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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.

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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”

  1. Gary

    Speeding, it’s not just a USA problem.


    about Motorcycles but applies to bicycles as well.

    And if you watch any of these videos and it really worked, ie now that you know the consequences, you’ll alter your action, and you wouldn’t speed. But they only work for a short while. Why? Because when you drive a car you have no feel for how fast you are really going. Nor do you have any real idea how long it will take you to stop. Nor can you see everything around you.

    Driving a car is like being in a climate controlled bubble with music.

    Therefore as a bicyclist and a pedestrian and as another driver I assume you can’t see me and proceed accordingly. I figure that’s why I’m still alive.

  2. I attended the first Road Safety Summit and advocated for strict liability against drivers who hit pedestrians or bicyclists. These statistics are more evidence that such legislation should be passed.

    I find it particularly interesting that so many more people have been cited for jaywalking than for failure to yield. Which action puts more people at risk?

    More information on strict liability here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Washington-Bike-Law/119192281430792

  3. It seems to me that a pedestrian is safer to jaywalk than to cross at a corner because they avoid intersection turning conflicts. That has also been found to be the case elsewhere. I think another, contributing factor is that most pedestrians look more carefully at what oncoming traffic is doing if they are going to jaywalk than if they have a “walk” light.

    1. Gary

      You are actually allowed to cross the street at alley ways! That means it’s not jay walking downtown to cross most blocks in the middle, as they mostly have an alley there, at least on one side if not both.

  4. Steve A. is right. I jaywalk a lot because my most-crossed intersection has a light and I’d rather not wait for it to change. But I do so very carefully and crossing in the middle of a street gives me an excellent view of oncoming traffic in both directions. The same isn’t true of crossing at intersections, light or no light. It’s hard to see turning cars and there’s often some clueless person driving, turning and talking on their cell phone at the same time.

    Age is also a major factor, as the article notes. From what I’ve seen, older people seem more likely to trust others to follow the rules. They cross without looking carefully because the light or crosswalk stripes say they have the right-of-way. That’s dangerous at any age and doubly so when you can’t move quickly.

    I disagree, however, with those who think slowing down traffic will improve pedestrian safety–or more likely are simply using it as an excuse to impose the “traffic calming” dogma that’s cluttering our arterials with dangerous bike lanes. Quite a few accidents happen because drivers feel trapped in traffic and don’t want to yield right-of-way to anyone, least of all a pedestrian. Make traffic flow smoother and faster, and you’ll have fewer accidents. Timing red lights better and varying the timing interactively with traffic conditions would be a step in the right direction.

    Also, our busy arterials need more pedestrian overpasses, particularly Aurora. I did have one bus driver on Aurora who was careful to note the stops at the foot of Queen Anne that had pedestrian over/underpasses and to stress that exiting passengers should use them. But he has been the only one. More drivers should do that and there should be more over/underpasses to use.

    Downtown, it’d be great if we were like a few Northern European cities. They not only have underpasses that let you cross to all four corners, they use the area under the intersection for small shops. If Seattle hadn’t wasted so much money on two rarely used sports stadiums or wasn’t wasting so much on the Viaduct-to-tunnel replacement, we could afford something like that.

    But that’d be expecting our powerful downtown real estate interests to display something they so obviously lack–intelligence and good sense.

    1. Jeremy

      How do bicycle lanes clutter roads? How, exactly, are they dangerous? What is your source for “quite a few” accidents due to drivers “trapped in traffic?” Are drivers not trained to operate their dangerous vehicles in a safe and responsible manner? Road diets have been used for decades in Seattle, so you should be able to find numbers to back your claims.

      1. MondoMan

        The problem with many current bike lanes is that they encourage vehicles traveling at dramatically different speeds (cars and bikes) to travel side-by-side in close proximity. This close sideways proximity coupled with large speed differences is dangerous. Significant speed differences between vehicles traveling in proximity is a bigger factor in collisions than the absolute speed of the vehicles.

