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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Another One Down: What We Need To Do NOW To Cut Pedestrian Accidents

Walking home with the groceries Monday evening, I came upon the gruesome scene on Aurora Avenue of Seattle’s eighth pedestrian traffic fatality in 2019.  For pedestrian deaths and serious injuries, Seattle is rapidly careening toward by far the worst year in recent memory.

A year ago, I wrote about very bad portents already in view.  In March, PostAlley member Kevin Schofield  critically dissected an SDOT traffic safety Vision Zero presentation to the City Council.  In July, both The Seattle Times and The Urbanist published the terrible 2019 half-year numbers from SDOT and The Urbanist reported on the disturbing state-wide trends, too

Late Monday evening, I dispatched an email to fifty people urging that it was time for a pedestrian safety crisis summit to galvanize action from City Hall.

By Tuesday morning, only one response from a person in authority, a lone City Council staffer:  basically, along the well-worn “thoughts and prayers model” that we all recognize as the hallmark of abdicated leadership:

“What an awful tragedy. My heart goes out to the person’s family and friends.

I truly believe we can reach Vision Zero. It will take a lot of work to change our streets and encourage safe behavior. Our office would love to support all Vision Zero efforts for the city and is happy to work with the Pedestrian Advisory Board.”

By noon, about fourteen hours after the death, Bill Radke on KUOW The Record wanted to talk.   This is what we said to each other in very few short minutes.  Here is the problem.  And here are actual steps to be taken now that would start to make a difference. It’s long past time for forceful leadership, with urgency, from City Hall.  Plus some badly needed help from a seemingly indifferent state legislature, also called out in our talk.

Doug MacDonald
Doug MacDonald
Doug MacDonald has served as chief executive in infrastructure agencies in Massachusetts (Greater Boston drinking water/wastewater) and Washington State (Secretary of Transportation, 2001-2007). His best job was fifty years ago as a rural extension agent in the Peace Corps in Malawi in southern Africa. He has written on the environment, transportation and politics for professional and general publications for many years.

3 COMMENTS

  1. This year Durkan and SDOT have been mainly focused on dealing with the “Seattle Squeeze” by investing in things that get more, better and faster transit, to the exclusion of badly-needed bike and pedestrian investments. They have also been dealing with the fact that the city’s construction boom has jacked up the price for all construction, including streets, sidewalks, etc. We often don’t notice this, but a lot of SDOT’s construction/repair projects are contracted out, not done by the department’s in-house staff (look at the names on the trucks the next time you drive by a street project).

    I offer this as an explanation, not an excuse. SDOT, the Mayor, and the City Council could redirect money to get things back on track, but like most city governments it’s not very good at taking money away from things. If the bike and pedestrian improvements weren’t so desperately needed, the city could bank the money for the moment and then do all the projects during the next recession (which is just around the corner) when they will cost less and the economy will need the boost.

  2. As one who was run over in a guarded school crossing as a child (by two wheels of a slow moving car … 20 was plenty), I have since then embedded into myself the belief that it’s totally my responsibility while on foot to keep cars from hitting me. Totally. This is why I often readily cross mid block, because I need to observe fewer quadrants than crossing at an intersection where drivers have too much on their minds. Why I walk on sidewalks facing moving traffic coming at me, not coming up from behind. I’m ready to jump out of the way of a truck mirror.
    In more recent years I have been startled by Ballard High School students acting like a marked crosswalk provides magic protection such that they don’t need to look up from their smart phones when proceeding into a traffic lane. Where are the teachers? But of course I am watching and protecting those young, trusting fools. When I’m on the concave side of the windshield it’s my total responsibility to avoid hitting pedestrians no matter what they do, and so far, I’ve succeeded at that despite some close calls where I made mistakes that the ped had to compensate for.
    All Doug’s public action steps are useful, but somehow the concept of ultimate personal responsibility on all sides by all citizens whether walking or driving or cycling or scootering needs to be instilled which then needs to be translated through teacher-coaching into life skills practiced constantly on the streets, practiced with mindfulness. Look up that word. And I carry a flashlight walking at night.

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