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The massive casualty toll in the Ride the Ducks collision is hard to comprehend

From January through the end of August, five people had been killed in Seattle traffic.

In a single collision today, four people were killed, eight were critically injured, eight more were seriously injured, and one is in “satisfactory” condition, according to the Seattle Times.

Numbers like these are hard to wrap your head around. Each one is a person with communities of people who love them. Many were international students at North Seattle College.

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Our deepest condolences go out to their families and friends.

Bloodworks NW put out a call for people to donate O-Negative or O-Positive blood as the serious medical need following this tragedy has put a strain on their supplies.

Investigations will continue for a long time, including Seattle Police, Washington State and even the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB typically responds only to major tragedies, and this scale of death and injury certainly qualifies.

Initial witness statements to the Times say a Ride the Ducks amphibious tour vehicle full of passengers was headed north over the Aurora Bridge when it swerved sharply to the left, striking two vehicles and a southbound charter bus carrying 45 students and employees from North Seattle College. The Duck is a former military vehicle and has a raised and extended front end (it is also a boat). The swerving may have been caused by a mechanical failure with the left front wheel. The damage to the side of the bus was catastrophic.

There are a lot of questions to ask. Are these Duck vehicles inherently too dangerous? This is far from the first serious incident for Seattle’s Ride the Ducks or similar tours across the nation. What can be done to make the Aurora Bridge safer? In the weeks and months ahead, we need to investigate seriously and take whatever actions we can to prevent another incident like this.

But we all first need to take the time to honor the individuals killed and injured today in such a senseless moment of destruction. Talk about it with the people you love. Even a single life ended or forever altered in a traffic collision is really hard to understand.

But the worst thing we can do is get numbed by the casualty numbers, throw our hands up in the air and move on. This happened in our city.

I urge you to watch Tim Gesner tell his devastating story to the Seattle Times. He was visiting from Orlando and was in the back of the Duck when the collision happened.

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22 responses to “The massive casualty toll in the Ride the Ducks collision is hard to comprehend”

  1. Gary Yngve

    Please fix the Ballard Bridge before the Aurora Bridge.

    1. Onshay

      That is one of the most fucked up comments I have ever read on this blog. After listening to Mr. Gesner recount the horror he witnessed today all you can think of is worrying about your priorities for how things should be fixed? You should be ashamed.

      1. Gary Yngve

        I don’t see how one can effectively advocate toward fixing the most recent thing that has had a collision on it, when there is so much to be done and so little funds. Why not have a set of priorities, that are determined by careful study over the fullness of time, and follow that list? For bicycle and ped safety (the subject of this blog), the Aurora Bridge is much safer than the Ballard Bridge. Hence, the Ballard Bridge should be fixed first. Regarding this tragedy, were the Duck on the Ballard Bridge, it’s unclear if the outcome would be the same.

    2. The Ballard Bridge is unsafe for bikes and pedestrians. The Aurora Bridge is unsafe even in a car. Which is the bigger problem?

      1. Gary Yngve

        An anecdote is not a statistic. And there hasn’t been any determination that this collision was due to the bridge itself — there were reports of mechanical failure in the Duck. I don’t like the knee-jerk reaction of we have to do something here because of one incident, just because it involved famous things. The Aurora Bridge is much safer for bikes and peds than the Ballard Bridge. This blog is about bikes. If car advocates want to advocate for wider lanes on the Aurora Bridge, let them do that. I ride the metro bus across the Aurora Bridge most work days and will continue to feel safe doing so.

    3. NickBob

      Not either/or, rather both/and. Both routes are major thruways and should require the funds, especially as the Aurora Bridge is a state highway. Yes, easier written than done, but settling in advance is no way to begin.

    4. Dan

      Both bridges need fixing, peds/bikes avoid both. Aurora bridge is easier to avoid, so perhaps that is why it sees fewer accidents, less usage.

      The Aurora bridge if it is dropped from 6 lanes to 4 lanes might have space to widen the sidewalk, which is not an option on the Ballard bridge. So improving the Aurora bridge so you could bike across it safely, get a stroller or wheelchair cost might cost much less compared to fixing the Ballard bridge – not necessarily a zero sum game.

  2. Eli

    And can someone please give O’Toole the message to stop calling collisions like these “accidents”, until it’s been proven that this really was an accident (e.g. someone made a mistake), rather than yet another preventable collision on Seattle’s streets?



    1. Alexander

      We also have no evidence it was deliberate, either. I don’t think we want to go down the “guilty until proven innocent” path too far.

      For now, we know it is a crash.

