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.