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Lucia: Seattle one of the safest cities to walk, but that’s not good enough

Scollard Flyer copySeattle is one of the safest big cities in North America for people walking, but tell that to the 415 people hit by cars and trucks in 2013.

For every 100,000 Seattle residents, 1.15 people will be killed in traffic while walking. 60 people were very seriously injured in 2013, and many more still have been left with lesser injuries or psychological challenges due to the trauma.

But this level of pain and suffering actually makes Seattle safer than San Francisco (1.89), Vancouver, B.C. (1.42) and Portland (1.33), according to a must-read report by Bill Lucia at Crosscut. But, of course, it isn’t good enough.

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Rebecca Scollard was killed July 31 in an afternoon collision with a CleanScapes garbage truck at Eighth and James. The exact circumstances of the collision are not yet clear, but this stretch of James is a well-known danger for people walking.

Friends and neighbors will gather at St. James Cathedral Wednesday to walk together to the site of the fatal collision. The memorial walk, organized by Seattle Neighborhood Greenways in conjunction with the Women in Black Homeless Remembrance Project, will be a chance to honor Scollard’s life and bring the city and community together to prevent this from happening to anyone else. From Central Seattle Greenways:

On July 31, Rebecca Scollard was struck and dragged under a truck at 9th & James. Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, working with other community groups, is coordinating a memorial walk to honor her and to work with SDOT to work to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future. If you can, please join us.

9:30 – 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, August 13.

We will gather in front of St. James Cathedral on 9th Avenue at 9:30 a.m., and then walk to the site of the tragic collision at 9th & James. There, people who knew Rebecca will say a few words to honor her, local singer/songwriter Jim Page will offer a song or two.

The event is planned in coordination with Seattle Women In Black, who will be holding their regularly scheduled vigil from 12 to 1 in front of the Justice Center at 5th & Cherry for homeless people who die in Seattle.

Organizers are also hoping to organize a post-walk gathering nearby to talk about how this can be prevented in the future.

And Seattle has the tools and experience to make our streets safer. Lucia cites the city’s changes a few years ago on NE 125th Street, which changed the four-lane street into one with a general traffic lane in each direction, bike lanes and a center turn lane. That project has even received national attention for being a low-cost and effective traffic safety project.

But traffic danger is the worst downtown and on the city’s highway-like neighborhood commercial streets like Lake City Way, Aurora and Rainier Ave, Lucia reports:

SDOT has found that since the change, speeding and accidents have declined on NE 125th Street. But the blocks north and south of NE 125 Street on Lake City Way continue to pose safety challenges. Vehicles hit 12 people between NE 110th Street and NE 145 Street on the busy north-south roadway in 2012. Two were seriously injured along that stretch of Lake City Way in 2013. “It’s an incredibly important pedestrian area that’s been treated as a highway,” [Janine] Blaeloch said. “It’s not just a commuter route.”

Lucia also speaks with Jourdan Keith, who was hit by a person driving who ran a red light on Rainier Ave in 2011. Keith is founder and director of the Urban Wilderness Project, but the collision left her unable to carry a 50-pound pack to lead backpacking trips. But beyond just her physical challenges as she regains strength, she has been left with financial burdens and a troubling lack of trust in others on the road:

Although Keith’s recovery is almost complete, she is not sure she will lead a backpacking trip again anytime soon. And she still avoids the area in Columbia City where the accident happened. “I don’t go to the post office, I don’t want to be around there, and that’s where I have to get my mail,” she said. “You get hit by a car, your trust in people is impacted.”

The era of looking at traffic violence as the acceptable cost of doing business must end. The real pain and hardship that dangerous streets levy on people stretches far beyond Seattle’s “good” 1.15/100,000 fatality rate.

If Seattle really wants to make our safe city ranking mean something, the city should redirect its transportation investments to focus on being the first big city in the US to achieve zero traffic deaths in a year. That’s going to take a lot more than just talk, it’s going to take a lot of money and political will (including will from the state) to address the city’s busiest and most deadly streets.

