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Mayor McGinn calls for road safety summit

Mayor Mike McGinn has called for “a summit of community leaders, experts and elected officials to determine how best we can encourage an attitude of responsibility and empathy on the roads, and make it safer for all users.” In a lengthy blog post, the mayor lays out the ways he plans to increase road safety.

We argued earlier yesterday that our city is at a turning point in road safety. We called for city leaders to empower SDOT to make our streets safer and to fund our city’s bicycle and pedestrian master plans. The mayor is clearly prepared to take a leadership role to improve road safety, and he outlines a reasonable and sound approach to making it happen.

It’s now up to members of the City Council, especially those on the Transportation Committee, to put any previous political disagreements with the mayor aside and work to make this happen for the people of Seattle.

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Here’s the mayor’s blog post in it’s entirety:

As part of my commute I bike the same route taken on Dexter Avenue by Mike Wang, a 42 year old father of two who worked at PATH. One afternoon, on his ride home just two blocks from his office, he was killed in a hit-and-run accident while crossing the intersection of Dexter and Thomas. I see the flowers and the white ghost bike, reading “A cyclist died here,” almost every day. While biking from KUOW to City Hall on Monday morning, I went to the intersection of University Way and Campus Parkway, where Robert Townsend, a 23-year old man who delivered sandwiches on his bicycle for Jimmy John’s, died after being struck by a car this past Saturday. I then rode to the spot on Fairview Avenue where Brian Fairbrother, who worked at Espresso Vivace, died after crashing on a set of stairs on August 30th.

Each of these incidents is a tragedy. It’s not just the person on the bicycle who has been affected. The victims’ families and friends are in mourning, and I share their grief. Everyone who uses the streets in our city – whether it’s in a car, on a bicycle, on a bus or train, or on foot – is a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor, a friend who is just trying to get home safely. No one wants to be the person in the car who gets in an accident. No one wants have a friend or family member who is injured or even killed.

It’s time to stop finding fault with each other, and to start finding a remedy. There has been a lot of overheated rhetoric about cars versus bikes or bikes versus cars, and it’s not helping make our roads any safer. It’s not even accurate. Most people who ride a bicycle also own a car. Drivers will also park and walk across the street or on a sidewalk to get to their destination. A pothole is a danger to both cars and bicycles. And we pay the general sales and property taxes that help fund our road infrastructure. We need to take responsibility for not just our own lives, but for others too.

We need to look at what we can do to help people get where they’re going safely. That requires the public as well as city government to take new steps to address road safety. Here are the steps I am committed to taking:

Convening the community. My office will be convening a summit of community leaders, experts and elected officials to determine how best we can encourage an attitude of responsibility and empathy on the roads, and make it safer for all users. Seattle Department of Transportation Director (SDOT) Peter Hahn, Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief John Diaz, and several members of the City Council have already agreed to participate. We’re working on the details of the summit right now, nailing down a time and a place, and will make an announcement soon about the event.

Expanding education efforts. Seattle has and will continue to invest in several education programs, including those who drive, bike, walk and ride transit, about the rules of the road and ways they can help to improve safety. We are going to spend some more money this year to continue or expand those programs. We’re also going to take a close look at whether there are ways we can improve these education programs to more effectively meet the public’s needs.

Improving enforcement. SDOT and SPD currently work together to target locations where safety concerns have been identified. We already focus on behaviors that contribute to collisions, such as speeding and failure to yield, and on impaired driving. We’re going to reexamine all of those efforts and find ways to improve and expand enforcement. And we’ll do so in a way that avoids scapegoating, but that reminds everyone that they are responsible for protecting each other by following the rules of the road.

Continuing to invest in infrastructure. We have been investing in facilities that make it safer to use our roads. With funds from the Bridging the Gap Levy, we have repaved more than 128 lanes miles of arterial streets in Seattle. Earlier this year we increased the number of pothole repair crews from 3 to 9 to deal with the unusually large number of potholes we had this winter. So far we’ve filled more than 20,000 potholes in 2011, more than in 2009 and 2010 combined. Since the adoption of the Bicycle Master Plan four years ago, we have installed 113 miles of new bike lanes and pavement markings. On Dexter Avenue, we are going to add buffers to the bike lanes between Mercer and Denny to provide bicycles with more room and to reduce vehicle speeds. We’re going to continue trying new approaches, such as neighborhood greenways and cycletracks that make it easier for cars and bicycles to share the road. Next year, we are updating the Bicycle Master Plan which will help us understand where safety improvements are needed. And we are asking the public to help us fund these projects.

