Most of last year's traffic deaths — eight — were on foot, four were in vehicles, one was bicycling and one was on a motorcycle, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Share story

The number of traffic fatalities and serious injuries in Seattle dipped only slightly last year from the previous year, leaving the city far from meeting its goal of eliminating all such deaths and injuries by 2030.

Preliminary data from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) show 14 people died on city streets in 2018, down from 19 in 2017. An additional 170 people were seriously injured.

That’s 184 injuries and deaths last year — three fewer than in 2017.

Most of last year’s traffic deaths — eight — were pedestrians, four were in vehicles, one was bicycling and one was on a motorcycle, Jim Curtin, who works in SDOT’s project development division, told members of the Seattle City Council Sustainability & Transportation committee last week.

SDOT said it could not provide a breakdown of the serious injuries by mode of transportation, saying the data is preliminary.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., NHL Seattle, PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company and Seattle Children’s hospital. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Learn more about Traffic Lab » | Follow us on Twitter »


In 2006, the earliest year complete data are available, the city reported 33 fatalities and 293 serious injuries. Nine of the deaths were pedestrians and two were bicyclists.

More recently, the number of deaths and serious injuries on Seattle streets has trended downward slightly despite the city’s population growth, up about 19 percent since 2010. Deaths and injuries edged down from 191 in 2016 to 184 last year, the preliminary data show.

Seattle’s Vision Zero goal is to achieve zero fatalities and serious injuries by 2030 through lower speed limits and redesigned roadways, among other strategies. Vision Zero is an international traffic-safety program started in Sweden and adopted by Seattle in 2015.

“It’s up to us in the city to design streets so that when someone inevitably makes a mistake, the consequences aren’t death,” said Curtin, who manages SDOT’s Vision Zero program.

Already this year, one pedestrian — Richard Fowler, 63 — died after being struck by a car. One cyclist, Vladimir Rylski, 78, was killed by a hit-and-run driver, the King County Medical Examiner’s Office said.

Another pedestrian, Sabrina Grimes, 57, died in Maple Valley.

Still, Seattle is one of the nation’s safest cities for pedestrians, according to a 2017 study.

Pedestrian advocates at the Sustainability & Transportation committee meeting last week criticized the city for delaying safety improvements on Rainier Avenue South, where Rylski was killed in February and two girls crossing against a red light were hit and injured last August.

City data show, on average, one crash per day in the corridor.

Curtin said the Rainier Corridor project has been a “technically challenging process,” but the city is planning to “move forward soon” on improvements. The changes will include slowing traffic, redesigning parts of the street and shortening crosswalks for pedestrians.

“We intend to finish with 2019 work before school starts on Sept. 1,” he said.

SDOT highlights distracted driving, impairment, speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians as contributors to the deaths and serious injuries. The city listed those same factors in its 2017 Vision Zero progress report.

Law-enforcement and transportation officials have put greater emphasis on combating on distracted and impaired driving.

A Washington state law that went into effect in July 2017 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, increasing to $234 for a second offense within five years.

Allison Schwartz, a spokeswoman for SDOT’s Vision Zero program, said the agency is working with Seattle police to enforce traffic laws and reduce the number of people driving distracted or impaired. Emphasis patrols are planned this summer, Schwartz said.

In addition, SDOT is implementing signals that give pedestrians at crosswalks a three- to seven-second head start before drivers get a green light to make turns. The system, called leading pedestrian intervals, makes pedestrians in the crosswalk more visible to drivers making turns.

SDOT has equipped 43 intersections with the new systems, and has applied for grants to evaluate 140 more locations, agency spokesman Ethan Bergerson said.

In New York City, the transportation department has installed the technology at more than 2,000 intersections since 2014. A 2016 study found that deaths and serious injuries among pedestrians and bicyclists dropped nearly 40 percent at crossings with the systems.