As usual the mainstream media (I’m so temped to say “lamestream media”, you’ll see why in a second) has shown its negligence when it reports on pedestrian and bicyclist related stories. TV channels are particularly horrible, but this story takes the cake. Oddly the Times is nowhere to be seen.

Enters Linda Brill from King 5 news “Business owner wanted snow plows, got umbrellas“. That business owner, Phil Bevis, seen here gushing about Sarah Palin, says that the umbrellas are a waste of money and would rather see the city spend that on plowing the road so people can get to his store, never mind that it’s located at the bottom of Madison St, one of the steepest streets downtown. Knute Berger over at Crosscut then jumped on the bandwagon, adding some basic information that Linda conveniently glosses over, but still totally misses the point. Erica at Publicola has a great takedown after the jump:

First, the $47,000 SDOT is spending is largely for an ad campaign, not “an umbrella campaign”—indeed, less than 10 percent of the money, or about $5,000, will pay to buy umbrellas. The rest, according to SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan, will pay for pedestrian-safety campaign events; ads on buses, posters, stickers, and displays for merchants; and a survey to see how well the program is working.

But how much snow response would that $47,000 actually buy the city? According to SDOT’s street maintenance division, about eight hours—a year. It’s pretty hard to imagine the drivers who throw an epic tantrum every time it snows being satisfied with such a minuscule addition to the city’s snow-plowing capabilities.

As Erica points out SDOT’s See You In The Crosswalk campaign isn’t about umbrellas, it’s about saving lives. During the dark winter months the number of pedestrian collisions roughly doubles, from ~30 per month in the summer to over 60 per month. As you can see in the video above the umbrellas are one part of a PR campaign designed to be amplified by social media and traditional media like King 5. Come up with a unique and funny campaign that grabs attention and the media will amplify your message much more than $50,000 dollars could ever do.

But King 5 doesn’t seam to care about pedestrian safety, they just want a zinger of a story. Despite breaking “Umbrellagate” last week King 5 didn’t send anyone to cover the umbrella themed flash mob, which was announced in SDOT’s press release two days ago.

70 Replies to “Beyond Umbrellas”

  1. And just what is the message?

    Pedestrian accidents are up.

    Therefore it’s somehow the pedestrians duty to become “more visible” using what — an umbrella? Ok, well if we had flying cars and they were landing on the heads of pedestrians this would make sense, since the largest surface area points up to the sky and sideways (or folded up on the few non-rainy days) not as visible. Of course, we could all walk around like Burgess Meredith as The Penguin and point our umbrellas, fully opened, at a fast approaching vehicle. Yes, and if we were really the Penguin, the top of the shaft would also release a special “Sleep Gas” that incapacitates the driver.

  2. *flush

    Your tax money being used on a “good” cause

    You want improvement in safety? Have cops enforce existing laws.

    These kind of stunts are simple tone deaf

    1. If you want to burn $50,000 dollars ask cops to do something. The point of this is to raise awareness for pedestrians and drivers that they need to be especially careful at this time of year.

      1. These umbrellas may do something for awareness, but it’s certain to do less than spending the same amount of money on OT for a some traffic cops to increase enforcement.

        In 2009, as part of Pedestrian Master Plan implementation, SPD conducted 10 crosswalk stings at three different locations in the city. KIRO went along for a sting at 41st & Stone, and in one hour SPD gave out over 40 $124 tickets for failure to stop. That’s $5,000 in revenue in one hour. Assuming comparable results in the other stings, the City made $50,000 in those operations, while getting free coverage on TV & radio and in print. Increasing enforcement also increases awareness, and likely makes the City money.

        Near as I can tell, the Pedestrian Master Plan called for no such stings in 2010, and accordingly it appears SPD hasn’t conducted any. What good does it do to remind people of the laws (as if they really weren’t aware of them), if everyone knows the laws are never enforced? People don’t obey laws if there are no consequences for breaking them.

      2. Doing that certainly is effective, especially if you get news channels to cover it. I think though it is a different issue. They aren’t focusing on yield behavior of drivers at unsignalized intersections, they are more focusing on making sure that drivers look an extra time for pedestrians and pedestrians watch out for cars. I would say a good portion of pedestrian collisions don’t happen because people don’t know the law, they happen because the driver or the pedestrian doesn’t see each other, thus the focus on visibility.

      3. Yeah, I see your point re the focus of the effort; it is apples & oranges to an extent. But as to that focus… The fact that so many more fatalities occur at night of course suggests that visibility is an issue, but I can’t help but think that the vast majority of drivers who don’t stop for peds that they can see perfectly well during the day aren’t going to stop for pedestrians at night just because they’re suddenly more visible. There may well be fewer collisions (which, yes, I realize is the end objective), but I doubt anyone will be obeying the law more than they do now. They’ll just have extra time to honk and swerve and maybe give peds enough time to run across the street.

