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.