Make eye contact, wear bright clothes and only cross the street at designated locations. These are common instructions dictated to people trying to navigate our cities on foot in order to avoid getting hit by a car. What advice then should we be telling our homes and businesses, which were struck by cars and trucks on average two times per week in 2022 according to a story by David Kroman for the Seattle Times?
Every once in a while, someone driving a car or truck into a building does make the news, especially if there is dramatic security camera footage. But it is often treated as
“news of the bizarre.” But it is not actually rare, which is frankly even more bizarre. Our dangerous streets designed to accommodate irresponsible car and truck speeds inevitably leads to some of those vehicle drivers losing control and crashing into a light pole, ditch or building. Sometimes it’s due to a high-speed collision, sometimes it’s DUI, and sometimes the driver simply mistakes the gas pedal for the brake.
Beyond the death or injury of people in and outside of the building-bound vehicle, these collisions can also close businesses or destroy homes. As Charles Mudede at the Stranger asked, “Why do they generate no outrage?”
But beyond the building collisions themselves, the fact that people are crashing into buildings sure makes people’s efforts to avoid getting hit while walking or biking feel futile. If a building, which is not even on the road and hasn’t moved since it was built, can’t avoid a collision, then what hope do I have when I use a crosswalk? The major problem is the dangerous design of our streets and public places. Everything else is secondary.
Last year, a car or truck crashed into a building in Seattle on average every 3½ days — more than 100 times. That was the most in a single year since at least 2012, according to Seattle Fire Department records provided through a public disclosure request.
Building crashes represent only a fraction of the city’s overall traffic collisions, which number in the thousands each year. But their suddenness and potential for destruction to people and structures mean each incident brings with it an outsized feeling of unease — a sense that the danger of the city’s streets may not be confined to the city’s streets.
Many end in injury and some, like a 2017 crash near Lake City, are deadly. Damage to buildings and homes can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars and sideline businesses for months.
Would be great to see a comparative analysis with other jurisdictions (cities and countries) to see what Seattle is doing wrong. Although I think we can guess. Roads are designed for unsafe speeds.
” What advice then should we be telling our homes and businesses, which were struck by cars and trucks…”
They need to carry flags and wear helmets!
I would bet Seattle is doing better than the majority of municipalities, per mile driven, if what I have seen in other cities is any indication.
Which is even more frightening.
In Tacoma, using a car as a battering ram is seen as a feature. Stolen cars are used as weapons all the time, providing easy access to cash registers after blowing nice big holes in buildings.
A similar comment was on the YouTube about 2 years ago,
“Why cars rarely crash into buildings in the Netherlands”, by “Not Just Bikes”
This article was particularly meaningful to me as our house on a secondary arterial in SE Seattle was crashed into by a hit and run SUV driver a little over a year ago. He or she struck and killed two mature flowering cherry trees (snapped off at the base) before striking our house and causing many thousands of dollars in damage. Their bumper dropped off as they were fleeing the scene, but no license plate was present. Lining up contractors took months and we were out of pocket for our homeowner’s insurance deductible. Thankfully no one was injured or killed, and thankfully the trees slowed the vehicle enough that it did not fully penetrate our house, “only” smashing siding and pushing in a wall.
My block has had an epidemic of speeding and inattentive drivers losing control and smashing into trees, fences, and properties during 2020 and 2021. I worked to mobilize our neighbors and contacted SDOT, the mayor, and city councilmembers to try to get changes made. Eventually, two representatives from SDOT kindly came out to do a walk around the block with us, and to listen. Coincidentally, a traffic study had been done recently; when we requested the results of the study, we found many drivers during a several day period were driving interstate speeds (60mph+) on our 25 mph street, 1 block from a school zone.
So far SDOT has placed reflective markers put on the centerline to try to guide drivers at night. There are promises of speed cushions and other more significant changes coming (SDOT will not install full width speed bumps on arterials due to the conflict with speeding emergency vehicles), as well as some other changes. It’s unclear how SDOT prioritizes work, and where we fall on their construction calendar.
The incident, late at night, left us really shaken, and subsequent crashes in our block have left a lingering feeling of unease. It really feels like a question of when, not if, a cyclist, dog walker, elderly neighbor, or child is struck and killed. It feels absolutely lawless and consequence free now on Seattle’s roads; people have figured out the cops have given up either by policy or as a protest, and it shows. Odds are good each time I’m out on the streets in SE Seattle I’ll see people drive straight through stop signs, red lights, high speed pass on residential streets, drive down a center turn lane at highway speeds.
I’m not sure how we reverse this trend, other than by cracking down, making altered driving absolutely unacceptable by reducing DUI alcohol and drug limits to near zero, drastically escalating enforcement of speeding laws (there doesn’t seem to be any enforcement outside of school zones), and seizing and destroying vehicles of repeat scofflaws.