During the first half of this year, 101 people were seriously injured or killed in 98 collisions on Seattle streets. That’s the highest number of crashes in the first six months of a year since 2010, according to preliminary police reports analyzed by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).
Of those crashes, 10 were fatal. Five people were killed while in car, truck or on a motorcycle; four were killed while walking and one while riding a bicycle.
Thirty-five pedestrians and 14 bicyclists were seriously injured. Another 38 people were seriously injured in motor vehicle collisions.
More crashes tend to occur in the second half of a year, SDOT data since 2010 shows.
In recent years, the total number of deaths and serious injuries for a whole 12 months has fluctuated but largely hovered around 190.
SDOT stressed that the data is preliminary. The information goes through a months-long process that involves city and state transportation officials reviewing and analyzing reports from the Seattle Police Department. Discrepancies are reconciled between SDOT and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and compiled into a report that typically comes out in December, containing the previous year’s numbers.
What has been released provides an early glimpse into the most up-to-date status of Seattle’s Vision Zero program that aims to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and injuries by 2030. The numbers show that Seattle is far from meeting its goal.
“Every single [data] point represents a person who has been seriously injured or killed,” said SDOT’s Vision Zero spokesperson Allison Schwartz. “We are data-driven, but we take a human-centered approach when we talk about design changes.”
Bradley Topol, interim Vision Zero coordinator at SDOT, said the two most-used tools the city employs to reduce serious crashes are lowering speed limits on busy streets to 25 mph and installing leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs), signals that give people walking a head start to cross intersections.
While the crashes were spread across Seattle, many were clustered along major arterials.
There were seven crashes on Aurora Avenue North, six on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, five on Rainier Avenue South, and three on East Madison Street. Several more crashes occurred within one block of each road.
Pedestrian advocates have criticized SDOT for delaying safety improvements on Rainier Avenue South, where a 78-year-old man riding a bicycle was killed in February and two girls crossing against a red light were hit and injured last August.
The first phase of Rainier improvements were completed in 2015. During that period, the road between South Alaska Street in Columbia City and South Kenny Street in Hillman City was narrowed from two lanes to one in each direction and a center turn lane was added.
Sara Colling, community outreach lead at SDOT who works on the Rainier project, said that change reduced injury-causing collisions by 30 percent.
In 2017, the city began making similar Rainier design changes between South Kenny and South Henderson. The new design will also add bus lanes in place of parking in certain sections to accommodate transit riders who take King County Metro’s Route 7.
By the end of next week, Colling said, crews will begin to build a curb bulb at Rainier and Holly Street. Extending the width of the curb makes crossing distances shorter, which she said makes crossing the street safer for pedestrians. The work should be complete at the end of August.
SDOT also installed LPIs at every intersection on Rainier between South Kenny Street and 57th Avenue South — eight intersections in total.
Colling attributes delays in the Rainier work to a “more challenging” design that involves shifting overhead electrical wires for the trolley buses. The full improvements will be complete by the start of school year next year, she said.
On Aurora Avenue North, where two of the seven collisions were fatal, Topol said the city is looking for “near-term and long-term solutions.”
In the immediate future, Topol said SDOT is considering designating space for pedestrians where no sidewalks exist. With more funding, Topol said SDOT wants to install more sidewalks and add pedestrian signals.
Meanwhile, WSDOT is resurfacing the stretch of Aurora Avenue North and Highway 99 between Roy Street and North 145th Street. As part of that project, crews are installing new wheelchair-accessible ramps along the corridor to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations.
In addition to speed, driving distracted and under the influence of alcohol or drugs contributed to the crashes.
At least 13 collisions involved inattention, which could include distracted driving or drivers lost in their thoughts.
In July 2017, a Washington state law went into effect that forbids the use of electronic gadgets such as phones, tablets, laptop computers and personal gaming devices while behind the wheel — including at stop signs or red-light signals. A fine for the first offense is $136 and increases to $234 for a second offense within five years.
While Vision Zero is focused on eliminating all serious and fatal crashes, Schwartz said any crash can impact the flow of traffic and congestion.
“If we can improve safety on streets, we can improve movement of people and goods as well,” Schwartz said.