Don’t listen to SDOT, wear whatever you want to wear when walking on Rainier Ave

“Rainier Ave S averages more crashes per day than anywhere else in Seattle,” the public agency in charge of making city streets safe wrote on bus and light rail station ads in South Seattle recently. As the @FixRainier Twitter author put it, “Are you bragging here, @seattledot?”

So what is SDOT — the only people who can do anything to change that terrible fact — doing about it? They’re telling people walking to wear different clothes so they “Don’t Blend In,” the official name of a campaign that “encourages and empowers pedestrians and bicyclists to wear bright-colored clothing that stands out.”

Is there data somewhere that shows people who walk across Rainier Ave wear dark clothing more often than people anywhere else in Seattle? Of course not. Because people’s clothing choices are not the problem on Rainier. The problem is the design of the street, which puts people in harm’s way and encourages car speeding.

Wear what you want to wear. Dark-colored clothing is normal and fine if that’s what you picked out today, and our city should be defending your right to exist safely while wearing it. You do not need special clothes to walk around your neighborhood, and we should stand up against a public agency trying to say otherwise. And if someone wearing a black jacket is hit while crossing a street with a long history of speeding and collisions, that person’s fashion choice is not the problem. The street with a long history of speeding and collisions is the problem. And the only people who can change that street work at SDOT or have an office in City Hall.

This ad campaign included a community art element and photo series, and it looks like that was fun for people who participated. Community events and art about traffic safety is a good idea. The participants and artists are not the problem here. But SDOT’s message directed at people walking telling them they would be safe if they just wore different clothes is all backwards. Getting to Vision Zero requires focusing on the causes of traffic injuries and deaths. Street designs that result in people driving tons of metal through neighborhoods too quickly are the problem. People’s fabric pigment choices are not.

SDOT has already demonstrated in 2015 that they can dramatically improve safety on Rainier Ave. Then they and city leaders have spent four years choosing not to extend those safety benefits to rest of the street, a delay that has cost people their lives and health. The 2015 safety project all but eliminated serious injuries for the stretch where it was constructed. It was an enormous success for a very low cost. The fact that SDOT and city leaders know how well their safety project worked and did not immediately extend the improvements to the rest of the street is immoral and irresponsible, a dereliction of duty to  all the people who have been injured or killed on unimproved stretches of that street since 2015. But, sure, tell us again which jackets we should wear.

Finally this summer, the city is painting bus lanes on some sections of Rainier that they hope will improve safety somewhat. I hope they do, though the changes are not nearly as bold as the 2015 changes. They are also giving people walking a head start at traffic signals (AKA “leading pedestrian intervals”), which is also good. But is this enough to reach Vision Zero? Is it enough to end Rainier Ave’s long reign as the most dangerous street in the city? I hope so, of course, but it sure doesn’t seem like nearly enough.

Fix the street, SDOT and Mayor Durkan. Then the community will have something truly great to celebrate: The health and lives of their neighbors and loved ones, and the freedom to cross their street wearing whatever they damn well please.

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30 Responses to Don’t listen to SDOT, wear whatever you want to wear when walking on Rainier Ave

  1. Joseph Singer says:

    I’m sorry, but paint will not fix the problem.

    • Richard D Slaughter says:

      More importantly, mandatory day glo jackets for everyone walking won’t either. Its beyond disappointing that SDOT wants to ask pedestrians to dress differently in an ineffectual bid to make them less likely to be subjected to traffic violence.

  2. Gary Anderson says:

    When driving, especially at night or rainy weather, I do find it easier to see pedestrians and cyclists when they are wearing brighter or reflective clothing. Common sense, you are safer if you’re more visible. This isn’t the solution to a street design problem however.

  3. Sam says:

    Hi vis doesn’t work when they won’t look at you.

    • Gary Anderson says:

      Yes, but you’ll see them even if they don’t look for you. Hate it when they aren’t aware enough to even look. Horn?

      • Sam says:

        You think that the solution to drivers being oblivious is for drivers to be aggressive? Go back to where you came from troll.

  4. Gary Anderson says:

    Sorry, I read your comment from the driver’s perspective, not the pedestrian’s (i.e. pedestrian not looking at driver/vehicle). Both drivers and pedestrians can be oblivious.

    • Richard D Slaughter says:

      One is bringing danger to the other, and is legally, morally, and ethically responsible for mitigating that danger – SDOT is telling the other that if it doeant want to be assaulted it shouldnt be dressing lime that.

  5. (Another) Tom says:

    Was that Subway in Pioneer Square wearing dark clothing yesterday? What about that LA Fitness Center last week that ended up with a car in it’s pool. Was the gym wearing reflective, high-viz clothing?

  6. bill says:

    Everyone is right here. Rainier is unsafe. In the entire city drivers are irresponsible and pedestrians are too often oblivious. And the current administration panders to drivers. Telling pedestrians to wear bright clothes is victim blaming, but in the current circumstances adding some conspicuity to your attire is the prudent thing to do.

