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With his new SDOT Director in place, Mayor Harrell centers safety amid rising traffic deaths

With traffic deaths rising to horrific levels, Mayor Bruce Harrell has signaled his support for prioritizing and taking ownership of Vision Zero.

Harrell spoke before a memorial ride Seattle Neighborhood Greenways organized in honor of Robb Mason last week, and he said knowing traffic deaths are happening on his watch makes them personal, Ryan Packer reported.

Tonight I stood with our community to honor Robb Mason before a memorial bike ride,” Harrell said via Twitter. “My administration will lead with people and our ultimate goal is safety. I remain committed to achieving Vision Zero so that every neighbor – no matter how they get around – can do so safely.”

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Harrell said he puts his full support into the Vision Zero work his new SDOT Director Greg Spotts has made a centerpiece of his first days on the job. Spotts has only been on the job for a month, but he has already been very active in going on community walks and bike rides to learn about issues and meet people. He also started a 90-day review of the city’s existing Vision Zero program with the promise that it will lead to published findings and changes to make it more effective.

Spotts rode with the memorial riders before speaking at the end alongside Claudia Mason. West Seattle Blog recorded his speech along with others:

Spotts told those gathered that he has instructed Traffic Engineer Venu Nemani to prioritize safety even if safety changes slow car traffic.

“Vision Zero isn’t going to live in a little pocket in the organization anymore,” he said. Instead it will be the work of the whole department. He also reiterated that Mayor Harrell fully supports this safety work.

Mayor Harrell notoriously said during a mayoral debate in 2021 that he “won’t lead with bikes,” a statement suggesting he would not support SDOT work that prioritized bike safety. So it is very significant that he and his selected leadership team is going out the way now to make statements like these. In fact, his Twitter statement seemed to recall — purposefully or not — that debate quote when he said, “My administration will lead with people and our ultimate goal is safety.”

Of course, the true test will be in their actions, not words. We’ve heard all this before, and it will be the Harrell Administration’s responsibility to follow through. But any bike and safety advocates who wrote off Harrell as a safety-focused leader following that debate quote may want to give the administration another chance to be the traffic safety champions our city desperately needs. The 2021 election is in the past. This Vision Zero review is the Harrell Administration’s way of taking ownership of that work going forward.

We know from experience that the city can do a lot when the community, the mayor, the Council and SDOT leadership are all chasing the same goal. Seattle has done it before, and we can do it again. Our safe streets movement should be ready to work hard to secure wins, and then celebrate joyfully when they happen. Advocates also need to be willing to drop old grievances that don’t work toward the goal of a safer, more sustainable and more equitable Seattle.

I’m ready to go to an amazing celebration for a new Lake Washington Boulevard path. It could be the best Bicycle Sunday since 1968 because it will stay there permanently. I want to take photos of all the smiling happy people of all ages biking past the freshly-cut ribbon on the Green Lake Outer Loop path. And yes, I want our city’s elected leaders to be there holding giant scissors or leading the bike ride. Because as cheesy as that photo op sounds, it isn’t phony. It truly represents Seattle working together to make the city better and safer. It’s an important part of the virtuous cycle in which advocates seek something bold, politicians deliver, and then everyone celebrates together and says, “Let’s do this again.”

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5 responses to “With his new SDOT Director in place, Mayor Harrell centers safety amid rising traffic deaths”

  1. Don Brubeck

    Good words from the Mayor and the director of SDOT. But the budget speaks louder than words.

    1. Conrad

      And actions speak loudest of all

  2. Agree. We are very far behind in Bike Master Plan implementation. Arterial stroads are continuously repaved without any thought on how to lower speeds. We have a backlog of bike related projects which could be built in a short time if properly prioritized and funded.

  3. NoSpin

    I’ll believe they prioritize safety when they ban parking on arterials and give bikes a safer lane to ride without the fear of getting ‘doored’ – which will NEVER happen because Harrell really prioritizes business and their need for “free” parking.

    1. asdf2

      This is why I often feel safer on a bike in Bellevue than in Seattle. Both cities are paint only bike lanes, but at least in Bellevue, they don’t have street parking on arterials, so the bike lanes are not in the door zone.

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