2012 Collision Data
Collision Contributing Circumstances (City of Seattle, 2012 Seattle Traffic Report Section 7)

Last week, Mayor Murray launched the City of Seattle Vision Zero Plan, adding Seattle to a fast-growing list of US cities that have committed to reducing preventable road fatalities to zero. The plan, which was covered here, here and here outlines a variety of near-term actions the City will take to eliminate road deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

The City’s plan, which builds upon Washington State’s Target Zero program, was modeled after Sweden’s Vision Zero programs which began in the 1990s. While Washington State’s road fatality rates are roughly twice those of Sweden, the state has made good progress, with fatality rates dropping by 40% since 2000.

Seattle’s Vision Zero Plan is an excellent starting point. It identifies high-value, near-term actions the City can take now to improve road safety, especially for pedestrians and cyclists, who are the most vulnerable road users. Unfortunately, the level of detail identified by the plan for road improvements didn’t carry over into strategies and actions for reducing impaired driving.

This is important because in 2012, the most recent year that city data was available, impaired driving was identified as a contributing factor in 4 fatal collisions, 16 serious injury collisions and 178 possible or evident injury collisions on Seattle streets. To put these numbers in perspective, speed (speeding and exceeding safe speed) was associated with 8 fatal collisions, 21 serious injury collisions and 219 possible or evident injury collisions during the same time period. 

Clearly, eliminating impaired driving needs to be an integral goal of Vision Zero, and transit service and taxis are critical tools to realize the City’s vision. With this in mind, I hope that the Vision Zero Plan will provide a space for the City to elevate, encourage and invest in improved transit and taxi travel options, specifically with the goal of eliminating impaired driving. While anyone who has used these travel options to get home safely understands their value, this understanding has not always translated into the public policy dialogue.

For example, the City’s recent agreements with transportation network companies like Uber, while complex and contentious, was a solid win for getting impaired people out of the driver’s seat. Similarly, now that the City is purchasing bus service with Proposition 1 funds, the City should take a comprehensive look at how late night transit service (Night Owl, Link, RapidRide and other core routes) can provide better travel options, especially on Friday and Saturday nights and major holidays like New Year’s Eve, when taxi service is inadequate to meet demand.

As someone who relied on Stockholm’s 24-hour weekend subway service when I studied abroad, I can guarantee that adding late night transit service there removes impaired drivers from the roads. I look forward to the City’s implementation of Vision Zero and I hope it will foster public buy-in on comprehensive and sustained road safety improvements in the City of Seattle, including improved late night transit service.

58 Replies to “Vision Zero: Transit is Part of the Solution”

    1. Honestly I’m not totally sure beyond late night service on Friday and Saturday for core routes and Link.

      1. Pike/Pine has ‘peak hour’ traffic from 10p-2a every Friday and Saturday night that exceeds any other time period during the week. Has anyone ever looked at a frequency bump at those times? Say, a Route 10 runs every 15 minutes until 7pm, every 30 minutes until 10pm, and then every 10 minutes until 2am? Or running an extra First Hill Streetcar on Friday/Saturday nights?

      2. I have no idea where the Pike-Pine crowds live (though I suspect SLU and the suburbs are well-represented) but I’m not sure many people would want to take transit if it required a 2-seat ride on the way home. That’s way too easy to screw up if you’re trashed, and raise your hand if a 2am transfer at 3rd/Pine sounds enjoyable…

        Before I moved closer, I’d take the bus to Pike-Pine and a cab home. Seemed like others had the same plan. It was a good compromise of saving money and convenience.

      3. Haha, the 22-Illini is the mother of all circulators. It’ll get you anywhere as long as you don’t care how fast, and don’t need to go off-campus. Also, I know the university pays for free student rides (system-wide), and I think they also directly fund on-campus service like the 22 (on these routes bus drivers don’t even check student IDs, they’re free for everyone). So it’s more like the university supports the service than the town does.

        Of course, lots of people visiting Champaign for sports events and stuff drive back drunk, to freewayside hotel areas, nearby towns, or as far as Chicagoland! They’re just outnumbered by hordes of students. Both Champaign and Capitol Hill have some nighttime travelers whose problems can be solved by local transit and others that can’t… but the balance is a bit different in Champaign.