These steps continue the focus I have had on improving road safety since I took office. That includes everything from filling more potholes to reconfiguring streets to reduce speeds and create safer conditions for all users. We’ve rechannelized streets such as Northeast 125th and Nickerson in order to make them safer for everyone by lowering speeds and improving traffic flow.

The evidence was clear that we needed to act. SDOT’s data showed that a high percentage of collisions (51%) on Northeast 125th Street resulted in injury, compared to only 33% on similar roads in Seattle. These are accidents between automobiles, as well as accidents involving pedestrians. We know that high vehicle speeds are dangerous. In 2009, speeding was a contributing factor in 31 percent of all fatal crashes, and 10,591 lives were lost in speeding-related crashes. Given this information, I accepted the SDOT recommendation and directed them to rechannelize Northeast 125th Street. I stood up for safety.

That decision was not popular with everyone, but I felt it was the right way to improve safety on that street. And I’ve received some letters from residents of that neighborhood who tell me that the rechannelization has made it easier for them to safely drive from their residential streets onto and off of Northeast 125th Street.

I made a similar choice on Nickerson Street, in this case to improve pedestrian safety. A pedestrian hit by a car going 40 mph has an 80 percent chance of dying from the impact, while a pedestrian hit by a car going 30 mph has a 40 percent chance of dying from the impact. Before Nickerson Street was restriped, 85 percent of the traffic was going 44 miles per hour or below eastbound, and 40 miles per hour or below westbound — while the speed limit on Nickerson Street is only 30 miles per hour. We went out and collected data in February to see how well this was working. The data shows that traffic speeds are currently 35 miles per hour eastbound and 37 miles per hour westbound. While speeds are not down to the 30 mile per hour speed limit, they are still safer.

Each of those projects helped make the street safer for everyone who uses it. Driving remains the most common form of transportation in our city, and all of our projects are designed to help people who drive interact more easily and safely with other users, giving drivers more peace of mind. More people are biking in Seattle – the number of people riding a bicycle rose by approximately 60% from 2000 to 2009. Everyone has the right to be on the road, and it’s our job to help people do so safely and responsibly.

Public safety has to be our top priority on the roads. If we all look out for each other, we can get where we’re going safely.

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15 responses to “Mayor McGinn calls for road safety summit”

  1. Mayor McGinn has accurately stated a concept of a community that shares a responsibility for sparing Seattle citizens who have a heart the emotional loss that these tragedies bring. Some elements of our community make up seem out of our individual control. As a bicyclist I know my in individual behavior is in my control. Also I realize my behavior will have an effect on how all car drivers I interact with will react to all the bicycle riders that they interact with. The fact is even if we are sitting comfortably encased in steel and glass we will have more social interaction in a day while transporting than in any other setting. Literally hundreds to thousands of souls pass each other every day in the process of going from point A to point B and they hardly acknowledge each other let alone taking on a shared responsibility of being safe and efficient. We cannot look at those others as the ones who are in the way, driving too slow, holding up traffic, too much traffic without acknowledging that we are one of those others. We hear a lot about being defensive. (This legitimizes the high percentage of offensive drivers). I think it is about time to focus on being cooperative. This a community concept and even while riding my bicycle I see a community and society in erosion because we cannot even look at each other without seeing some kind of competitor, for road space, for proving whose faster or more worthy or who dresses better and has a better bicycle. Just like it is with cars.
    We can live in a community that cares. Very caring people can transform into an entirely different entity once they are behind the wheel of a car. Maybe the anxious, speeding out of control of their driving and life people will realize they did not get very far with that behavior and we are still side by side at the next light. Seconds or minutes have been saved but at what cost when planning a morning commute better would actually bring comfort instead of anxiety. We are also very accepting of the fact that we must sacrifice 30-40,000 Americans each year for the right to move about. We can do better and it starts with each one of us individually and perhaps a state sponsored push for “cooperative driving”. Cooperative driving skills needs to be re-introduced to the public and re-learned. This concept is already being employed with bicycle riders who have joined the area Spokespeople groups sponsored by Cascade Bicycle Club. I lead rides out of West Seattle once to twice a month.