    I suggest wearing strobing headlamps to council meetings and appearances by the mayor.

  7. Steven Lorenza says:

    Is durkan’s term over yet? Where is her mobility general?

    • JB says:

      I have been writing my councilmembers to recommend her impeachment. I would suggest that anyone who cares about people who walk and ride bicycles do the same.

  8. eddiew says:

    “most crashes” should be put in context. Rainier Avenue South is relatively, long, heavily traveled, and has more pedestrians, as it has neighborhood business districts and 10-minute headway transit service. crashes could be measured per mile of arterial. Rainier could be divided at South Genesee Street; north of that point, it has a two-way left turn lane and higher speeds; it could use access management; south of that point, it is narrower and an issue becomes transit flow in the face of traffic. more enforcement of speed limits would help. too much calming is too slow; we need the Goldilocks profile and that varies on the arterial.

    • Alex says:

      Agreed, this seems like bad statistics. Rainier is one of the longest roads in the entire city and one of the busiest for cars, buses, and pedestrians, so the risk of crashes is higher.

      I’ll add a different take – this consistent fear-mongering (by the government, no less!) that non-motorized modes are inherently dangerous may actually lead people to not use those modes and drive instead. The messaging that transit has scary people on it, bikes are potential death-traps, and walking without neon is irresponsible is not conducive to encouraging greater adoption of those modes.

      How about a city ad campaign focusing on the dangers of driving?

  9. btwn says:

    This is really bad and irresponsible advice, you guys.

    *****I am not excusing the design of Rainier, which is dangerous and should change*******

    But there’s also tons of research showing the effect of clothing on pedestrian visibility and injury rates, all of which support the conclusion the sign is advocating.

    At the very least, you should mention that so people can make up their own mind instead of relying on your self-righteous opinions that are completely unsupported by scientific research.

    Would you rather be right or dead?

    • Ballard Biker says:

      No one is saying that wearing visible clothing isn’t good advice. The point of this article is that SDOT appears to be blaming the high amount of pedestrian-car incidents on the lack of visible clothing, which is completely unsubstantiated.

      That point apparently went right over your head.

      Would you rather be right or dead?

      I’d rather my life not be constantly endangered by bad drivers when I have right-of-way.

      • btwn says:

        The link between visible clothing and pedestrian incidents **is** extensively researched and supported by data.

        “Wear what you want to wear” is both completely unsubstantiated by data, and very different from “wearing visible clothing is good advice” which appears exactly nowhere in this post.

        It’s just bad advice, and is very different from the excellent data-driven advocacy I usually read here (and I’m a huge fan, to be clear!)

        Visibility is a cause of incidents. Of course it’s not the only cause, and it sure helps your odds.

        This sign is little different from the signs state DOTs put up on two-lane highways asking drivers to turn on their headlights for visibility. Are there other causes of incidents, like people driving drunk, making illegal passes and speeding? Of course there are.

        Again, I completely agree rainier is too dangerous and should be redesigned. And of course, I too would rather my life not be constantly endangered by bad drivers. No one’s arguing that either!

        But I don’t think we should be too hard on SDOT for some data-driven public safety messaging.

      • Richard D Slaughter says:

        When that “data driven public messaging” can be summarized as, if you didnt want to be assaulted you shouldnt have dressed like that”? Yeah, I very much can call out SDOT’s victim blaming.

      • Ballard Biker says:

        The link between visible clothing and pedestrian incidents **is** extensively researched and supported by data.

        Please post a link to a report that shows that clothing is a contributing factory to any of the documented incidents along Rainier.

        Meanwhile, there are studies (including by Seattle) showing that Rainier is a poorly designed roadway, where the existing design is a large contributor to incidents beyond human error/negligence. Many of these studies included recommended solutions to the large amount of incidents, of which Seattle has implemented very few.

        But I don’t think we should be too hard on SDOT for some data-driven public safety messaging.

        Again, it’s not that SDOT did a PSA that is the reason for this article, it’s that they’ve done very little to the Rainier corridor to actually solve the high number of incidents. For that, they should absolutely be faulted.

        This PSA would be like telling someone on fire that they shouldn’t ever wear flammable clothing.

      • Btwn says:

        I completely agree that sdot should be faulted for not doing more on rainier. I’ve said that several times.

        Maybe I’m seeing it too simply, but when the title of the article is basically saying “don’t do a specific thing that might save your life” is when it crosses the line without some acknowledgement that there is merit to the advice.

        I’ve bike commuted for 10 years. Do I think cyclists should have to wear helmets because drivers are inattentive jerks? No. Would I ever tell someone not to wear a helmet on that principle? Absolutely not. The same applies here.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        I didn’t say, “Don’t wear a construction vest when crossing the street.” I said, “Wear whatever you want.” If you want to wear a construction vest, then go for it. That’s great. But no, I will not accept an agency telling people they need to wear a construction vest to get groceries or whatever.