      4. (Me too. I went to college there without a car, and found pretty quickly that there was almost always a faster way to get anywhere than taking the 22. The one exception is the fraternity district around John and First, unless you want to walk to Green.)

        (Moving from Champaign to here did mean a readjustment of what “decent bus service” means.)

      5. I used to live just west of that frat area, and there were a bunch of trips that were about equally fast from there taking the 22 in either direction.

  1. I’m a bit dismayed at the fact that “None” is by far the most common reason for collisions. It can’t possibly be true that over a third of the collisions happen for literally no reason. If we’re serious about getting the number of fatalities down to zero, we absolutely need to better collect and understand the reasons why fatalities happen right now.

    1. +1. When there is no apparent cause for 43% of your total fatalities, you need better data.

      1. I think this sort of data collection problem is what the Federal Monitor was complaining about. If you can’t document what caused a traffic fatality 40% of the time, you certainly can’t document cases where you violate people’s civil rights. I wonder if the 2014 would be better.

    2. +1 & WTF.

      When a data set includes a huge proportion of “misc” or “other” it means there is an inherent disconnect between the actual results found and the expected results set up by those tabulating the data.

      If my retirement fund annual report included 80% of its expenses as “misc” I’d send a nasty note asking for someone’s head on a platter.

    3. Totally agree. This is not exactly helpful data – is this from police reports? If Seattle is serious about this, we need better data to understand the problem areas. I can’t see “none” being a valid reason in very many crashes. And only 118 for speeding? That seems low.

      I’d also like to point out that if my own circumstances are at all representative, the actual number of car vs. pedestrian events may be much higher. I’ve been hit 3 times as a pedestrian in crosswalks, luckily all at low speeds, but only 1 of those resulted in a ticket to the driver. The other 2 were hit and run, and I only filed a police report on 1 of them. I didn’t get any details in the other incident besides “woman driving a dark SUV” and there were no other witnesses so I figured it was a lost cause.

    4. Agreed. I was very surprised by this table but didn’t have time to dig into the data source.

      1. +2 Another thing – when you talk about impaired driving, you need to consider people who multitask while behind the wheel. You know – eating, on the phone, texting & on & on. You’ll see it every day if you take a good look around.

      2. Several years back the police near where I used to live nailed some guy that was weaving all over the road and otherwise erratic. Turned out he was making a sandwich on the passenger seat.

  2. The first thing I noticed on the Vision Zero’s front page is 4 out of the 5 people in the crosswalk are wearing dark, unsafe clothing colors. I see a whole lot of war on cars under the guise of safety stuff in the report, but no information on how pedestrians will be educated and trained on how to be more safe. It takes two to tango. There needs to be an equally massive public awareness campaign and draconian punitive punishments on how to stay safe as a pedestrian. Always wear bright, reflective clothing. Always wear flashing lights at night. Never wear headphones while walking. Have your head on a swivel. Etc. This statistic jumped out at me in the report: While pedestrians and bicyclists and motorcyclist make up only 5 percent of something or other, they make up 50% of all something else! (I’ve forgotten a few part of the quotes). Anyway, that’s my two cents. Thank you.

    1. I suppose you also think that in concealed carry states, that all citizens have a responsibility to wear bullet proof vests? After all, it takes two to tango.

    2. My friend, biking to work, was wearing a full complement of high visibility clothes. Didn’t do him any good. He got hit by a young woman pulling out of a driveway and spent several days at Harborview.

      1. All I’m saying is if the goal is truly to “end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030,” then the report doesn’t go far enough. Reducing speeds, and everything else they mention, will only get you so far. As long as we still have pedestrians crossing crosswalks at night while wearing earbuds and dark clothing while looking at their phone, or just not paying attention to traffic, their will always be car/pedestrian accidents. If they are serious about the 2030 goal, then more has to be done. If they aren’t serious about reaching their goal of no deaths or serious injuries, then yes, the Vision Zero is perfectly fine as it is.

      2. As a pedestrian, I’m all for visibility.. I wear a reflective vest when I go for a walk after dark. As for the photo on the first page of the Vision Zero report, I don’t know that their clothing is particularly unsafe since they’re walking around in broad daylight.

