As Seattle works toward Vision Zero, data from SDOT’s annual traffic report found that collisions with fatal or serious injury jumped 16.5% in 2016, even as traffic volumes remained nearly unchanged.
In early 2015, the city launched its Vision Zero initiative with the goal of ending all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030, with serious funding beginning late in 2016. The number of crashes with fatal or serious injury has remained relatively consistent over the last seven years after a big drop during the last recession (see chart).
Of the 20 deaths on Seattle’s streets in 2016 (down one from 2015), five were pedestrians, three were bicyclists, three were motorcyclists and nine were in vehicles. Exceeding the speed limit was cited as the cause of at least six of the fatalities, with driving under the influence and “unknown driver distraction,” each contributing to at least three deaths.
“We’ve seen data for 2017 and we are seeing a similar level of fatalities, around 20 [per year], which has been the average for the past 8 or 9 years now,” said Gordon Padelford, director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. “We are concerned about stagnation around progress being made for Vision Zero.”
Though drivers mostly hit other vehicles, parked and moving, a total of 553 pedestrians and 440 bicyclists were hit last year — 87 of whom were seriously or fatally injured.
Padelford said people walking make up a disportionate percentage of the fatalities. According to SDOT, while bicyclists and pedestrians are involved in only 6.3% of all crashes, they represent a much larger percentage of the serious (47.4%) and fatal collisions (39.7%).
In 2016, collisions involving pedestrians increased 6% over the previous year, the highest number of pedestrian-involved collisions since 2006. Two-thirds of these incidents occurred at intersections (as opposed to mid-block). In over half of the incidents, the pedestrian used a marked crosswalk.
According to SDOT’s Jim Curtin, who oversees the planning and implementation of Vision Zero, the plan was not funded its first year. The passage of the Move Seattle levy in 2016 provided funding, so the data doesn’t reflect Vision Zero funding at all.
Curtin said that looking at the number of injuries or fatalities, rather than collisions ,shows a different picture. Using that metric, the number of fatal or serious injuries from collisions decreased 4% between 2015 and 2016. This data was not included in the traffic report, but according to Curtin, the total number of severe injuries or fatalities dropped from 224 in 2015 to 216 in 2016.
“It’s important to keep in mind that Vision Zero is a long-term goal,” Curtin wrote in an email. “Hitting zero will happen over time and our data shows we’re heading in the right direction.”
Pointing to improvements made in 2015 along Rainier Ave South, which decreased annual collisions from 87 to 49 and all injuries there by 40 percent, Curtin said the data shows streets recently redesigned are experiencing a significant reduction in crashes.
Curtin said SDOT’s work has bucked the national trend of substantial increases in death and serious injury over the past three years. “Where we’ve been able to intervene, we’ve had positive results,” he said.
SDOT anticipates releasing an update to the Vision Zero work plan by mid-2018.
“The city has safety as a top priority, but the Vision Zero program is significantly underfunded and really could use a boost to do more good work,” Padelford said. “The good thing for Seattle is that we are already a fairly safe city by national standards.”