The city's annual report shows that the push to shift people from driving alone to other forms of transportation is working in some cases, but not at fast enough rates to meet its safety goals or meaningfully change personal habits.
Transit ridership went up. Traffic volumes went down. More people were hurt while walking. Fewer collisions occurred on Seattle’s streets overall.
The Seattle Department of Transportation‘s 2018 Traffic Report released last week shows that the city’s push to shift people from driving alone to other forms of transportation is working in some cases, but not at fast enough rates to meet its safety goals or meaningfully change personal habits.
The number of cars on the road, according to city counts, decreased by 1.8 percent from 2016 to 2017 even while more than 9,000 people moved to Seattle in the same time frame. Overall, the city tracked a daily average of more than 1 million vehicles in 2017.
Still, the number of commuters who drove alone remains higher than the city wants, decreasing only 1 percentage point from 2017, to 51 percent.
And despite the population increase, the percentage of Seattle residents who biked to work has continued to decline, from 5 percent in 2014 to 2.8 percent in 2017, based on answers from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey.
Critics point to that dwindling figure as evidence of a lack of public demand for spending city money on biking infrastructure, while biking advocates argue that more investment will lead to more ridership.
After nearly a year of study and readjustment of its $930 million Move Seattle levy, which voters approved in 2015, the Seattle Department of Transportation will scale back the promised 50 miles of protected bike lanes and 60 miles of less-costly bike infrastructure to about half of those miles.
The annual traffic report cited “historic wet weather that lasted through April” as a potential factor in the bicycling decrease, and figures that show Seattle residents may be riding bikes “on a portion of their commute trip.”
At the Fremont Bridge, one of the most popular routes for bike commuters, traffic fell 2 percent in 2017, to fewer than 1 million rides.
Meanwhile, transit ridership climbed to 25 percent of all commutes, the survey found. On King County Metro, there were nearly 7 million more boardings in 2017 than in the previous year, and Sound Transit boardings increased by more than 4 million. The number of people who carpooled also rose.
Walking to work, however, is slightly down.
Seattle is part of the nationwide Vision Zero Network, a plan to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030, and the report offered a mixed bag. While the number of pedestrians who were hit decreased, the number who were seriously injured or killed increased from 66 to 73 in 2017, among the 308,679 pedestrians counted.
“Issues like impairment, speeding, distraction, and failure to yield to pedestrians continue to be the primary contributing factors,” that cause drivers to hit people walking, SDOT wrote in a blog post.
Safety for bicyclists improved modestly. Of those seriously injured, 19 were riding a bike, down from 26 in 2016. Two bicyclists were killed last year.
In addition, there were 19 road fatalities and 168 serious injuries last year, about on par with previous years.
In five spots throughout Seattle, drivers speed at chronically high rates, creating a safety hazard for others using the road, the report noted. They are:
- First Avenue South at South Spokane Street
- Aurora Avenue North at North 112th Street
- North 145th Street near Linden Ave North
- The Spokane Street Bridge near Southwest Spokane Street
- West Marginal Way Southwest near Highland Park Way Southwest
Drivers in those five areas consistently drove at higher than 40 miles per hour. Research has found the chance of survival upon impact significantly decreases when vehicles are traveling over 40 mph.
In several of those spots, walking is frequent and routine.
For example, on 145th Street near Linden Avenue in Shoreline, passengers may be crossing the street as they walk through the Interurban Trail or walking along the road to reach an E Line transit stop.
Aurora Avenue North near North 112th Street in the Bitter Lake neighborhood runs next to a cemetery.
SDOT collects speed data for traffic-safety investigations, to make decisions about future projects and design, and to evaluate completed projects.