        Also, I don’t know how much of a problem ear buds are in pedestrian fatalities. Vision Zero tells us that people over 50 have made up 70% pedestrian deaths in the last three years. Over 50 isn’t the ear bud bunch so much.

        Finally, it sounds like some of your concerns about educating pedestrians are being covered. From page 11: “We’ll work with our partners to
        reach people of all ages and abilities through education programs
        like Safe Routes to School, Be Super Safe, Pedestrian Safety for
        Seniors, and our new overarching Vision Zero campaign.”

        Being a senior myself, I just checked the Pedestrian Safety for Seniors pamphlet and the very first recommendation is to wear brightly colored or reflective clothing to stand out.

      3. This is victim-blaming, Sam. I’m not opposed to people bettering the odds by wearing reflective stuff, etc. But, we’re not talking about people trying to walk on grade-separated highways here. We’re talking about surface streets in the city. Designing streets so that even wearing black isn’t a capital crime should be the goal here.

      4. kpt, I’m not victim blaming. I’m looking at their stated goal, then suggesting ideas on how we can get there. My belief is Vision Zero won’t get us there. I read the whole thing and was struck by what they didn’t say; by what wasn’t included of emphasized. If you want to call that blaming, then go ahead. Again, I’m looking at what their goal is. Zero death or serious injuries within 15 years. All I’m saying is if we want to get there, then more is needed, and yes, on the pedestrian and bicyclist side of things.

      5. We’re referring to what the law can do. Would you have it mandate bright reflective clothing?

        The law is striving to make streets safer by design. FWIW, I also don’t think we’ll ever get to zero. But, having zero deaths as an explicit goal, and telling designers to design roads with fewer failure modes, strikes me as a good thing.

        I don’t doubt that it’s possible to have a person walking killed by a person driving, and have that be clearly the person walking’s fault. But, I do think it’s very rare. The ultimate blame, in most cases, IMO, doesn’t even lie with the person driving. It lies with the person designing the road.

    3. I think more driver education and stricter enforcement. I’ve been nearly hit in broad daylight several times where my clothing isn’t a factor. A lot of it is driver’s aggressiveness. Things like:

      Not stopping at a stop sign, especially for pedestrians
      Not yielding to pedestrians/cyclists while making a right on red
      Not yielding to pedestrians/cyclists while turning on a green
      Not yielding to pedestrians/cyclists at an unmarked crosswalk (or even knowing that unmarked crosswalks exist).
      Aggressive passing around a bus at a bus stop where the bus partially blocks their view of a crosswalk.

      Basically a lot of it is either not realizing or not caring that cars always have to yield to pedestrians, even if they have a green light.

    4. It’s also well-known that while Cyclists make up 43% of one thing, they’re also correlated with 90% of something else. And pedestrians often *mumble* *mumble*, to the tune of 28%! Unbelievable, right?

    5. The Basic Rule for drivers is quite simple:

      No person shall drive a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing. In every event speed shall be so controlled as may be necessary to avoid colliding with any person, vehicle or other conveyance on or entering the highway in compliance with legal requirements and the duty of all persons to use due care. (RCW 46.61.400)

      Motorists are required by law to drive slowly enough, and with enough attention to the road ahead, that they can avoid running into pedestrians in dark clothing crossing at unmarked crosswalks. There is no requirement for pedestrians to wear special clothing for walking.

      Streets have pedestrians walking along and across them. Drivers must control their vehicles to avoid hitting pedestrians. End of story.

    6. I kind of wish I weren’t shocked by this series of heinous statements because you say so many horrific things constantly, but…even for you this is a brand new low. It’s shameful that you would incite victim-blaming and a non-existent responsibility on the most basic form of movement: walking. There isn’t a more basic human right and you smash it with a cleaver of arrogance. I really don’t hope you have a driver’s licence; if you do, it should be revoked.

      1. Stephen, if you are talking to me, I’m not blaming the victim. I’m not trying to be outrageous. I’m giving some ideas on how we can get to zero deaths and serious injuries in the city of Seattle by 2030. It’s my belief, that Vision Zero doesn’t go far enough. I think more education that needs to go into, yes, the pedestrian and bicyclist side of things. I thought that was lacking in the report, and I think it’s an important part of safety.

      2. No, Sam, you’re trolling. That’s what you *always* do, and you’ve actually admitted to it. At least you’re an amusing troll.

