People walking bear disproportionate number of traffic deaths and tickets

Here is a look at the recently-released SDOT 2010 Traffic Report, in light of the city’s Road Safety Summit. This post focuses on data for people walking. We will dive into the data related to biking in a later post.

Data from SDOT's 2010 Traffic Report

Mayor Mike McGinn first got into local politics because he moved to one of the many parts of Greenwood that are missing sidewalks.

“You couldn’t even walk to grocery store without felling like you were
being an irresponsible parent,” said McGinn. So he started organizing to lobby the city for more funding for sidewalks in neighborhoods.

But as the total number of traffic deaths in Seattle has dropped in recent years, safety increases for people walking continue to lag behind.

From the Road Safety Summit

People walking in Seattle were involved in just 2 percent of all traffic collisions between 2007 and 2010, yet they accounted for 24 percent of traffic injuries. The majority of those collisions were caused by people driving who failed to yield the right-of-way, most often in legal crosswalks. More than half of those killed were older than 60.

However, Seattle Police ticketed 23 percent more people for pedestrian violations compared to 2009. 1,500 jaywalking tickets were written in 2010. In the same time period, the number of people driving cited for failing to yield to people walking (the leading cause of a pedestrian collisions) dropped by half from 400 to 200.

Seattle has been very successful at reducing the number of people who die in traffic collisions in recent decades. Fatalities are one third of what they were 20 years ago, an increase in safety that far outpaces the national traffic fatality rate. 34,000 people died in traffic incidents across the nation in 2009.

This impressive drop in traffic deaths shows that Seattle is doing something right, but people walking and biking are bearing a disproportionate number of the traffic deaths that remain. People walking (and, therefore, populations reliant on walking and transit), are also receiving a disproportionate number of citations in our city’s crosswalks.

One of Seattle’s main road safety tools in recent decades has been the road diet. Indeed, a study of the recent redesign of Fauntleroy Way in West Seattle showed that the controversial road diet there decreased collisions by 31 percent, decreased injuries by 73 percent. Traffic volumes remained the same and increases in travel times ranged from a couple seconds to a minute, much of which could likely be attributed to decreases in speeding. Publicola has more on the Fauntleroy Way study.

As the city seeks ways to increase safety on our roads, we have to figure out why the number of people killed while walking is not decreasing. How can we increase safety for people walking downtown (other than giving them enough time to cross the street)? What can we do to our arterial roads to get more people driving the speed limit? Even after the Fauntleroy road diet, which was very effective at decreasing collisions and injuries, speeds only dropped slightly. 85 percent of people still drive more than 39 mph despite the 30 mph speed limit.

Speed is very closely tied with death when a person is struck by a car. Someone hit by a car going 40 mph has an 85 percent chance of dying. At 20 mph, the rate of death drops to 5 percent. Getting people down to the posted speed limit on a road like Fauntleroy would dramatically reduce the number of people hit. Of those hit, the odds of survival would be nearly twice as high as it is today.

The mayor is one of many city leaders organizing the city’s first Road Safety Summit, which aims to create a “shared citywide commitment to safety” and an action plan for reducing the number of people who are killed or injured in traffic.

The first of three forums in the Summit was held last week at City Hall. The next two forums are 6 p.m. November 15 at the Northgate Community Center and 6 p.m. November 21 at the Southwest Community Center. The results and next steps will be announced at a final meeting at 6 p.m. December 12 at City Hall.

If you can’t make it to one of the forums, you can submit your comments online.

More Traffic Safety data:
Traffic Collisions in Seattle

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26 Responses to People walking bear disproportionate number of traffic deaths and tickets

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