But imagine living in a city without traffic violence. I can’t think of a better investment.

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10 responses to “Lucia: Seattle one of the safest cities to walk, but that’s not good enough”

  1. Bob

    Make Seattle a Car Free City and problem solved…No private vehicles driven in Seattle
    would mean a huge reduction in accidents,and Seattle would be 99% safer….

    1. Law Abider

      Or make Seattle a people-free city and it’ll have the lowest crime, accident and death rate in the universe! Plus, per capita income will be infinite; homelessness and unemployment will be zero. Life (or lack thereof) will be great!

  2. Eric

    Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacons (RRFB) seemed like a great solution for stand alone crosswalks. Economical and get the attention of distracted drivers. Maybe an article on how they’re working out would be good? See:


    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I’ll ask around. I wonder if SDOT was planning a one-year study on them.

      They have been shown to increase crosswalk compliance to more than 80 percent, but I am not sure that is enough. It’s a lot better than nothing, but if 2 in 10 cars do not stop, I have trouble calling that a complete success.

      1. Josh

        There’s been an RRFB on the Interurban Trail in Auburn for several years now, it would be interesting to know if they have a good statistical analysis on its impact. My impression as a daily user is that it dramatically improves driver compliance, but it’s still necessary to cross with care. It seems especially effective in dark, wet weather where bikes are often hard to see from the side, even with modern lights and reflective materials.

        One important impact of RRFBs and Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons is to alert drivers to pedestrians who are unable to see whether motorists are preparing to stop/yield properly at a pedestrian crossing. Most of us take for granted the ability to see whether an oncoming car is braking — you can see the front end go down, you can judge whether they’re really slowing fast enough to let you use the crosswalk, you can even make eye contact with the driver. Blind and vision-limited pedestrians don’t have those cues, so increasing driver compliance is much more important to them.

        One interesting study for both treatments on very busy intersections is

        Of course the infrastructure isn’t going to be 100% effective on its own, but RRFBs and PHBs can be very effective at alerting drivers to occupied crosswalks; enforcement is necessary to convince some drivers to actually stop when they know a crosswalk is occupied. Automated crosswalk enforcement cameras are in use elsewhere in the U.S. and would be helpful for reining in the scofflaw minority of drivers who create so many negative crosswalk encounters.

      2. Andy

        I believe SDOT has traffic data from the RRFB on 24th at the Ballard 58th Street Greenway, as well, although it’s only been there a year.
        Anecdotally it seems to work mostly pretty well. When it’s really bright it doesn’t seem as effective, though – which was a concern brought up at the Ballard Greenway open house last week for the proposed RRFBs on 65th and 85th. Since those are east-west routes where drivers have the sun in their eyes in the morning and evening, I’m not sure if RRFBs will be at all noticeable to drivers during peak hours.

      3. Virchow

        I think these would be a vast improvement especially on streets like James which have unsignalled crosswalks on a hill. When I drive my wife around, I find that there are many crosswalks that occur at the top of a hill, which makes it very challenging to see pedestrians (espcially with Seattle’s habit of parking near an intersection, wrecking sightlines). I think crosswalks on hills should get this technology as a priority so drivers have a clear signal that someone wishes to cross. One was installed on Boren and Terrace, and I now bike it during my commute downtown because it is easier and safer than other crossings.

      4. Andres Salomon

        I just wrote up an analysis of the NW 58th & 24th Ave RRFB. Long story short: visibility is a big problem.

        Example: https://twitter.com/NEGreenways/status/498912110676426754

        The full analysis will be sent to SDOT (and others) once it’s been vetted by Ballard Greenways.

  3. […] I wonder how much of Seattle’s pretty good but could be improved pedestrian safety is on drivers and how much is on the pedestrians (and other factors). I mean it’s the only […]

  4. laura

    I’m wondering what the update is on this investigation? I haven’t seen any info in the news; did I miss something? Is the investigation complete? I think the public deserves to know what the outcome is for this tragedy.

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