  2. Ed Goettel

    I drive all over Seattle and i’m a cyclist, even for myself its been hard not to get angry at the fools on two wheels that think they are entitled to ride where they want and how they want, folks you need to use common sense or more will die, its not an argument on rights ! its all about who will lose in a crash. and also commercial carriers pay alot of money in road taxes and I am sure thats not the case for bikes YET. Say all you want but until theres complete separation between the two guess who will lose ? Common Sense Please

    1. biliruben

      You appear to be missing the point of this post, Ed. You come of as threatening and self-righteous.

      Accusing people of lacking common sense, and insisting they guide their actions out of fear is not helpful.

      Re-read your words and consider rephrasing, or pausing to consider what might be a better means of improving safety and uniting people to a common cause besides demeaning threats and warnings.

      1. billyT


        sounding patronizing, you gloss over Ed Goettel’s points that I also see around Seattle and instead spout about making “threats and warnings.”

        The majority of drivers is not out to “get” the cyclists. There is no good way to deal with hurting someone in an accident, as the driver is almost always seen as at fault.

        If however the cyclist community sticks by the false notion that THEY are always the victims, and refuses to recognize that there are some glaring examples of bad-apple cyclists blatantly ignoring traffic laws, common sense, and even laws of physics, then there is no conversation.

        Do you see auto drivers blowing by red lights, ignore stop signs, and cut in front of patiently waiting traffic and THEN run the red light or stop sign?

        Why do we see cyclists do this everyday, and what message does that image send when cyclists don’t even acknowledge that some amongst their ranks are complete fools and basic jerks on the road?

        And what will the cyclists do about the badly-behaving members of their community? Will they help police themselves?

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        Billy, nobody is going to claim that all people biking obey every traffic law all the time. But that goes for people driving, too. On many streets in our city, 80 percent of drivers go over 10 mph over the speed limit. Most people jaywalk.

        Can drivers be expected to “self-police” so that others don’t drink-and-drive? How about texting while driving? Failing to stop for people in a crosswalk?

        I think encouraging safe behavior among your peers is a very positive thing to do, and many people I know do just that. But it’s unrealistic to think that people who ride bikes (or Cascade) can somehow change the behavior of others. We don’t share a hive mind, and every person who bikes is not part of some cohesive network.

        You put it just right: Bad apples. There are people who regularly do dangerous things no matter which mode of transportation they choose. If I could wave my wand and have every person on the road obey the law, I would. If everyone driving obeyed the law all the time, we wouldn’t even need bike lanes or safer infrastructure. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in.

      3. biliruben

        I certainly don’t deny that there are people who break laws riding bikes. I do however see far more drivers breaking laws. Hundreds, if not thousands every day. Are you policing them? It’s just not as noticeable, and it’s taken for granted. Sure, someone driving an automobile is dangerous and flouting the law. No big deal. Everyone (including me) does it. They kill someone? Dude should have had the proper amount of fear for obvious and evident large number of morons, then they’d still be alive, right?

        Is that where we should leave it?

        There is no “cycling community”. I drive about as much as I ride. I am part of the Seattle community, and I am looking to work to make things safer. I recognize there are idiots out there, be it on foot, behind the handlebars or behind the wheel. I also recognize it will always be so.

        Our task as a community is to figure out how to stop killing people, no matter their transit mode, given the above reality.

        I’ve been hit numerous times while riding. Never seriously, and always due to inattentive drivers. Every single one admitted as much, and I have never asked for anything but for them to be more careful going forward. It turns out there is a fresh crop of idiots beginning to drive, ride or walk to deal with every day.

