Crashes Up, Biking Down in New Seattle Traffic Report

The annual traffic report from the Seattle Department of Transportation, which measures everything from how many cars are moving through the city to how many people are commuting by bike to how many pedestrians are injured and killed on Seattle’s streets, came out last week, and the news is not great for people who bike or walk in the city—that is, just about everyone.

Bike ridership is down (by 2.6%), the number of drivers injuring or killing cyclists and pedestrians is up, and the number of total collisions is up for the third year in a row—not an auspicious sign for the city’s “Vision Zero” plan, which aims to reduce the number of traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. The citywide collision rate increased 6.3 percent over the last year; the rate of bike collisions stayed steady and the rate of collisions with pedestrians went up. Overall, 171 people were seriously injured and 20 were killed in collisions on Seattle streets last year, a 16.5 percent increase over 2015.

With “Vision Zero” in sight, serious injury and fatality crashes have barely budged for the past five years.

Some of the main “contributing circumstances” for collisions, in terms of sheer numbers, were: Inattention, “unknown driver distraction,” failure to grant right of way, following too closely, speeding, “improper turn,’ and driving under the influence of alcohol. Other circumstances that led to collisions: “Apparently asleep,” “driver grooming,” “driver reading or writing,” “had taken medication,” and driving on the wrong side of the road. Most of the pedestrians who were involved in collisions (57%) were in marked crosswalks when they were hit, and most were hit during daylight hours, not at night or dusk, when conventional wisdom says pedestrians are most likely to be hit (a trope that enables auto advocates and drive-time radio hosts to blame people in crosswalks for getting themselves run into). Bike collisions followed the same general trend, except that cyclists were less likely to get hit during winter months, when there are fewer of them on the roads. The color a cyclist was wearing when he or she was involved in a collision appears to be largely irrelevant—of 246 collisions for which clothing visibility was recorded, just 43 cyclists were wearing dark-colored clothing, including crashes that happened during the day and at night.

The offending chart

The report notes that the city’s Pedestrian Master Plan identified several locations for the city to monitor and report on every year, to see if people are speeding more or less at those locations. Unfortunately, this year’s report inexplicably fails to pull out information on those locations, as previous reports have done, so that people who pay attention to traffic trends can compare it to reports from previous years. To find out whether speeds have gone down on, say, Rainier Ave. S—historically one of the most dangerous corridors in the city, and a focus of a lot of Pedestrian Master Plan work since 2010—someone reading the report will have to scroll through pages of data in one of its appendices. This is not an insignificant issue, because a major point (if not the point) of tracking whether, and by how much, drivers are speeding is to see if things are getting better or worse. (You can dig through the appendices to find each segment individually, but who’s going to do that? Me, sure, but who else?) What the report does include is a chart that indicates the roads where the “85th percentile speed” (the speed at or below which 85 percent of drivers travel) is highest—a basically useless number in itself, because whether someone is speeding depends on the speed limit. Going  52 mph on a 50 mph highway is barely speeding, whereas going 45 in a 20 mph school zone amounts to reckless endangerment.

Dig into the report yourself, which includes lots of additional data about crashes, travel speeds, and traffic volumes, here.

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