    2. Tom Fucoloro

      I agree that it would be awesome if Seattle could create pedestrian overpasses and underpasses all over the place. However, you’ll find that the costs for that would be astronomical. The cost of just one overpass could fund many miles of other projects that have proven to increase walking, biking and driving safety.

      Traffic calming increases safety for everyone, and there are stacks of studies from all over Seattle and the world spanning decades to back that up. It’s simply a fact that traffic calming is the best way to improve safety for everyone. Road diets are a key tool in the traffic calming toolbox. And they’re extremely cheap for how effective they are ($50,000-100,000 per mile to reduce injury-causing collisions by 70 percent).

      Making traffic go faster will cause more people to die and get seriously injured. That is an indisputable fact. Speed kills. We tried letting cars go super fast through our cities, and it yielded decades of tremendous bloodshed. It’s time to change our strategy.

      1. MondoMan

        Making everyone travel very slowly in the name of safety hurts the economy, encourages road rage and frustration, and increases pollution. We need to make trade-offs.

        It was pretty clear after the 1970s and 1980s that people are not willing to accept a 55 mph speed limit on all highways, even though that’s safer and more fuel-efficient than higher speeds. Trying to limit people’s driving speeds just by fiat is trying to work against human nature; I think there are more effective approaches to safety.

      2. onshay

        I’m sorry MondoMan but arguing against people’s safety for the sake of the economy is ridiculous. First, you have no evidence backing up your statements (how does driving slower – using less fuel/gallon – hurt the environment exactly?) but, even more importantly, these are people’s lives we’re talking about.

        And then you have the audacity to say that we need to make trade-offs. That’s exactly what people in favor of safety are suggesting! We’ve been planning cities around the car for nearly a century and now that there’s some push-back from pedestrians/cyclists in the name of their safety and you make the case that that’s too much of a concession from motor vehicles? Unbelievable.

        Oh yes, moving slower than 70 miles/hour certainly goes against the nature of an animal that can’t maintain much more than 15mph for over a mile.

        The reality is that no one is asking for much more than a few, safe routes around the city – not the institution of a 20 mph speed limit on the highway. Pedestrians and cyclists have a RIGHT to use our infrastructure just as motor vehicles do and they also have the RIGHT to not be killed for it.

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        What is the economic cost of a lost life? Serious injury? Portland found that the city loses over $100,000,000 each year due to lost productivity and health care costs associated with traffic crashes.

        I promise that a couple mph reduction on city roads would not be higher than $100 million.


      4. Mondoman

        onshay, you make some good points.
        I was replying to Tom’s assertions that “It’s simply a fact that traffic calming is the best way to improve safety for everyone.” and “Making traffic go faster will cause more people to die and get seriously injured. ” which I don’t feel are justified.

        Tom, I think the value of a person’s life is normally set at about $1-2 million for legal purposes, so your $100 million per year Portland number sounds reasonable. However, given a million or more people living in Portland, you’ll need some actual data (not just a promise :) ) to show that costs due to speed reduction would not be higher than $100 per person per year. I’m thinking of things such as 5 minutes of extra daycare (due to spending more time in traffic) costing $1-2 or more.

    3. Gary

      Downtown the city has actively prohibited overpasses for pedestrians. The theory is that the more people at street level, the better the safety for the people, ie muggings, and better for retail.

      Of course cities like Minneapolis have those hamster tubes all over and with their severe winter weather it makes total sense. You can walk from building to building without having to bundle back up.

    4. Pedestrian

      I have lived in cities with underpasses, and as a woman, I found them too scary to use many times. I can’t imagine I’d feel safe using them here, what with all the clinically insane people roaming around.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Good point.

  5. seadog

    why no mention of the hit & run bicyclist from last month?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Do you have a link? Which incident are you referring to?