        What we need is better driver education and licensing standards. In my 20 years of driving I have never hit a person, I have never hit an animal larger than a frog (and I don’t *think* I’ve hit any frogs, but it’s hard to tell), and I’ve only had a reportable strike on property once, while doped up and sick (and it didn’t cause any damage).

        This should be typical. Why isn’t it? We know it isn’t because of the extreme amount of roadkill.

    7. Sam,

      If two pedestrians dressed like stealth ninjas collide at night, the worst you can expect is a few bumps and bruises. If a person driving a car hits a pedestrian, whether it’s day or night, the worst that can happen is instant death (or maybe traumatic brain injury followed by a ruined life?). The problem isn’t the pedestrian, it’s the vehicle and the person driving it.

      What we need are actual rigorous training programs for drivers. Driving should be treated like piloting – regular physicals, training for each type of vehicle the drive operates, and immediate and severe consequences for misconduct, whether intentional or not. It should not be hard to lose a driver’s license temporarily, and losing it for life should be a consideration for every driver.

      1. The reason we don’t is car-dependent land use. When you build low-density neighborhoods that transit can’t effectively serve, and separate zoning so people can’t walk to the store or school, and many workplaces also have little transit access, then basically people have to drive and the standards have to be lower, because not driving means losing your job and your house and not feeding your kids. Countries with stricter licence requirements also have more comprehensive transit, more compact land use, and don’t have a large percentage of voters who think driving is a right and 90% of the federal government is illegitimate.

    8. +1 Sam.

      Thank you for being the voice of reason.

      The cycle, transit and anti-car interests never seem to want to advocate for personal responsibility in these conversations.

      I am extremely aware and defensive when I walk and cycle. I don’t expect anyone else to be responsible for my personal safety.

      1. I expect most of us are aware and defensive when we walk and bike. That doesn’t mean we need to bite on Sam’s trollbait.

  3. Education is a critical component, as well as getting people off of their cell phones while driving. This is why traffic is so bad, even as volumes haven’t increased much. Somebody messing with their $&@&$& cellphone balls it up then the next 10,000 people driving by have to post it to Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.

    Pedestrians and cycles are not blameless, I will agree. However, the recent program by SDOT to eliminate right turns in the core will help reduce conflicts.

    1. Cellphone use should be classed as the”impairment” and treated with much greater vigour and penalties than today.

    2. Eliminating “right on red” would avoid crashes when the pedestrian is crossing in front of the car, but it doesn’t eliminate right turns. It just pushes right turns into the green light phase.

      In most intersections, the green light phase is also when pedestrians are crossing the cross-street in the parallel sidewalk. The car-pedestrian conflict is still there, just in the parallel rather than perpendicular crosswalk. Most pedestrians ignore the “don’t enter crosswalks on blinking red hand” rule, which unfortunately seems to be encouraged by the countdown timers. Crossing on the blinking hand creates steady pedestrian traffic that can essentially prevent cars from turning right. Impatient, frustrated drivers will try to force through or around pedestrians, which is exactly the situation we want to avoid.

      The only real solutions are to separate car and pedestrian phases entirely. One option is right-turn green arrow phases. Another is “cross all ways” pedestrian phases, including crossing through the middle of the intersection. The downside to either option is longer wait times for both vehicles and pedestrians and the need for a lot of new traffic signals. But, in a “Vision Zero” scenario, it is something to consider. It will be really hard to get to zero when pedestrians must share phases with vehicles

      1. Some of the crosswalk crossing lights don’t help in this either. For example, the newly configured crosswalk along the north side of Boren, crossing Broadway (at the protected bike lane) has a white, crossing, light for 2 seconds, then starts a 26 second flashing hand countdown. If in the 2 minutes you’re waiting for the light to change, you turn your head for a second or two and miss the brief crossing light, you’re not likely to wait for another full light cycle, but will cross, because certainly most people can make it across in 26 seconds. I’m not sure why this light is so configured, other than the fact that you’re crossing both the bike lane and the regular traffic lanes, but the total crossing distance is no farther than a typical arterial street.