        In any event, you use the term “yielding behavior”. Just to be clear, while some states do only require yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks, Washington law requires a full stop for pedestrians in crosswalks w/in one lane of the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling.

      4. “I would say a good portion of pedestrian collisions don’t happen because people don’t know the law, they happen because the driver or the pedestrian doesn’t see each other, thus the focus on visibility.”

        I agree. I think as pedestrians we often think we’re more visible than we really are. Rain, dark clothing, oncoming headlights and glare on wet pavement — these can all make a pedestrian really hard to see, even by a driver who is driving safely and not speeding. Combine that with pedestrians thinking they are more visible than they are and acting accordingly, and you get increased potential for accidents.

    2. Have you talked with SPD lately about enforcement and their wonderful staffing and budget situation? Or the fact that when they do pedestrian law enforcement (crosswalk sting operations in particular) they often get lots of negative feedback for simply enforcing the law? Why would they put themselves out there when there are plenty of other things they can be doing?

      More importantly, enforcement is only one of many different components in pedestrian safety. Engineering and education are both critical pieces of the puzzle. This campaign, unlike many other things the City has done, is actually trying to work on the education side.

  3. The lamestream media have been hating on the mayor since before he took office, using kindergartenish names for the mayor in editorials and columns, copycatting the floggers. Let them keep calling the mayor too pro-environment, too pro-transit, too pro-bike, and too pro-pedestrian. That’s the formula for ensuring his re-election in this town.

  4. If the mayor had instead spent the money on a half million dollars worth of crosswalk bulbs throughout downtown, would the lamestream media and the floggers have applauded him?

    I bet not.

      1. It’s not the price tag that matters to the road ragers. It’s that transportation money is being spent at all on something that doesn’t help SOVs move faster.

  5. Par for the course in a city where everybody thinks they’re smarter than everyone else. We spend so much time second-guessing everybody that nothing gets done.

    So the city spent 50K or something on some umbrellas. Who cares?

      1. … and as the speeding advocates keep reminding us, only speeding drivers pay taxes and shop.

      2. I am not looking forward to paying for the DBT or the 520 bridge, since I won’t be benefiting from them in any tangible way.

        What is your point? “Waste” is a matter of perspective.

      3. Oh boo F#*%^%^g hoo. I pay taxes ( probably more than you) and I could give a damn about small potato stuff like this. It’s the whole small-minded victim crap that will keep this town a backwater burg.

        Grow up and stop being such a cheapskate, or move to the Midwest.

  6. Madison Ave. is in New York. Madison St. however is in Seattle. Please don’t confuse the two :)

    In Seattle east-west thoroughfares are *streets* and north-south thoroughfares are avenues.

    1. Fixed. Minor point though. I started writing this at midnight so didn’t really have proof reading time.

    2. Except in downtown, of course, where streets are northeast-southwest and avenues are northwest-southeast. :)

  7. Looks like someone didn’t thoroughly proof their work before they sent it out to the intertubes. “Amply?”

    1. It’s a blog, not your thesis. Without an edit feature, lot’s of typos occur here, but who cares, so long as you can tell what they meant.

    1. Yeah, not wanting pedestrians hit and killed at intersections makes you a war on cars psycho.

    2. Just wait until they call for pedestrians to get a walking licence before using the driver-subsidized public sidewalks.

  8. If this is truly about pedestrian safety, why umbrellas? Doesn’t SDOT care about “saving lives” on the days it doesn’t rain?

    1. Nope. This is just a good old-fashioned publicity stunt. Thanks to the lamestream media, bark radio, and the floggers, it has succeeded. ‘)

      1. Well it has gotten a lot of attention but the media and inserted their own agenda rather than actually reporting on the story.

  9. “But how much snow response would that $47,000 actually buy the city? According to SDOT’s street maintenance division, about eight hours—a year.”

    And how much snow does Seattle receive on average in a year? So far in 2010, it has actually snowed for maybe 8 hours. Last winter I don’t believe there was any measurable snowfall at all.

    Let’s say there is snow on the ground in Seattle for about 48 hours, on average, for an entire year. Then 8 hours of snow removal represents about 17% of the total snow removal hours in an average year.

    17% more snow removal hours is not trivial. It might mean they could clear some streets that YOU use, instead of not being able to get to them. Or, an extra 8 hours of snow response last month, might easily have meant the Alaskan Way viaduct and the W. Seattle bridge could have been kept open during the entire event last month, instead of both being closed during the afternoon commute. You think that is insignificant? How many hours does it take to sand the viaduct and the W. Seattle Bridge?

    1. I think she’s talking about 8 hours for one single snowplow – not the entire snow relief effort.

      1. 8 hours for one snowplow costs $47,000? That would be about $6,000 per hour for one snow plow. How does one snow plow cost $6,000 per hour?

