Vision Zero activist Andrew Kidde. Credit: Peter Johnson

At a City Council meeting on Tuesday, transportation and safe streets activists pointedly criticized the City’s slow pace in implementing its Vision Zero plan. They argued that the City’s progress on pedestrian and bicycle improvements lagged far behind road projects.

At the same meeting, SDOT presented data indicating traffic deaths went down in 2018. According to that data, collisions killed 14 people. (We covered an earlier version of that data in January.) In public comments before the meeting, activists said that the data set was not complete, and left out additional fatalities.

“I’m sort of at the end of my line making excuses for the City,” said Gordon Padelford, director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, in remarks focused on a Vision Zero-related rechannelization project on Rainier Avenue South. “This is something we just need to get done. If this were a giant convention center, or a new arena, it would have been done years ago. When we want to, as a city, we can get heaven and Earth to get these important priorities built. What are we doing for Southeast Seattle?”

Biker and climate activist Andrew Kidde, a Rainier Valley resident, explained his frustration with Vision Zero progress. Kidde has worked on climate issues for some time, but said in public comments that the death of his friend, Alex Hayden, galvanized him to work on green transportation and safe streets. Hayden was hit and killed by a car on Rainier just outside city limits.

“I just feel like it’s time for the City to do what they have the drawings to do—rechannelize to three lanes, put in a whole lot of intersection improvements—and I just don’t know what’s going on. What’s the hitch?” Kidde said, in a follow-up interview after his public comments.

The larger Vision Zero plan is one of many SDOT-led capital projects that have fallen behind schedule in recent years. Several years of mayoral turmoil, and the lack of a permanent department head until the appointment of new Director Sam Zimbabwe, created chaos in big-ticket projects like new RapidRide lines and the Center City Connector.

The Rainier project is a good example of the delays. A pilot program implemented in 2014, on Rainier’s Columbia City and Hillman City stretches, yielded lower speeds, fewer collisions, and better bus service. An SDOT study of the project recommended that the City implement a new street design with the same goals for the full length of Rainier by 2018, or “sooner if possible.” SDOT currently plans to complete this work in 2020.

City Councilmember Mike O’Brien offered criticism of Vision Zero implementation, saying that he wanted to “echo” activist critiques

“It’s been a few years since we made the commitment, and it was under a different mayor and a different department director, and I know [SDOT employees] have been through over a year without a permanent department director, which can make it challenging,” O’Brien said. “And at the same time, holding that reality with the fact that people are getting harmed on our streets. While we have some great planning and some good commitments, I share a lot of the community’s frustration that we haven’t been able to move faster on this.”

O’Brien cited his own history as a green transportation activist as a source of his frustration with Vision Zero progress, saying that despite his “position of power,” he felt “somewhat powerless on how to move this forward.”

Raising activists’ fatality data critiques, O’Brien questioned SDOT planner Jim Curtin about the discrepancy. Curtin attributed any gaps in the final tally to difficulties in inter-agency communication. According to Curtin, SDOT compiles fatality and injury data based on reports from law enforcement agencies including the State Patrol and Seattle Police Department. Curtin said that compiling and processing that data can take weeks or months, and that, while statistics are continually updated, they can lag in reflecting the true scope of collisions.

26 Replies to “Activists rip City’s Vision Zero progress”

  1. “If this were a giant convention center, or a new arena, it would have been done years ago.”

    Really? So I’m just imagining the countless false starts when it came to building a new arena?

    I don’t disagree with SDOT’s opponents here, but let’s not pretend Seattle dragging its feet is something unique to Vision Zero.

  2. I think it’s important to point out that one reason for returning to standard time in the fall is safety. Namely, school children walking to school or the bus stop in the dark. That’s unavoidable during the shortest days but it would greatly expanded without falling back. Same thing for bike commuters which I think will result in people choosing to trade driving for cycling trips.

    1. I noticed that during the recent campaign to to switch to daylight savings time year-round. Everyone seems to have forgotten what happened when we tried doing that a couple decades ago: the exact same problem came up: children walking to school in the dark.