        What we have to do is improve the infrastructure because there is always going to be a percentage of the populous that is just simply dangerous.

  3. Melinda

    What is with all this talk about the cyclist community? It’s not like we get together at a union hall or something. If I start lecturing someone about the way they ride, I’m just going to get told “fuck off”, the same as when people driving cars do it to each other.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Though, one thing I really like about bikes is that when you ride, you can still talk to other people. In a car, you are in your own box and rarely have a verbal interaction with others (except on a cell phone, often illegally). That’s a problem. If people were more in tune with each other, there would be a lot less nastiness and anger.

      1. Amen, Tom. I remarked to my wife years ago, way before we ever started biking, that if we were serious about road safety, all cars would be equipped with headsets of some kind so that drivers could communicate directly. professional drivers (truckers, e.g.) use CBs to do just that: they communicate traffic/road conditions, location of cops, etc. I was crossing the ballard bridge when another car made a half-hearted attempt to merge in from nickerson. i saw him coming, slowed to allow him plenty of space to merge, and he proceeded to hit his brakes and come to a dead stop in the merge lane. i said to my wife, “if we could talk, i could have just said, ‘go ahead, blue toyota–i’ll let you in.’” but as it stands, it’s just as you said tom: in a car, you’re “in your own box.”

  4. puget sounder

    Because it is already legal for bicycles to travel on just about every road in Seattle, it would seem the best thing that can be done to help cyclist is not to paint more lines on our deteriorating roads, but rather to quicken the pace of getting our roads repaved. Pothole plugging only goes so far. Some of these streets don’t need more pothole plugging, they need a complete repaving. It has been deferred for too long. Also, we have blackberry vines and cave-in hillsides spreading over our sidewalks and into our streets. Sidewalks need to be cleared of debris. Paved streets and clean sidewalks will make bikers, motorists, and pedestrians a lot happier.

    1. no doubt about it! but don’t hold your breath. i’ve been here for over 10 years, and while virtually every arterial in my area (ballard/fremont/magnolia) could stand to be re-paved, only a small handful have been. off the top of my head i can think of just 3: 15th ave NW was resurfaced a few years ago; the new “bikebox” version of N 34th street in fremont (what’s that, about 1/8 of a mile?); and the fremont end of leary way. this one was a real farce, because within a month or two, SPU was digging it up left and right for utility work, leaving the fresh new pavement so full of holes and patches that it ended up being almost as rough as it had been!

      there may have been a couple more that i can’t recall right now, but needless to say, the vast majority of the street miles i travel–by bike or car–consist of broken, uneven, and/or disintegrating concrete slabs.

    2. Gotta chime in here regarding the condition of Seattle streets. I hear all the time how decrepit our streets are, rim bending potholes, concrete panels all cattywampus, but have any of you ever been to Boston, New York, Chicago, or for that matter any US City that has cold winters? Freeze-thaw destroys pavement and it is all DOTs can do just to keep the streets passable. Seattle streets are a dream to ride on compared with these other cities; no sand, no frost heaves, rarely black ice.

      But it is more than just a difference of opinion, SDOT has been so hounded by the pothole phobic that they will not add new bike facilities to any street until they first fix all pavement blemishes. This saps budgets which could be used to build exciting new facilities. In contrast, Portland does not even really consider pavement condition when they choose neighborhood greenway routes.

      Obviously, major hazards need to be fixed, but most seams, cracks, and small potholes are no big deal. Resources are limited, if we spend all our money making our streets pristine there will nothing left for the fun stuff.

  5. Hafoc

    Just found this… we need it here in Seattle! :)


    ‘The ordinance, which backers described as the toughest of its kind in the nation, makes it a crime for drivers to threaten cyclists verbally or physically, and allows victims of harassment to sue in civil court without waiting for the city to press criminal charges.’

    This law + a helmet cam are 2 tools I need!

  6. […] Summit was called after Robert Townsend became the third person killed while biking in Seattle this […]

  7. […] city is ready to launch its Road Safety Action Plan, the product of last year’s Road Safety Summit and the work of a committee of advocates and city representatives. It will be unveiled at noon […]

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