— Fix Rainier Ave (@FixRainier) August 2, 2019
“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.