Devastating Data: Road death dashboard tracks where and why people die on Seattle streets

Posted on September 25, 2013 by Tom Fucoloro

Source: Seattle Bike Blog

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Click to Visit Interactive Chart

Troy Heerwagen at Walking in Seattle has created a devastating interactive graphic that tracks where and (to some extent) why people die in Seattle traffic.

Look at this data and remember that every single data point was a unique person with a network of friends and family whose lives will never be the same.

The data also shows that the brunt of road violence is not shared equally. Black residents bear a disproportionate share of road deaths in our city, and the rate of death on Rainier Ave is so much higher than the next most dangerous (non-highway) street in Seattle, it’s almost criminal that we don’t take action to fix it today.

Most of these deaths were preventable. We can make our streets safer, we just need to put the goal of preventing traffic violence ahead of all other transportation priorities.

This is not about people biking vs people driving vs people walking. People are dying is shocking numbers and in all modes of transportation, with people in cars bearing the highest number of deaths by far. Road safety projects are about protecting all lives, in and out of cars.

The sooner Seattle realizes that we’re all in this together, the sooner we can take drastic action to prevent another neighbor, friend or child from meeting an untimely and senseless death on the street around the corner from your home.


TakeAways

This same approach to traffic analysis was discussed in the recent article:

For me this approach to problem-solving has merit not necessarily in its method but because it makes clear that simplistic solutions to traffic safety are not likely to provide real safety. Right now in Chicago we are doing essentially the same sort of science by mapping the occurrence of gun violence. The data tells us where problems have occurred and lends credence to the notion that if police can tackle the person-to-person issues that actually are the root of the violence perhaps some resolution can be achieved. But clearly knowing where violence has occurred to date does not offer a way forward to preventing it in the future.

The same thing is true of ‘traffic violence‘. Keep in mind that where traffic is concerned we have people in virtually every major city that are professionals when it comes to designing streets. There are even handbooks telling these engineers what kinds of street designs work best in what kinds of space. But the sad fact is that deaths keep occurring. And what is interesting about the situation is that the real problem area is in the death of motorists.

People are dying is shocking numbers and in all modes of transportation, with people in cars bearing the highest number of deaths by far. Road safety projects are about protecting all lives, in and out of cars.

Most of the propaganda churned out about safety depicts pedestrians and cyclists as the victims of greatest concern. But when viewed in cold dispassionate terms it turns out that the greatest number of lives lost is among those who are in cars. To my mind we get greater value in letting the general public know that of all the people at risk in traffic those in cars have it the worst. When the average motoring citizen hears that sort of news it should make them more likely to want a solution.

But cyclists are also due to learn a valuable lesson. We do not have all the answers, already. To date we have been sold this notion that if we can introduce Dutch-style design on our streets that all of the sectors of the traffic landscape will simultaneously receive benefit in terms of ‘safety‘. What has not been said enough (to my mind) is that at present what we know is more along the lines of where deaths occur and have little explanation (as yet) of why there are disproportionate levels of ‘traffic violence‘. How for instance do you explain spikes in deaths of in communities of people of color?

Black residents bear a disproportionate share of road deaths in our city, and the rate of death on Rainier Ave is so much higher than the next most dangerous (non-highway) street in Seattle, it’s almost criminal that we don’t take action to fix it today.

It suggests to me that our scientific understanding of the problem is still in its infancy. We should begin to suspect not only that our infrastructure needs work but perhaps the one variable in the mix (people themselves) have more to do with their own demise than we thought. To date we have treated pedestrians and cyclists as either victims or a class of the traffic landscape that could be acted upon but not as agents in their own injuries. This would suggest that training is extremely important in getting people in all traffic modes to rethink their participation in what goes on daily in the streets.

Does pedestrian indifference to crossing at corners contribute to deaths of cyclists and perhaps even motorists? it seems absurd if your viewpoint of traffic is tightly wed to the notion of the vulnerable user. In that scheme those higher up in the food chain are considered the keepers of the safety of those below them and are judged accordingly in law. But is that really the situation that we have here?

Why would the folks at the top of the food chain be suffering the greater number of overall deaths? When we have a better answer to that question we may have a way of designing streets and educating the users of them to best avoid deaths.