BeatWalk-outside-1-650x400Over at crosscut, Anthony Robinson has a moving first hand account of the most recent incident of a runaway automobile smashing into Columbia City storefronts. While I agree with his main point, the need to lower speeds, I have to disagree with his conclusion, that the answers are to simply lower the speed limit, increase enforcement, and install bollards. Those steps simply won’t go far enough. Speeders ignore speed limits. Enforcement only works if you have police out every day. While bollards can be useful, a wall of them cluttering up the pedestrian environment because automobile operators can’t be trusted to drive safely is not the answer. There must be physical changes to the roadway itself to alter drivers’ unsafe behavior. 

Which brings me to my main point. I strong disagree with the title. Density is not dangerous. I think it might help to remind ourselves that density is nothing more or less than people. And when you have tons of steel moving at high speeds through a lot of people, the people aren’t the danger, the people are in danger.

If you live, work, or play in the Rainier Valley, or you are just passionate about safe streets for all users, please join the Cross “Walk-in” for Safe Streets at the intersection of Rainier Ave. South and S. Ferdinand tomorrow, Friday the 5th, from 4:30-5:30.

26 Replies to “Density isn’t Dangerous”

    1. Bingo. This opinion piece is asinine.

      All the proof that you need is right here:

      Wyoming has 27.48 vehicle deaths per 100,000 residents per year. Compare that to Washington D.C. (the best representation of the death rate for cities) at 3.97 per year. That is just staggering. For reference, that puts them right up with Guyana, Ecuador, and Sudan; who are all around 27 per 100,000 per year.

      I think it would be fair to write an op-ed titled “The Dangers of Sprawl”. At least that would be supported by data.

  1. I have a strong suspicion that the headline was written by an editor, since it is essentially unrelated to the point of his story.

    And while his exact prescriptions are not exactly what I would suggest (as you point out), I like that he is seeing this as a serious problem that requires action, and that speeds are a problem. He’s not a traffic geek like us, so he might not be up-to-date on what the best solutions are to the problem. But he knows his community needs a solution.

    1. +1 It’s likely not his title and none of the content of the article implies that density is dangerous, just that having cars roaring by at 40mph in an area with high volumes of pedestrian traffic is dangerous, which is 100% true.

      Sure, Robinson is wrong to think that lowering speed limits would fix the problem for the exact reasons mentioned in this post. But his end goal of reduced speeds in that area is extremely laudable and worth pursuing. And since many Seattlites would view any movement in that direction as a continuation of the war on cars, it’s good to have as many people as possible who understand the value of having safe and walkable streets and the purpose of lowering traffic speeds.

  2. “most recent indecent of a runaway automobile”? Got to love autocorrect…..

    That said, around the time this article came out a bicyclist down near Bonney Lake got hit by a drunk driver that drifted over onto the shoulder. Of course there was no mention of such rural dangers in this article, but I’d be willing to bet that on a per capita basis it is safer in dense cities.

    But a case probably can be made for more bollards in key places around the city. It won’t help the bicyclist down at Bonney Lake, but there are places where it might make sense here..

    1. I posted this above:

      Your assumption is correct. The denser parts of the country are safer to move around in. It’s the great irony of suburban flight. People left the cities because they were dirty and dangerous, only to increase their chances of death. Oh well, at least no one is to blame when someone gets killed by a 2-ton hunk of metal driven by a distracted driver. #Merica.

  3. How many sidewalk-breaching crashes have there been on this part of Rainier over the past two decades? We don’t need to make major changes because of one incident once every five or ten years. That’s hundreds of thousands of cars and pedestrians who haven’t been affected, or 99.99%. There may be reasons for a general road diet on Rainier, but those are broader reasons, and more worth considering.

      1. Yes, the accident in April was one block north of the latest one. Traffic through Columbia City is slowed down by the number of cars waiting to make left turns which causes people to swerve into the right lane to get by. There also are lots of Metro buses in the right lanes which causes people to swerve into the left lane to get past the bus. So, there is lots of lane changing and swerving traffic in Columbia City. I’d like to see left turns banned during peak hours and, of course, it would be great if people would drive smarter.

        The idea of a road diet for Columbia City has been mentioned many times, but the city says that reducing Rainier Ave. to one lane in each direction would cause big delays for cars and buses. I wouldn’t be surprised to see many more speed traps in area very soon.

      2. Safety is more important than traffic speed. A three-lane street can move a huge number of vehicles, and it does so much more safely. If it means it takes an extra minute to drive through Columbia City, that’s a good trade in exchange for saved lives and a more comfortable business district.

      3. Guy,

        Make the rightmost driving lane BAT between Alaska and Orcas and ban left turns except at intersections where there’s enough room to add turn pockets.