      I probably wouldn’t mind switching that much; I dislike going home from work in the dark, or having to finish outdoor walks by 3:30pm (since the whole purpose is to get more exposure to daylight in winter, as well as nature and exercise). But I also like seeing a sunrise in the morning, and I’m concerned about making our time zone the only one different in the western states. (US Pacific Time is already different from Canada because Bush II [I think] made daylight time start a few weeks earlier. Then there’s the timezone library in computers: it’s updated when there’s a national change, but would they make a zone for one state that hasn’t been different before, and would that change get into all the computers in time, including those that aren’t updated all the time.

  3. My observation is that SDOT has introduced a ton of new pedestrian crossing signals in the past few years. I don’t think they have been dragging their feet when it comes to pedestrians. Perhaps more than in a few decades, we have seen many pedestrian projects happen.

    I do think that projects do not necessarily equal safety improvements. Safety is not easily accomplished by merely adding things. It’s a much more complex issue.

    Much is affected by cell phone distraction. We are all distracted, including pedestrians and bicyclists. That distraction comes in the form of headphones (reducing cautionary noises) as well as screens. Should we ban things like cell phone use in crosswalks and headsets on bicyclists?

    Are these bicyclist advocates upset about the lack of recent progress on getting every project on their wish list?

    1. Where to begin…

      Great, you’ve noticed some new crossing signals. That’s certainly definitive.

      “I do think that projects do not necessarily equal safety improvements.” Do you have data for that? Any technical qualifications that make you an expert (or even just knowledgable) about the subject?

      And when all else fails, there is always whataboutism.

      I suspect “these bicycle advocates” are just looking for basic public transportation infrastructure that doesn’t put them in harm’s way so they can travel safely and not get killed. That seems like a reasonable ask to me.

      1. If you want data, look at the touted SDOT Rainier report here! The accidents went down 15 percent — but volumes dropped 25 percent! Thus, each car appears to be more dangerous after the project was completed!

        Does that mean that the problem is bad street design or that the problem is distraction?

        … as I said, it’s a complex topic. A protected bicycle lane is not the solution to every transportation problem.

      2. I don’t think it takes technical qualifications to prove the points I’m making. There is an abundance of reports, researched news stories and expert interviews that talk about the impacts of distracted traveling regardless of mode as well as the impacts of negligent maintenance that make our transportation system increasingly unsafe. I’m not a lone voice.

        A token project on a few streets would barely impact these core problems. At best, a project would only improve a street segment has a remarkable history of recent accidents and fatalities. Even then, inadequate maintenance and enforcement would render any new project ineffective in a few years.

  4. Back in October, I wrote this comment … “What happened to Seattle being committed to Vision Zero? Back in 2002, 2 women, a mother and her adult daughter, were walking in the crosswalk at 35th and Fremont, were run over by a Metro bus turning left onto southbound Fremont ave, killing the mother. So if Seattle has gotten serious about pedestrian safety, why is that crosswalk paint badly faded and worn away?” Then another commenter said he once called the city to report a crosswalk, so that inspired me to call the department in charge of paining crosswalks, tell them a pedestrian death occurred at that location, the paint is badly worn, and should be put at the top of their priority list because of the fatality. The lady on the other end of the line agreed.

    Almost six months later the crosswalk still hasn’t been painted.

  5. I’m waiting to find out if activists will discuss how Kubly oversaw such bad cost estimes — because lack of funds limits what SDOT can do. If safety advocates are sincere, they would be attacking recent mistakes made by past leaders on costing rather than merely throw darts at current Council members who had little oversight on costing problems.

      1. Activists complaining about undone projects is focusing on the wrong priority.

        This comment thread contains many posts about bad enforcement and bad maintenance — and the riding occurrences of bad or dangerous travel behavior. If activists want action on safety, they should be focused on obeying our laws and maintaining what we already have first.

        Safety is a continuous responsibility like housecleaning more than it is like housebuilding. You can’t simpky create something and walk away. Even bicycle lane striping disappears over time, for example. If someone slips on a banana peel, is building a new kitchen the solution? I think not.

      2. No. We are designing high traffic corridors to prioritize speed and traffic volumes over safety. The same amount of money we are investing now could be invested instead to improve safety outcomes.

      3. What new high-speed traffic corridor in Seattle is being designed? The only traffic-focused street projects I’ve recently seen take lanes away (for RapidRide or bicycle lanes or traffic calming) or replaces unsafe situations (earthquake risky structures or at-risk bridges or railroad crossings).

        This may have been true in 1990, but I don’t think that it’s true today.

