‘Vision Zero’ for Seattle

Background Reading

Summary

© Kelly Shea / The Seattle Times

© Kelly Shea / The Seattle Times

SDOT proposal: Seattle drivers should slow down to save lives

A LEADING cause of death for Seattle residents ages 5 through 24 is preventable, not accidental. If it were a disease, our finest doctors would try to find a cure. But it’s not a disease; it’s traffic collisions. And, it’s time to do something new about it.

While Seattle is consistently ranked as a safe city for pedestrians, we can do better. That’s why, starting now, traffic engineers at the Seattle Department of Transportation and police officers at the Seattle Police Department will work to achieve a goal of zero traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries by 2030. And we need your help, too, for the effort called Vision Zero.

Vision Zero is an approach to road safety that acknowledges that people make mistakes. It focuses on designing safe and forgiving streets, no matter if you are walking, biking or driving. Vision Zero principles have saved lives in places like Sweden and New York, and can do the same here in Seattle.

Every year in the U.S., 33,000 people die and 3.9 million people are injured in traffic collisions. More than 90 people lose their lives every day in traffic. In addition to mourning a loved one killed in a crash, families left behind pay a terrible price of $6 million per fatality through lost earnings, medical costs and property damage.

We’re not immune in Seattle. In 2013, we saw more than 10,000 police-reported crashes, in which 155 people were seriously injured and 23 people died. Last year brought another 15 fatalities. We should not accept traffic fatalities as a byproduct of commuting.

People who are walking or biking represent 3 percent of collisions, but 50 percent of fatalities. Our most vulnerable residents — children and seniors, minorities and low-income residents, and people with disabilities — are disproportionately impacted.

The numbers are staggering; they are unacceptable. And, with focus and investment, they are preventable.

We will focus on major streets (arterials), where 90 percent of serious and fatal crashes occur. Look for near-term safety changes and increased enforcement on Rainier Avenue, 35th Avenue Southwest and Lake City Way, and increased enforcement throughout the city.

The city will lower speeds. The laws of physics tell us that higher speeds result in more crashes, injuries and deaths. Downtown speed limits will go from 30 mph to 25 mph by the end of the year; arterials citywide will be 30 mph or lower; and non-arterials in high-collision areas near parks and schools will be 20 mph. To protect children, the most vulnerable residents, we will install a minimum of 12 new safety cameras in six school zones this year. We will increase enforcement and conduct emphasis patrols in high-crash areas.

We will make improvements in busy areas where lots of people walk, bike and drive. For example, we will adjust traffic signals to give people who are walking a head start crossing the street so they are more visible to drivers.

Some changes may impact travel times. The average car trip in Seattle is 3.5 miles. If that driver is traveling 35 mph without any interruptions, reducing the speed by 5 mph would add one minute to his or her trip. As a city, we can spare a minute to save a life.

We dedicate these actions to Sandhya Khadka and Sher Kung, young women who lost their lives last year. We dedicate them to Zeytuna Edo, a young girl seriously injured while crossing the street, and to all those who’ve had their lives changed forever by crashes.

While we will roll out street changes and enhanced enforcement and education efforts, we need Seattle residents to help us reach zero by following the rules of the road. Their decisions — to speed, to travel impaired or distracted — impact not just them, but families throughout the entire community. Be predictable, visible and look out for each other.

It’s time to slow down to the speed of life.

Scott Kubly, Seattle’s Department of Transportation director, previously served as deputy director of the Chicago Department of Transportation and, before that, as associate director for the District Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C.

TakeAways

Scott, please in future communications make it clear that speeding is a problem across the board. Bicycles in close proximity can be as deadly to pedestrians as automobiles. Head injuries due to bicycle collisions might not kill you at the scene of the collision, but whether you die from traumatic brain injury a day or a year later the result is the same.