      • Ben P says:

        Maybe we should start going out wearing really over the top hi-vis combined with clothes that really clash, like a suit. When anyone asks, you can explain how our roads are designed to kill.

        A hi-vis protest if you will

  10. Jeannine says:

    Ya if she just wasn’t wearing that sexy outfit she could have avoided getting raped.. Err run over by a vehicle

  11. Kathy says:

    The best defense for a pedestrian or cyclist is not to change their wardrobe, but to act like every driver is out to kill them. Don’t take it personally because not all of them are, but it only takes one and many of them are careless. You need to walk and ride defensively. Why doesn’t the city say that in their ads? Because they are tone deaf with their victim blaming and windshield point of view. Where are the ads for drivers to remind them not to speed when passing cyclists, to yield to pedestrians at all intersections, that exceeding the speed limit creates more air pollution and climate warming? I’d like to see some huge billboards with that message because a large percentage of drivers in this city are in desperate need of an education on these issues.

  12. fran206 says:

    SDOT isn’t “the only people who can do anything to change that terrible fact.” Each driver has more power to prevent a crash than any agency.

  13. NickS says:

    Tom, thank you for your frequent coverage of issues in SE Seattle. We’re so used to being ignored that it’s deeply appreciated to see frequent posts pointing out just how badly SDOT, a parade of mayors (including Mayor Durkan), and the city council have abdicated their responsibility to the residents of this wonderful part of the city (the best part of the city, in my humble opinion).

    More so than maybe any other part of the city, SDOT has disingenuously pitted transit against other modes, including walking and bicycling. I think that plays into the focus of this article. Better pedestrian or bicycle crossings that are rapid enough to discourage people from crossing dangerously? Sacrilege! That might impact transit times! Another example — the majority of polled people asked for bike lanes on Rainier. SDOT didn’t like the answer, and strategically polled people at bus stops and supermarkets and asked them if they want transit to be delayed by putting in bike lanes. When bicycle lanes were pitted against scare-mongering about the impact on buses, people went for buses, no big surprise.

    Don’t get me wrong, keeping the buses moving is critical. But so is keeping bus riders, pedestrians, and bicyclists alive while they’re not on the bus. I do think that Phase II of Rainier Ave S traffic calming offers great promise, but I don’t know that it will be effective without traffic enforcement while people become accustomed to the change, which SDOT and SPD seem absolutely loathe to do. Impatient and aggressive drivers will shoot up the blocks long “turn-lane-to-nowhere” at 45-55mph to get past any driver foolish enough to adhere to anything approaching the 25mph limit. Shoot being the operative word; I’m concerned that in addition to unsafe passing, we may see a spike in road-rage that accompanies the road diet.

  14. alptak says:

    As someone who drives Rainier approximately once or twice a month from the Hillman City Area to Dearborn, during non-rush-hour times, I need to say this: I creep along, gripping the wheel and ready to break at a moment’s notice, while constantly scanning back and forth for the pedestrian who is sure to dart across the road—far from any intersection or light. They need to catch the bus, or get to the food bank, or just home…but they are definitely jaywalking and usualy dressed in dark, dull clothing.

    I know there are speeders on Rainier—believe me, I’ve pulled over and let more than a few pass me, but pedestrians also have to take some responsibility. If I did more walking on this very busy and dangerous street I would definitely make sure I was visible in any weather and obey the traffic laws. It’s not victim blaming, it’s just a common sense safety precaution—like telling your kid to wear a bike helmet or a boater to wear a life jacket. You can’t compare it to rape since we’re talking about accidents, not intentional crimes.

    And yes, SDOT needs to make Rainier safer with all of the things it knows work—and for heaven’s sake, put a cross walk at the food bank! And get Metro to add a bus stop right across the street there too.

    • Richard D Slaughter says:

      You’re saying people living in that area should wear high visibility clothing *to leave their homes*. C’mon. Thats just absurd to claim this is a “common sense safety precaution”

      The most common “counterargument” I hear in response to that is some variant on, “no, only when they walk!” – which seems to presuppose driving as the default when leaving your home. If you make that presupposition, your perspective just *might* have a little bit of windshield bias.

      Also, the overwhelming majority of the “accidents” we’re talking about here can be directly attributed to a negligent decision. These don’t “just happen”.

    • raludwick says:

      I live near I-90 and Rainier. The reason you see people “darting” across Rainier is because signalized crossings through there are a quarter mile or more apart. Even where they exist, they make you wait 90 seconds or more typically (I time them regularly). Please don’t blame people for not being willing to add many many minutes to what should be quick trips to 7-11 or similar. No one wants to change their clothes for a quick errand either.

  15. Sam says:

    When a street is that dangerous and the danger is being created by private motor vehicle users, the most obvious course of action is to close the street to private motor vehicle users. It’s sad that there is no political will to keep our fellow citizens safe from this problem. If anything else in our environment was creating this level of danger, it would be shut down immediately.

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