      2. The purpose of the “flashing hand” is not to give drivers a chance to turn right, it’s to make sure pedestrians don’t enter when they don’t have time to get across. It happens to be used for the latter purpose, but there’s no reason drivers turning onto wider streets need a bigger window to turn! And it’s crossing wide streets where people get a comically short window to legally enter the street!

        If we really to give drivers a chance to make turns free from pedestrian traffic without full extra signal phases we could turn the hand full-red for a bit. Enforcing the flashing hand, particularly at long intersections and with current standards for caution-phase length, would be a draconian anti-pedestrian move (just as it’s a draconian anti-bike move when the Lake Forest Park police do it on the Burke).

      3. We need to be careful not to turn Seattle into London. Over there, the culture involving pedestrians vs. left turns (they drive on the left, so a left turn there is like a right turn here) is that turning drivers do NOT yield to pedestrians, but traffic signals are equipped with separate phases for cars and pedestrians to allow safe crossing. In practice, the signal timings tend to be heavily skewed in favor of cars, even in the middle of downtown, and getting anywhere on foot takes a surprisingly long time just waiting for lights to change. (They do mitigate this somewhat by equipping Tube stations with multiple entrances on different sides of the street, minimizing the number of crossings necessary to access it, but schemes like this really shouldn’t be necessary).

        It was nice to be back in downtown Seattle afterward, where waiting to cross the street takes seconds, rather than minutes.

      4. The more I think about it, optimizing the light cycles at intersections seems like an intractable problem. Reducing conflicts requires separate phases, but each additional phase delays the other users at the intersection. Buses are road users too, so if we make intersections more favorable for pedestrians, transit slows down.

        Extending the “solid red hand” phase to facilitate right turns for vehicles would also extend the green phase in the parallel street direction (with right on red banned). This is functionally equivalent to a right turn arrow but without the cost of a new signal. Anecdotally, I see pedestrians walking into the crosswalk when the parallel street has a green light and the walk signal is solid red hand (presumably they are assuming that the pedestrian signal will change soon, or is broken). Not understanding the light cycle phases, they can walk into a bad situation. Same problem with left turn arrows – sometimes pedestrians cross with a solid red hand as vehicles are turning towards them.

        @ Pete: That’s a great example of the annoyances that pedestrians have to deal with. 2+26 is just asking for noncompliance with the don’t walk phase. If we’re going to insist on zero injuries, there needs to be a focus on making crosswalks more user-friendly. I’ve come across several “sub-optimal” crosswalk signals – I imagine SDOT is not even aware of many of them.

      5. “Most pedestrians ignore the “don’t enter crosswalks on blinking red hand” rule, which unfortunately seems to be encouraged by the countdown timers.”

        I’ve seen the opposite. Switching to countdown timers often goes hand in hand with shortening the blink phase. With a traditional light I can get entirely across the street in the blink phase and still have time to spare, but with the countdown timers it’s only enough to get halfway across the street. Then there are those weird ones that only stay green for three seconds and then immediately start counting down, so by the time you realize it’s green it’s already blinking and you have to run across the street or wait another cycle.

      6. I’ve been told the blinking phase is the only time cars have a chance to turn right, and it certainly looks that way on high-pedestrian streets like Pine, so now I go across in the blinking phase only if there’s no car waiting to turn.

      7. I’ve found that countdown timers are inconsistent in their implementation. In most cases, they count down to zero coinciding with caution phase or a left turn only signal on the parallel street. Sometimes the red hand will be signalled while the vehicular traffic has a green signal for tens of seconds.

  4. Good post, Adam. First thought : any chance Lyft or Uber could handle “driving means arrest” service above? Or would city be liable for ballooning charges base on demand or changed traffic conditions?

    Granted somebody too drunk to drive is app-impaired too. My fingers always send a touch-screen scrolling itself off its bearings with twitch after first cup of coffee.

    Sweden? All modes of transit are excellent. But like the rest of the First World which the US formerly inhabited, frontline safety measure is the near impossibility of getting a driver’s license.

    First: a leatherbound Gutenberg-weight memorization of rules. Next, a national tolerance of impaired driving = life on foot. But chiefly, a road test few Grand Prix drivers can pass first try.

    Being a place where most aggression is passive, probably very little road rage within Seattle city limits. Same for Brad Pitt high speed zombie drunk driving apocalypse. And naturally, most people will pass the book test first try.

