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Seattle traffic deaths up in 2015, but serious injuries are down

These numbers “do not include those on limited access State Highways and Interstates within the city limits,” according to the city. Aurora is included north of the Battery Street Tunnel because this section is not limited access.

Twenty people died in Seattle traffic last year, up from 2014’s total of 17 and above the trend the city needs to achieve zero traffic deaths by 2030, one of the city’s Vision Zero goals.

Mayor Ed Murray did not mention bikes in his State of the City address. But he did mention traffic safety saying, “Last year, by launching Vision Zero, an innovative strategy driven by data and focused on eliminating traffic deaths, we reduced fatalities by 25 percent, reaching an all-time low for the city.” Sadly, the mayor’s numbers were not accurate.

“SDOT provided inaccurate information to the Mayor’s Office prior to the State of the City speech,” said SDOT Spokesperson Norm Mah. Traffic deaths actually increased 18 percent.

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A full quarter of the entire year’s traffic deaths in all of Seattle happened in one collision: The Ride the Ducks tragedy on the Aurora Bridge.

If that horrifying wreck had not happened, the city would be ahead of the pace it needs to reach Vision Zero in the next decade and a half. But the wreck did happen. Victims are still working to heal and come to terms with life-altering injuries, and the Ducks are already back on the streets.

In addition to the five people killed in the tragedy, 16 were seriously injured, accounting for 12 percent of the total serious traffic injuries in the city in 2015.

With such a massive collision adding to the total, it’s very impressive that the city’s serious injury total reached a modern low point at 130 (down 23 percent from 2014).

This is a big deal, and puts the city on track to reach another Vision Zero goal: Zero serious traffic injuries by 2030. It’s particularly impressive considering that fatal traffic collisions nationwide were up a stunning 9.3 percent in 2015 (PDF) and serious injuries were up 30 percent in the first half of the year. Seattle is doing something right that the rest of the country isn’t.

image-14We can do this. The trend line says we cut about 100 serious annual traffic injuries in ten years (42 percent). So we have 15 years and a lot more safe streets funding in hand to cut another 140.

But it’s not going to be easy. SDOT, WSDOT, advocacy groups and active community members are going to need to work hard to make sure bold investments happen where we really need them. City leaders need to build protected bike lanes and road safety redesigns even when faced with tough political opposition here and there. And we’re going to have to deal with our major problem streets, like Aurora, Lake City Way and Rainier.

But the goal is worth it.

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13 responses to “Seattle traffic deaths up in 2015, but serious injuries are down”

  1. Jeff Dubrule

    While it’s good that the numbers are relatively small, as compared to the # of people that use the road every day, it makes it virtually impossible to draw conclusions from them without other context, as the year-to-year noise tends to drown out the signal.

    It’s important, when incidents like the duck-boat crash occur, to look at why it happened, what factors (road design & condition, vehicle design & condition, driver’s responsibility) contributed to the crash and the magnitude of the consequences.
    Make a plan to fix those factors, (better regulation of large ex-military antiques, add center divider to Aurora to avoid head-ons at 100+ mph relative speed).

    Then, and this is the key, not only should we fix the specific place (or just the Ducks), we should identify all the other places in the city that have similar conditions, and fix those too. The low number of data points means we can’t just rely on the #s to show us what needs fixing.

    1. Josh

      The very small, frothy data set for deaths is a good reason to use the serious injury stats instead.

      It gives a much larger data set, and it’s a bit more stable since it’s less dependent on the tiny fluctuations that can separate serious injury from death in a car crash.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Agreed. The difference between many serious injuries and death is in large part luck (multiplied by age/health).

        However, note that the trend lines for each are nearly the same angle. So year-to-year, the data is muddy. But over a decade or more, you get a better picture.

    2. bill

      It’s pretty clear that center dividers work. The West Seattle viaduct used to kill about one person a year until jersey barriers were installed. Why the Aurora bridge doesn’t have barriers is hard to fathom. The road is considered dangerous enough to require barriers north and south of the bridge. Time to rescind its quasi-freeway status and make the bridge safe. Remove lanes and add signals for traffic entering Aurora at each end of the bridge.

      Rerouting the Ducks from Aurora was the wrong response. The bridge was not at fault. When something goes wrong again with a Duck the crash will be equally horrific no matter which road it occurs on.

      1. Jeff Dubrule

        While the root cause of the Duck disaster was poor maintenance & inspection of antique vehicles, the failure occurred at probably the worst possible place in the city. Where else around here do vehicles encounter come within a couple of feet of each other at a relative speed of 90-100mph, with no physical separator?

        If the Duck/bus collision had occurred on, say, Westlake, I think the outcome would’ve been a lot less bad.

        Not to say

      2. Jeff Dubrule

        Er, not to say that we should’ve fix the root cause, too.

      3. hsofia

        This is almost a year after the fact, but just seeing this. The Aurora Bridge doesn’t have a center divider because when engineers studied it (about a decade ago?) they found that the bridge would not be able to sustain the additional load down its center.

  2. […] making a mistake by calling every bike-share system a success, regardless of actual performance. Seattle Bike Blog looks at how the city is performing on street safety in light of the city’s recent […]

  3. Pedrr

    Be interesting to see bicycle deaths over that period…

  4. Owen

    What made 2011 such a safe year? Was it just an anomaly?

  5. […] city’s improvements are working. If it hadn’t been for the Ride the Ducks tragedy, 2015 would have been the city’s safest year in generations. This is no time to slow down on our safe streets work. Seattle is among the only major US cities […]

  6. […] the numbers are going in the wrong direction, as traffic deaths actually went up in 2015. The new speed limits might help get things get back on track—and also rake in some much-needed […]

  7. […] is a risk, and you should take a few precautions. The fact is that Seattle drivers and those in the surrounding areas are suffering from traffic-related […]

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