  6. jandl

    Am I seeing these stats correctly? Of the 19 2010 fatalities 24% or 5 were pedestrians? I think two of those were late night Aurora/highway dumb and dumber moves. So, if correct I’d say 3 per annum is really quite an excellent record.
    Let’s take the money some govt entity wants to spend for saving those 3 and apply some equal effort and sense to the ridiculous, out of line and stupid lack of sense concerning gun control and those deaths.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      The general rule is that you can take the number of fatalities and multiply it by ten to get the number of people seriously injured. People shouldn’t be getting maimed in traffic, either. Permanent mental and physical injuries are not acceptable, either.

      It’s also worth noting that changes that help people walk and bike also reduce the number of people driving who are injured, perhaps even more so.

  7. MondoMan

    Tom, there seem to be a number of analysis errors in this piece. For example, the Seattle traffic fatalities chart mixes apples and oranges by including freeway deaths for the initial years, but not for the later years. If we just look at the non-freeway death years, deaths have gone from 20 in 1994 to 19 in 2010, which seems pretty unchanged to me.

    Regarding disproportionate numbers of tickets, we can’t know without additional info whether the pedestrians are just jaywalking more frequently than cars are not yielding, or whether ticketing rates vary between the infraction types.

    Regarding the speeding in West Seattle, while it’s true that a pedestrian is less likely to be injured if hit at a lower speed, what really matters is the number of collisions, and it’s unclear if reducing speeding would reduce the number of collisions — we need actual data. The info you cite about fewer collisions after the redesign without much of a speed drop shows that other factors may be more important to injury numbers (and more amenable to change) than vehicle speeds.

    1. Gary

      No collision data, but plenty of other reason for lower speed limits.


      1. MondoMan

        And plenty of reasons for higher ones. As I wrote above, it’s a tradeoff.

    2. Tom Fucoloro

      You may be right about the collision data including freeways. Good point.

      Regarding the disproportionate ticketing numbers, I disagree. Sure, people jaywalk a lot, but people fail to yield to me when I’m trying to walk at a legal crosswalk at least as much. Especially if it’s an unmarked crosswalk, since I get the sense that very few people even know that every corner is a de facto legal crosswalk.

      But that’s beside the point. If the leading cause of collisions is by far the failure to yield the right of way, then that is where police should be focusing their traffic enforcement. Plus, failing to yield endangers others while jaywalking really only endangers yourself. A menace to others should be a higher priority than someone who is a menace to themselves (assuming, of course, that most instances of jaywalking could be considered a menace). Seems to me like police priorities are completely flipped.

      As for speed, I didn’t mean to suggest that lowering speeds is the only way to reduce collisions. Smart road designs that don’t force people to do things like make left turns across two lanes (or more) of speeding traffic are clearly going to reduce the number of collisions without necessarily slowing speeds. This is most of what a road diet does. It reduces the top-tier speeders while removing many dangerous road situations from the equation. Unfortunately, this one did not reduce speeds as much as I would have hoped. The speed limit is 30, and we should be designing our roads so that most people go 30 (there will always be speeders). But it’s still a big step in right direction, clearly.

      If you want more numbers about the project, see page 6-1 of the 2010 Traffic Report: http://www.scribd.com/doc/70637438/2010-Traffic-Report-Final

      1. Mondoman

        Tom, I guess what I’m thinking is why not have a proper study that (say) monitors cameras covering a block or more of actual street 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and actually count instances of failure to yield, jaywalking, and other infractions of interest. Just as air traffic control systems look at “near miss” instances rather than just actual mid-air crashes, it seems to me that such an approach might easily provide some insight into what to change to improve the situation.

  8. […] opinions on cycling. Sure, it’s at a bike shop, but the summit is about safety for everyone regardless of their chosen mode. So invite your […]

  9. […] force (often in incidents that begin with a jaywalking stop), but also revelations that police are disproportionately ticketing people for jaywalking. Police gave five times as many jaywalking tickets as “failure to yield” tickets to […]

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