    Honest complaint: compared to Michigan, Washington’s freeway lanes are laid out by a baboon. Especially entrances and exits. Los Angles’ freeways have a bad rep, but exiting driver knows what lane to be five miles before the maneuver.

    But first rental-car mile out of LA International Airport gave me a first -in-a decade-feeling of sharing a road with people who knew what a side mirror was for. Same for “zipper” move where bad technique has same result for merging as for pants.

    Also: My dad’s body-man once pointed to a yard full of late-model junk and told me: “They always tell me same thing: ‘I never saw him!'” Or her. Or the bicycle and its rider…..

    So here’s a plan that would simultaneously improve road and street safety, massively increase transit ridership, and erase congestion:

    Short book-test followed by an eight hour hands on driving test.
    Officer then authorized to decide: “Here’s your driver’s license.” Or, “Here’s your regional ORCA card for same period of time.” Transit schedule performance, traffic court, body shop, and Harborview: Problem Solved!

    Mark Dublin

    1. Love it! Driving tests road & book both need to be as stringent as possible. Not only that, reexaminations need to happen every five years & every three years after age 65. Failure at any tine is a automatic one year revocation.

      1. Might be best for general public health for every motorist to be examined once a year- possibly made voluntary part of the regular physical exam everyone should have.

        With free remedial measures added to the now-mandatory Federal health care program. Though any current Congressman deserves the Congressional for advocating return to the draft….might consider citizen repair as national defense.

        I don’t know what’s required for transit operators now. But I think these measures should be added to above:

        Drivers should be checked for weight gain due to fat, carpal tunnel, back, neck and knee injuries, and diabetes. Also hypertension. And kidney failure. Absent toilet breaks do more damage than wet seats.

        And all general evidence for critical lack of exercise. And sleep deprivation.

        I joined Metro part time in fall 1982. Every now and then, 33 years later, I see people in my class still driving transit. Results are generally pathetic.

        Injuries from passenger assaults make the papers and the 11:00 news. But toll is dwarfed by injuries inflicted by sitting still, being bounced vertically all day long, exhaustion, stress, and constant strain on the immune system.

        Ten years in full-time, and you’ll likely need a right knee joint. For some reason, the coach building industry can’t mount an accelerator pedal that doesn’t cripple a driver after a certain number of years.

        Yeah, I know, too many different body sizes. Your great grand-dad’s bus! With electronic linkages having long replaced cables and springs, no reason pedal can’t have an adjustment a driver can work.

        Remedies? For transit driving as it is right now, no blame of any kind should attach to a driver who signed on in condition to be hired- which could be tightened without anything unfair.

        Machinery under that kind of battering burns out, seizes and fractures. Most parts need replacement. Smell of present Breda fleet means 911 to County Medical Examiner.

        To me, by Federal law, full time work day should be six well-paid hours long, with at least a month vacation every year. With overtime against the law. And below certain result level for any physical past age 50, full retirement.

        Extra cost will be more than balanced by increased performance, reduced accidents, and plunging health care costs across the board. Also, a lot fewer accidents.

        Mark Dublin

    1. I didn’t look at the Oregonian link, but there are some maps in this report. Thre are probably more recent data available; I remember seeing such maps elsewhere.

      1. It’s good, but it’s only seems to be one year of data so it gives a bunch of spots in various locations.

        The Oregonian map shows a series of years, so you get, eg, a linear pattern of fatalities north of Gladstone (very far south central area of the Oregonian map) showing just how bad highway 99E is for pedestrians in that area. There’s also a cluster around Foster Road between about 60th and 82nd. It is good that Seattle has only a few scattered dots on that map showing very limited fatalities for one year, but it isn’t enough data to really highlight the worst of the places like a multi-year map does in the case of the Portland area.

        The good news is that this has actually led to improved crosswalks and signals in some of the worst corridors in Portland. It doesn’t take too much to put up a brightly flashing crosswalk signal like the city recently installed at 81st and Foster or Division and 94th, and those were caused in part by pressure put on the city by showing them these long term trend maps of where the worst places are if you are trying to cross the road.

      2. Looks like Rainier Ave S is about as close as you guys have to a Corridor of Death, like Hwy 99E or Tualatin Valle Highway here.

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