boston jaywalking is part of the culture, and there is no jaywalking enforcement. What that means is that pedestrians need to be actively engaged in negotiating their interactions with cars. They need to be active participants in traffic rather than passive, and they need to own a share of responsibility for staying safe.

That doesn't mean you let drivers or traffic engineers off the hook. (For example, if downtown pedestrian signals got the green even a half second before cars going the same direction, they would be able to claim the right-of-way over turning vehicles rather than taking their chances in a face-off about who will move first). But it does mean that the goal of the traffic engineer should be to help pedestrians establish when they have the right-of-way rather than to protect them from needing to pay attention as they walk.

mhays was right in his/her comment above: "Pedestrians should obey right of way when a car is coming, and always watch every direction. And drivers should learn about right of way, and respect it always." Jaywalking should be redefined, and instead we should ticket anyone who fails to cede the right of way. We need to work towards everyone using our streets to have a common understanding and respect for right-of-way rules. Getting home safely is a team sport, and we all need to play by the same rules.

Posted Fri, Aug 15, 5:39 p.m. Inappropriate

The next time the library picks a book for their If Everyone in Seattle Read the Same Book I would nominate the driver's manual.

sandik

Posted Fri, Aug 15, 6:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Although this doesn't count exactly as Seattle (it happened in Renton) I was walking on a sidewalk and stepping foot onto the driveway for a local grocery store. A woman approaching in a car and turning left into the driveway apparently decided she did not want to wait for me to cross in front of her, so she actually sped up and drove in on the wrong side of the driveway so that she could beat me through.

Not every driver is as careless about the devastating effect their driving decisions might cause, but a surprising number have been in my experience.

Oh, and to those drivers who are ticked at pedestrians who enter the intersection on the flashing don't walk sign, let he or she who has never sped up to make it through an intersection on a yellow cast the first shouted expletive.

Posted Wed, Aug 20, 2:46 p.m. Inappropriate

There is way too much victim blaming going on in this comment section and not enough facts.

Let's all turn to page 12 of this document (or 16 of the PDF): http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/SDOTRoadSafetyActionPlan.pdf

Look at the graph showing pedestrian and car collisions. Between 2007-2010 there have been around 1000 people driving cars who are failed to stop for people legally walking, while people walking only failed to grant the legal right of way around 150 times.

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