    2. Could have sworn the Alaskan Way viaduct was a state highway, ’99’ I believe. So it is maintained by the state, who also had problem with their deicer being diluted and then freezing. That is why they closed the viaduct.

      BTW – I was walking home from the store at 4:30pm on that day. You could literally watch the the roads freeze over as the sun & temps dropped.

      1. Personally, I don’t like umbrellas. I’m a bit taller than average, so most people’s umbrellas will poke me in the eye. Plus, what’s the deal with people using umbrellas and then walking next to the buildings UNDER the awnings? I see that so often downtown and they’re pushing the other people away from the awnings to get drowned by the rain.

  10. Here’s a better way to spend $50,000: Install severe-tire-damage barricades at downtown crosswalks, set to rise up when the light goes red.

    1. I’d love to get some flash mobs down at Rainier and Henderson about 2am on the weekends. They should bring their umbrellas. It would be great to get more eyes on the street – and light rail – at this troubled time.

    2. [Kevin] What are you thinking, flash homeless shelter construction? I’d join in on that.

      1. No, flash mob gang shooting prevention. I do believe that more eyes on the street prevent crime. At the same time they must be law abiding and trusting eyes. I believe flash mobs are both. Sort of like the guardian angels with umbrellas and ipads.

      2. [john] I don’t buy it. Flashmobs are planned ahead of time, and have to be unless you get a huge number of people involved.

    3. The only waste of human potential is you, not allowing your inner creative self to come out from the dark hole it lives in and play! Just so everyone is aware, none of us in said flash mob were paid city employees. We were merely a group of Seattle area residents who’s only goal was to help promote safety, and bring a little joy to the masses. These smiles were brought to you free of charge…..you’re welcome!

  11. Too bad nobody covered the flash mob. I hope it does increase awareness and safety for pedestrians in Seattle. I think the umbrella theme is a great one. Thanks so much to SDOT for doing this. Brogan in Seattle

  12. In the context of saving 1 life, $50,000 is chump change. It seems entirely conceivable that a television advertisement, this goofy umbrella stunt, or some other part of the campaign will cause many drivers to think about pedestrians and cyclists more often. Out of all those drivers that think about vulnerable users more often, it is entirely conceivable that at least one life will be saved in the next 5 years. Trading off $50,000 for this campaign today vs. a multi-million dollar judgment years from now is not a big stretch.

    Presumably data on pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths could be examined to show whether this campaign was effective and the media should look into that. But that takes journalism skills, time, and patience. Sadly, it’s easier to sit back and create a fluff story about somebody who’s griping about “snowplows vs. umbrellas”, when that’s really not what’s going on here.

    Linda Brill and the whole crew at King 5 should be ashamed of themselves.

    1. $50K here, $50K there it adds up. Personally, I’d rather have them spend the money on enforcement or education. This is a stunt.

      Everyone knows there a problem, address it. Teach people to stop and look both ways before they cross the street – seriously. Teach them to take off their headphones. Teach them to look in the eyes of the car they are crossing in front of – it works wells to prevent accidents. And yes, drivers are at fault too. But you don’t have to get a license to walk or bike.

      1. Strange how, even once you have the license, so many drivers just don’t notice the pedestrians or bicycles around them. Yes education is a good idea, but maybe we should also educate the drivers? People get this kind of safety education from the pedestrian’s side from elementary school up.

      2. I mean yeah you know government might some 50K to cut down on drunk driving and another $50K discouraging kids to smoke, or god forbid a few million to provide food and shelter for homeless. Yeah it adds up but that is what government does, it provides services to make your life and my life longer and happier.

  13. While I support the responsible use of tax dollars, we all need to keep in mind what accidents (car-car, car-train, car-pedestrian, car-bike, bike-car, bike-pedestrian, etc.) cost society. Hospitals are expensive because medical care is a scarce resource (I don’t want to start a medical care/cost flame war, it is the current state of things). Thus, there is a business case (if you will) to spend *some* amount of money on safety efforts.

    There are a variety of ways of reducing these types of accidents. In the case of pedestrian safety there are design approaches such as speed limits, well designed cross walks and cross walk markings, car bumper requirements, etc. There are also educational & enforcement strategies, namely laws, strategic enforcement by police, and education campaigns like public service announcements and advertisements.

    The umbrella thing is just one way to be creative with education/public service announcements. I’m sure SDOT has line items in their budget for safety efforts and that is where this probably came from. The important thing is that no single strategy is going to work, otherwise that is the only one our society would be focused on. So give it up for SDOT to at least try a (relatively) low-cost new idea instead of purchasing $50K worth of billboards. The umbrella thing is more outreach-oriented and it engages some portion of the public in the process.

    I have to admit I like the strategic enforcement approach the best. That said, I do support occasional experiments such as this one.

