Making Seattle Streets Crash-Proof

This Seattle Times article highlights a perspective that most Seattleites would likely have difficulty understanding.

The topic is reducing deaths and injuries from driving, bicycling, walking. What city would Seattle be smart to copy? What city does traffic safety better than Seattle? What city has been slowly reducing driver, bicyclist, and pedestrian deaths and injuries for a century? What city provides a walk-to-the grocery experience for most of its residents? What city provides easy public transportation to almost everyone who lives there?

OK, if you haven’t guessed yet, the answer is New York City.

What’s so hot about New York? How about more sidewalks? All five of New York’s boroughs have sidewalks on nearly all of their streets. Compare that with Seattle’s streets north of Northgate and south of South Park.

How about timed pedestrian signals that enable pedestrians to time their street-crossing more effectively? Yes, we’re starting to see more and more of these in Seattle, but they are still the exception, not the rule.

How about pedestrian-only paths and elevated trails? New York has converted abandoned rail lines to very popular pedestrian bikeway/walkways that attract tourists.

Another thing that distinguishes New York from Seattle is the per-capita policing figures. Beginning with a ramp-up of police in 1990, New York led the nation in per-capita police staffing with 53 per 10,000 citizens in 2000. Seattle reported 23 police officers per 10,000 in 2000 – less than half the coverage for pulling-over and ticketing careless drivers and harassing errant pedestrians.

Seattle still believes that if you build an expensive tunnel under our waterfront drivers will come and pay a high toll. What about New York? The simple answer: “Not so much.” New York reflects a different sensibility: “Even if we’re providing more pedestrian opportunities than ever, the more we provide the more people flock to walk.”

The reason we get expensive car tunnels and New York gets bike paths is their emphasis on reducing traffic fatalities. The federal transportation budget allocates less than 1% of yearly spending to bike and pedestrian transportation. As a result, nationally, per-capita pedestrian deaths in the U.S. are 3 times higher than in Germany, and 5 times higher than in the Netherlands.

So what is Seattle doing right? Though it may make auto-lovers unhappy, there’s no doubt that parking in downtown Seattle has become more difficult and more expensive year after year after year. Parking in areas around light-rail stations is limited by the local-residents-only sticker system. The red-light-runner capture cameras are becoming more and more ubiquitous. Another burr under the driver’s saddle is having to deal with an out-of-state collection agency when a parking ticket is lost or forgotten. You may get your car boot-impounded if you don’t pay your parking tickets. You will also get collection letters from Diamond Parking if they think you didn’t put enough money into their lot-payment machines. The list goes on and on and on.

We are sending a very clear message to people in Seattle: if you drive we will play a very expensive cat-and-mouse game with you to extract more and more non-tax revenue for every mile driven. So far, nicey-nice Seattleites aren’t minding this death-by-1000-cuts, so expect more of the same!

Want safer streets, Seattle? Want to save your hard-earned money? Want to reduce your stress? Park your cars and walk.

For more ideas about getting about safely and what to do if you’re in a crash go to

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One Response to Making Seattle Streets Crash-Proof

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