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


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.

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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.

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21 responses to “Devastating Data: Road death dashboard tracks where and why people die on Seattle streets”

  1. Peri Hartman

    Thanks for posting this, Tom. I’d like to see this analysis taken one step further. What it’s showing is the number of deaths per location. What I think would be more useful is the number of deaths per capita per location.

    In other words, break down the map into small regions. Tally the number of deaths in each region and divide it by an estimate of the number of people who travel through that region in a certain period of time – say 1 year. Then compare those rations.

    This type of analysis would result in showing the areas most dangerous to be in. Right now, it’s just showing a “popularity contest” – the areas with the highest number of deaths are probably the areas with the most number of people passing through.

    I think showing the ratios would be more helpful – then we would have a truer measure to set priorities for repairs or redesigns.

    1. Peri Hartman

      Bye the way, I’m not suggesting that Tom does this work. Gosh, I don’t even know how one would get the “region” data, if it even exists!

    2. Tom Fucoloro

      This map shows daily traffic volumes on many Seattle streets (counts motor vehicles AND bikes, but not people on foot): http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/tfdmaps.htm

      Rainier Ave S: ~ 35,000
      Lake City Way: ~ 38,000
      Aurora Ave N: ~ 75,000 on Aurora Bridge and south, ~ 37,000 north of 46th or so.
      I-5: ~ 250,000, via http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/i5/rehab/

      Using this data, you can see that Rainier’s death per vehicle rate is extraordinary. Aurora is pretty bad, too.

      But it needs more investigating. For example, is there simply less foot traffic on Lake City Way compared to Aurora and Rainier? Walking data is missing and actually fairly hard to measure. Or is there another factor at play?

    3. Peri Hartman

      So, using the volume numbers, the ratios of deaths/vehicles are:
      LCW .00016
      Rainier .00093

      Which makes Rainier about 5 times more dangerous.

      My gut feeling is that Lake City Way has fewer distractions and is, thus, easier to drive on. I think the lanes are widers, there are fewer intersections, driveways, etc. It’s designed more like a highway. Rainier, on the other hand, is more like a neighborhood arterial. Many intersections, lots of parking lots with access driveways, lots of lane changing, lots of turns. In short, lots of distractions, making it more likely to make a mistake.

    4. The problem with data is its limitations. The most deadly roadways – I-5, Aurora, Rainier, Lake City Way – are the longest and busiest roadways in town – so because of those facts alone they’re likely to be the deadliest, to say nothing of how bike and pedestrian friendly they are.

      To compensate for the varying length and traffic volumes, the data could be normalized – divide the total deaths along each roadway by the length of that roadway and the number of roadway users. The problem is, I couldn’t find this additional data. Traffic volumes are available for many roadways and you can see those where available when you hover over the bar on the “Deaths by Roadway” graph, but bike and pedestrian volumes are not, and I couldn’t find roadway lengths either.

  2. Bantry Bay

    I appreciate you sharing your observation of Rainier Ave. pedestrians deaths. I live on Rainier Ave. and am on that street daily. Could you tell us at what time of day these deaths occur? For me – it is a nightly occurrence to have a pedestrian run across Rainier Ave. outside of a sidewalk or light. Pedestrians that wear dark clothing and have dark skin crossing the street at night are close to impossible to see. It is shocking.

  3. Doug Bostrom

    Tom: “…every single data point was a unique person with a network of friends and family whose lives will never be the same.”

    Dismally true; human wreckage doesn’t end with a funeral, not at all. Roadways and the other major accepted form of violence in this country wreak an incalculable toll.

    And we just get along with it, indeed we create an entirely permissive atmosphere for bad decision-making leading to mayhem. Yesterday I was motoring along 35th Ave NE, heading to the local building supply store and following a person who was obeying the speed limit in a two lane portion of the street. The person behind me was so special in their own mind that they absolutely positively had to go faster, the only means available being that of passing on the right (undertaking, as the English so aptly put it), doing so with huge enthusiasm and leaving absolutely no room for error as they were not actually in a travel lane at all. Any cyclist hanging on the right side of the road would have been dead meat. The person behind the wheel made this decision as a result of tacit permission; no cost attaches to needlessly putting other people at risk.

    If we were serious about reducing the carnage on our roadways we’d shift police resources away from such things as monitoring grandmothers and their membership in political organizations and toward places were human suffering is actually created.

    By and large we collectively don’t care enough about other people to make good choices. This is reflected in our personal habits and our policy.

  4. MegaRAID01

    Thank you for sharing this, Tom. There was a recent episode of the podcast 99% Invisible which talked about how pedestrian deaths were looked at/treated in the early 20th century, as the automobile was gaining in popularity. Road rules were in their infancy, and as more children were getting killed every year, a showdown emerged between two large groups of citizens. I don’t want to spoil the story, but the podcast (~20 minutes or so) is well worth the listen.


  5. Fnarf

    I must be reading this wrong — the color code seems to suggest that as many pedestrians as passengers are killed on I-5? That can’t be right. I know a pedestrian is hit there every so often, but surely not several times more than drivers?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I also saw that. I’ll ask Troy, but it could also be a result of Seattle’s hushed/ignored suicide problem.

    2. Are ramps to/from I-5 counted as I-5? That might explain it.

    3. The numbers say that nearly as many pedestrians as drivers are killed on I-5. In addition to suicide, some of the pedestrians who die are probably homeless people encamped along and underneath the freeway.

      Ramps are sometimes identified separately in the source data, but it’s possible some of the deaths on I-5 actually occurred on the ramp.

  6. This is an amazing infographic!
    If you look at automobile deaths nationwide it is shocking to realize that 30-40000 have died yearly in the US for decades. If any other transportation “system” had that level of carnage it would have been shut down years ago.
    The automobile is the best worst idea ever.

  7. Interesting data. Unfortunately with the sort of color-blindness I have I find it very difficult to distinguish the colors in the graphs.

    For me, “personal conveyance user” and “pedestrian” look nearly the same. One is orange and the other green — it’s possible to create versions of these colors that contrast more, but the very similar ones have become very popular lately. So do “motor vehicle driver”, “motor vehicle passenger”, “stopped vehicle occupant”, and “cyclist”; all four of these look like dark blue to me, and though I can see slight differences when looking at the legend, but I can’t tell which legend square corresponds to the parts of the stacked bar charts, and I can barely distinguish the sections of the stacked bar charts.

    1. This is good feedback – it should be better now.

  8. Bill Bradburd

    The City did a study almost 5 years ago on the hazards of roads in the south east with a big focus on Rainier Ave S. Like most plans and studies in the city, it probably collects more dust than use.

  9. no traffic lights

    I haven’t heard the phrase, “traffic violence” before. It’s very powerful.

  10. A Seeger

    I ride a lot on sidewalks in Seattle. I try to use the trail system where I can. The roads and drivers are terrible. That is why I use a Mountain bike or cross bike in Seattle but a road bike on club rides outside of Seattle. Usually I ride a Rocky Mountain cross bike with a suspension fork and 700x35c kevlar road tires (from Performance Bike), and flat bars. You can manuever much faster with a bike like that. You can ride off curbs with it and over cracks and potholes that can cause a crash on a road bike. Just my 2 cents.

  11. Gary

    Saw this the other day and a Tedx talk about it.


    Where if you notice that bicycling improves mental health as well as physical health, you eliminate 9 of the 10 things that kill people in the USA. Then you come to understand that cars kill more people than they hit.

  12. […] Where people die on Seattle streets. […]

  13. […] Rainier Ave S tops the sad list of residential/commercial streets with traffic fatalities in Seattle… […]

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