        There is a brand spanking new four lanes with highly synchronized lights, little cross-traffic, and turn pockets at every crossing arterial five blocks to the west, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The lights at the minor arterials all turn green in a block and for quite a while, so it’s not unusual for a car doing the legal speed limit to make it unimpeded between the major arterials (the ones with Link Stations plus Graham).

        Before MLK was improved it probably made some sense for Rainier to be a “through arterial” but no longer. Road diets and BAT lanes. Just two general purpose driving lanes south of the MLK crossing.

      4. I drive regularly through Rainier Valley and MLK is great if you are heading north-south; but as soon as you need to make a left turn off of MLK that requires crossing the Link tracks, you have to wait an absurdly long time to get a turn arrow.

        Also, there is curb side parking all through Columbia City on Rainier so any BAT lane is going to be partially blocked by parallel parking cars. And if the full list of transit cuts is implemented, there will only be 6 buses per hour through Columbia City. Does that volume really justify a full time BAT lane?

      5. The cuts won’t be forever, Eventually revenues will rise again and the legislature will get responsible and pass a transit-funding mechanism. Even if those things never end up happening, we shouldn’t downsize the street to the point that it can’t support the amount of transit it should have.

    1. In addition to the crash into the nail salon in April there was also another incident further south on Rainier (near Oregon St) where a van crashed into a building. In the last year there was also another incident where a car flipped and hit a utility pole near the Genesee Safeway. There may be more…these are just the ones I can remember.

      Rainier has a number of safety issues including jaywalkers, curves and people driving too fast. The other challenge is that you have the 7 stopping fairly frequently which causes people to swerve into the left lane to go around it.

      It’s my understanding that the Columbia City Neighborhood Plan calls for a road diet in the Columbia City core. I believe it’s outlined as one through lane in each direction with a center turn. Maybe that’s a place to start?

      1. Or what if the curb lanes became transit-only. That might help the problem and would cost almost nothing (just paint and some signs). I don’t know much about the 7, but would that be useful?

  4. The point is there are too many cars moving too fast within just a few feet of sidewalks crowded with the people and families who either live in the neighborhood or have come to enjoy the children’s toy store, or the bakery, movie theater or historic Columbia City Library.

    This is something I have been trying to make clear to everyone about our situation here in Kent, where there is already density (apartment clusters featuring walker, bikers, as well as various town centers, malls) right up against fast moving cars.

    However, I have always proposed that this is mainly due to our inadequate highway and road system.

    Because we do not have enough highway system, and the feeder routes to get people quickly on and off highways, you end up with neighborhood roadways being used as if they were limited access highways! This unfortunate and dangerous situation comes not only from a lack of planning, but from a Pollyannish view that “transit will handle everything”.

    What we need is a complete upheaval in Government planning and ideology, from Olympia on down, to recognize not only the realities of independently guided transit like cars, ride shares and cabs, but some nod to increasing likelyhood of vehicle automation.

  5. How about we start holding drivers accountable. If you injure someone lose your license for 2 years, if you kill someone you lose it for life. I would be in favor of harsh criminal penalties as well.

    1. Carl,

      It doesn’t work. The police are on the drivers’ team so in any accident that involves a pedestrian or cyclist they do everything they can to blame the pedestrian or cyclist. If that person is dead that’s easy.

      1. Remove the government-issued cars from the police force and watch their attitudes change *fast*.

  6. Though politically difficult, camera+radar enforcement of speed limits is technically straightforward – and it works. When I lived in Amsterdam for a short while, 20 years ago, I got such a ticket in the mail for the equivalent of 65 mph in a 60 mph zones, and the fine was modest – about $50. But the knowledge that I’d get ticketed every time I triggered a camera changed my behavior pretty much immediately, and I simply stopped adding 10 mph to the posted limit. No draconian measures, just reliable, consistent and predictable enforcement. Of course there are speeders in Amsterdam, but not very many.

    1. These really seem to work just a few miles north on MLK by Thurgood Marshall Elementary. As a frequent Rainier Valley pedestrian, I’d love it if these cameras were set up every .75 miles.

  7. A blanket lowering of the speed limits and enforcement of traffic laws will not solve your problems. I’m sure those of us who drive have encountered some 5 lane street, with 12ft wide lanes, and slapped with a 30 or 35 mph speed limit, and we know that NO ONE follows the speed limit. If you want to redesign the street to slow traffic and make it safer for pedestrians and motorists alike. So you narrow the lanes, install sidewalks with proper curbs, crosswalks and making parking/bike lanes. You rework the traffic signals so that they operate together, plus have dedicated turn movements, along with pedestrian signals and call buttons. by narrowing the lanes and installing the bike lanes people will naturally be more cautious, and with dedicated turn signals people wont be risking life and limb to make a turn and hopefully prevent these kinds of accidents.

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