    1. I also think a lot of responsiblity falls on the actual pedestrian. Especially in downtown Seattle, I see pedestrians jay-walking and crossing against the light. Once the flashing hand/don’t walk signal comes on, you’re not supposed to start crossing but I see people ignoring that all the time. If pedestrians would pay attention and follow the rules, there’d be a lot less collisions and rage.

      1. “I see pedestrians jay-walking and crossing against the light…”

        …and I see cars right hooking and left crossing cyclists, zooming through pedestrian choked areas too fast, aggressively turning right on red through a crosswalk, and talking on cell phones while they should be paying attention to the 3000+ pound vehicle that they are maneuvering. I frequently maneuver my bus to block cars that are being driven by people unaware that when a vehicle stops behind a crosswalk that there will likely be a pedestrian crossing.

        An Australian Study of helmet cameras on cyclists showed that car drivers were at fault in over 80% of collisions or near collisions recorded on the cameras. While it’s only one study, it would be interesting to see similar data for pedestrian/car collisions.

      2. I have to second velo on this one. Get out of you car, and see just how ridiculously often otherwise good drivers brake the law at a pedestrian or cyclist’s expense.

      3. @Velo: Public Health’s “A Profile of Pedestrian Fatalities in King County 2000-2003” has some data on contributing factors & fault. Unfortunately it’s not a large data set (103 fatalities), and I personally suspect a rather sizable bias in favor of drivers. In fact, the study notes that “Nationally, most police accident reports do not mention driver-related factors contributing to the pedestrian-motor vehicle fatalities.” Even when driver-related factors are mentioned, they seem to be underreported. Speeding, for example, was only mentioned in 4 of the 103 cases, and only 1 citation was issued for speeding. Given the general prevalence of speeding on Seattle streets, the notion that it’s a factor in less than 5% of ped fatality collisions strikes me as downright laughable.

  14. I have little respect for Linda Brill. I mute the telly when she comes on. Her “reporting” smacks of editorializing. A couple weeks ago, she did a “war on cars” story on McGinn’s idea to raise parking rates and charge for Sunday on-street parking. She practically begged people to get in their cars and drive to peripheral areas with free parking (e.g., Bellevue Square, Southcenter) rather than shop downtown. She seemed upset about Seattle’s short supply of on-street parking, all the while ignoring the fact that raising the parking rate would increase turnover and make it easier for motorists to find a spot (especially those occasional motorists trying to run a few quick errands).

  15. How about this: pedestrians take some responsibility 1) Instead of wearing dark clothing, wear something bright or reflective, and 2) Look both ways before crossing the street.

    1. Most pedestrians are drivers and *ALL* drivers are pedestrians. It’s not about pedestrians or drivers taking more “responsibility” it is about everyone taking more responsibility.

  16. KING TV is seen by many times the people Adam reaches. It aided pedestrian safety by running the story about a legit complaint far more than Adam did with his silly rant about that story.

    For most people, at a time when people are losing their homes and going without food, it seems really stupid to be spending public money on umbrellas and PR campaigns of dubious effectiveness. The City’s timing is very obviously lame and ripe for criticism.

    To use this pretty ill-timed use of public funds as an attack on mainstream media strikes me as pretty young and silly dumb. KING TV has probably done more to expose the dangers of ped to car fatalities than most any media. Just watch if you really want to have any credibility in terms of comment. Adam obviously doesn’t watch much.

    Seattle’s transportation department would be far better off running away from these sorts of nanny programs in terms of bringing more necessary funding to transit and other alternatives to the car – but money seems to be going into the hands of juveniles who really think that spending dough on PSAs and a few media tricks is good use of public funds.

    That just doesn’t make sense. Next time some young starry eyed wizard on ped safety wants money for a one-shot ped safety campaign, some grown up might want to step in an offer that they’ll do it if it is sustainable, not a one-off, and if it passes a laugh test.

    This one obviously does not. Ironically, the derisive media coverage may have actually enhanced ped safety awareness, but at what cost to overall confidence in public spending?

    1. Marge could you please refer me to a piece that King 5 has done to highlight pedestrian safety that is not a “if it bleeds it leads story”? If you’re going to lecture me at least present some facts. I did.

      Also I’m not some naive ranter. I watched King 5 (and KOMO and Q13 at the same time) for two and a half years when I worked at WSDOT as part of my job. I know the kinds of stories TV channels report on and in particular how they spin them. Unless you work in the industry I’m sure I have more experience with it (esp in a transportation context) than you do.

      While I would love to think TV channel are more enlightened I just don’t see that. They want sensational stories and in this case Linda Brill took this one item of the project budget out of context and failed to explain the rest of the program and why it is important. At the end of the story she does tidy up a bit, but only after a lot of mud throwing.

      I generally give TV channels a pass on things like this but this story just reeked.

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