  3. Josh

    There’s plenty of long-term investigating to do, and any changes to a bridge will no doubt require significant engineering review. But some changes don’t have to wait…

    Six lanes of traffic in under 60 feet of roadway describes a low-speed city street, not a highway. Lanes that narrow mean a transit bus doesn’t fit within a single lane, they’re 10.5 feet wide mirror-to-mirror. Lanes that narrow mean that even the slightest drift from driver distraction or a blown tire can become a head-on crash.

    While waiting for the long-term decisions, SDOT and WSDOT should get their heads together and decide what a safe speed limit is for a bridge where head-on collisions are inevitable given the geometry. 30 mph? 25 mph?

    Lower speeds will reduce, but not eliminate, crashes, but they’ll take most of the energy out of those crashes, making them more survivable until the facility can be redesigned to meet modern safety standards. But they’re something that could be accomplished very quickly if WSDOT can put safety ahead of speed for a functionally-obsolete bridge.

    1. Many years ago, my mom and I were crossing the Aurora Bridge a few MPH over the posted speed limit and I noticed cars tended to pass us. Aurora has always been a glorified pseudo-freeway, especially south of Winona where there’s a center median barrier everywhere but on the bridge, and it’s an outrage that a bridge on a pseudo-freeway would have lanes that narrow and be that unsafe requiring the speed limit to be turned that low, which will inevitably be flouted left and right. That this bridge wasn’t made safer already shows just where the priorities lie at the Washington State Department of Moving Automobiles. The city and state need to get together and get this bridge fixed ASAP, regardless of what else happens in the meantime.

    2. Gary Yngve

      Yes, reducing speed and enforcing it would be really great (though I do not know how much speed was a factor here). They have speed signs elsewhere on Aurora and I regularly see cars fly by at over 50. They could also formalize letting buses/trucks do what I see metro buses doing, which is splitting the right two lanes.

  4. ronp

    As I wrote on the transit blog, the ducks should be banned from Seattle streets and replaced with open top modern buses — http://www.paris.opentour.com/en/ — and dedicated boats.

    The Aurora bridge needs lanes removed/widened and barriers even at the expense of road capacity.

    Both need to happen ASAP.

    1. Dan

      I very much agree.

      I’d also like to see a new law requiring tour guides and bus drivers be different people. If a person is driving a bus in downtown Seattle, let them focus and not force them to also conduct a tour.

  5. RDPence

    While I certainly support Vision Zero and all the efforts to reduce collisions on city streets and highways, not every collision can be prevented by infrastructure improvements. Motor vehicles sometimes fail, and drivers will make mistakes — both of which can result in collisions, injuries, and, sadly, even deaths.

  6. Doug Bostrom

    On a recent visit to Norway I noted that any public transport above the level of a municipal bus will not move until the driver is satisfied that seatbelts (shoulder harness for every passenger) are fastened. No belt, no go.

    Passengers were flung out of the DUKW, with the usual injuries pertaining.

    Of course this is a terrible infringement on personal freedoms to become permanently crippled and friction for everybody else but maybe we should join the rest of the world and the 21st century.

    And no, seatbelts would not have saved everybody but this is about significantly improving statistics, in case some dullard is feeling the compulsion of perfectionism and is about to pipe up.

  7. Voice of Reason

    The Golden Gate is 6 lanes as well, The answer to this crash is not reducing capacity or building barriers. Reducing speed limits is a cute thought too, but since we are already in gridlock most of the day that will help little. The neutering of most arterials in this city for the benefit of a few is clogging roads at an alarming rate. Accidents happen, and will continue to no matter how many knee jerks occur.

    1. Get a Clue

      The reason you’re stuck in traffic isn’t because of the bikes passing you, it’s because of the tens of thousands of sov’s in front of you.

    2. Eli

      Please go back to the Seattle Times comment section. It’s a special place just for special people like you.

  8. JAT

    In the meantime the Times is reporting that the DUKWs will not be allowed back on the Aurora Bridge. http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/ride-the-ducks-vehicles-will-no-longer-use-aurora-bridge/

    Where oh where will they go? the narrow-laned heavily biked Dexter and Fremont Bridge?

    Gotta assume so.

  9. […] not sure why we are allowing the Ducks back on Seattle streets at all after the immense amount of death and injury they caused just months ago on the Aurora Bridge. The bridge didn’t cause that wreck, the […]

  10. […] to the Aurora Bridge. Essentially nobody finds the bridge comfortable to use today, and the Ride the Ducks tragedy brought the need for a safety redesign back into the forefront of people’s […]

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