      4. Mercer St?

        Also there are road diets deferred (35th Ave SW, 24th Ave E) in the name of car priority.

      5. Admittedly I forgot about Mercer adding lanes. I thought that was justified at the time because the Elliott ramps closed and it was part of the AWV replacement needed for earthquake safety.

        Mercer is perhaps a good case study for how Seattle has made decisions. Building a street that wide is rather crazy if pedestrians are anticipated to use it. It is scary to cross, and frustrating to wait at. At some point, it becomes wiser to take heavy traffic off the street or split the traffic into two couplet streets so that pedestrians only have to wait for and cross one direction at a time.

        Because that street was designed before I got to Seattle, I would be curious if the City ever developed multiple alternatives before choosing the auto river that they did. Seattle seems to be able to think of only one or two alternatives at a time, where many other places will have 6, 10 or even 20.

  6. By only talking about SDOT we’re missing a whole department when it comes to Vision Zero. Part of Vision Zero was lowering speed limits, much of which has been accomplished.

    We need to discuss SPD enforcing those speed limits. The speed limits have no safety impact if they’re not followed. A vehicle going 40 mph in a 30 mph zone, still has the same energy and ability to injure as a vehicle going 40 mph in a 40 mph zone.

    1. Simply enforcing the law would go a long way toward addressing many of the safety issues in Seattle.

      1. In general we have way fewer cops than we should. As it turns out, it isn’t that easy to hire new cops, though. Thus the new incentive for new hires.

      2. My impression has always been that SPD won’t ever enforce speed limits just to have traffic move more slowly, because their goal is to have traffic “flow”, which means no tickets anywhere they can’t force a vehicle to move over without slowing other traffic. So if, as it basically the case all over the city, traffic simply moves ten miles over the speed limit, nothing happens. Except the City Council pats itself on the back for having “solved” the problem by lowering unenforced speed limits.

    2. This comment about sums it up. If there is no enforcement, that means the speed reductions (and other traffic laws) are essentially voluntary.

      My anecdotal sob story: SDOT reconfigured 23rd Ave from Madison north towards Montlake, by reducing traffic lanes to one in each direction, with a turn lane. As I understand it, this street also falls under the city-wide speed reductions. So great, right?

      Wrong. This street has never felt more dangerous to me, a pedestrian who crosses 23rd twice daily, and has done so for the past 10 years. Traffic is backed up for blocks at peak hours, leading to frustrated drivers. And at non-peak hours the road is a total speedway. Drivers now barrel through yellow and even red lights at the few pedestrian crossings, because they don’t want to wait for yet another light cycle. I routinely see drivers using the center turn lane as a regular traffic lane. Distracted driving is ever a problem. Even worse is that people are now using the residential side streets to get around the backups on 23rd, and doing so at high speeds with no regard for other users like peds and cyclists. It’s a mess.

      Enforcement would go a long, long way. I never encounter any on 23rd, and all of these street redesigns and speed reductions are rather pointless (and even endangering) without it.

      1. Yeah they did a four-to-three reduction there but without adding any bike lanes, so each line is way wider than it needs to be. Enforcement can only do so much, but we can make 23rd slower by narrowing the lanes.

    3. I want engineering improvements that actually make people drive fast. I don’t want more cops, unless cops could start showing that they can enforce equitably and safely, without further endangering the lives of black and brown people.

      1. I agree whole heartedly.

        I also support enforcement methods that are much less discriminatory like camera speed enforcement. Removing the need to pull people over almost eliminates the potential for an negative in person interaction between police and black and brown people.

        Also, while I’m on the topic, we should get rid of the exemption of camera tickets for “I wasn’t the one driving the vehicle.” Oddly, if you own a gun in this state you’re responsible for its safe operation. If you own a vehicle in the state, you should also be responsible for its safe operation. (You should also be able to transfer the ticket to someone else, although they should have to agree to it (either in writing before or after.)

        Also while I’m continuing my rant, I wish we could adjust motor vehicle tickets to be a percentage of the value of the vehicle. If you’re driving a 2018 Aston Martin, you should pay more for the ticket than if you’re driving a 1991 Ford Escort.

      2. Errr.. I misread last night. I don’t want engineering improvements to make people drive fast. I do want equitable enforcement of traffic laws.

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