District 2 Bears the Brunt of Seattle’s Traffic Deaths


by Lizz Giordano

A car accident in SODO cost the life of a pedestrian a little over three weeks by 2021. Days later, another traffic death occurred within the same block. Two months later, a semi-trailer truck collided with a cyclist on the industrial streets of Georgetown, marking another fatality in the South End, where the deaths quickly overtook other areas of the city.

In April, a motorist escaped from the scene of a fatal accident involving a cyclist near Seward Park. Another person died early one morning in June after an SUV hit a man on Airport Way South. Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) and police blogs reveal that another pedestrian was killed near the Columbia City light rail station a few days later.

Six months after 2021, more than half of all traffic fatalities in Seattle occurred in Council District 2, which includes Rainier Valley, SODO and parts of Chinatown / International District.

District 2 is more neglected than other areas, according to KL Shannon, a community organizer for the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways bicycle and pedestrian group.

“I feel like a lot of this has to do with the fact that it’s mostly a BIPOC community. SDOT has made some improvements, but not much, ”said Shannon. “We could do better: add zebra crossings, delete the middle lane and push for more protected bike paths.”

Six years ago, the city passed Vision Zero – a nationwide campaign to end road deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Since then, the number of road deaths has not changed, with the number of pedestrians and cyclists increasing but the number of people inside vehicles decreasing .

Average annual death toll per district 2004-2020. Data via SDOT.

A South Seattle Emerald analysis of police-reported collision data shows that in each of the other seven counties, an average of 1.5 to 3.5 people die from injuries sustained in accidents during a typical year. In District 2, that number doubles.

When Robert Getch moved to Beacon Hill a few years ago after living on Capitol Hill and Fremont, he immediately noticed a difference in the streets.

“It seemed like the quality of the streets, the speed people drove and the width of the streets were very different from other parts of the city,” said Getch, co-chair of Beacon Hill Safe Streets, a hyperlocal branch from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways (SNG).

According to accident data, two of the city’s four most dangerous streets pass through District 2: Rainier Avenue South and Martin Luther King Jr. Way South. In the past decade and a half, about a third of road deaths and a quarter of crashes in the South End have occurred along these two roads.

“It doesn’t surprise me, and I think it shouldn’t surprise people, that some of our busiest, high-traffic roads where we experience more serious and fatal accidents also share color communities,” said Allison Schwartz, Vision Zero coordinator at SDOT . “Much of it has to do with a lot of urban planning and institutional racism that goes back decades.”

SNG and SDOT agree that reducing speed is key to reducing injuries and deaths. Both point to an AAA study that found that the likelihood of death increases dramatically as the vehicle speed increases.

“Well over 90% of our arteries in Seattle are signed at 25 mph as a direct correlation to that survivability,” said Schwartz.

SDOT has spent the last year and a half changing signs on busy roads to reflect a lower speed limit of 25 mph. The new policy will apply to most of the city’s thoroughfares, according to SDOT, and will also reduce speed on smaller roads to 20 miles per hour.

“We have seen positive progress with citywide speed limits. Putting up new signs is the first of many steps in controlling speeds, ”added Schwartz.

SDOT has also added crosswalks and sections of. slimmed down Rainier Avenue South from Columbia City to Rainier Beach. By giving the former federal highway a “street diet” by eliminating one lane, SDOT hoped to make the lane appear smaller – another approach to slowing down drivers. In many areas, the secondary lane has become a lane for right-turners and buses.

SDOT claims these security projects are slowing down and suggesting early results on the data being collected. Shannon, the organizer of SNG, disagrees.

“The drivers aren’t slowing down,” said Shannon. “If you stand along Rainier Avenue, you will see drivers going at least 40 to 45 mph,” Shannon said. “It hasn’t changed; it hasn’t changed at all. “

She wants Rainier Avenue to be redesigned to give more space for cyclists and pedestrians.

Pedestrians continue to bear the brunt of the city’s road deaths. Analysis of Emerald’s SDOT data shows that walking is responsible for nearly 40% of deaths, despite being involved in less than 5% of all collisions.

“If we’re really talking about no more fatalities – no more pedestrians being injured – then more money needs to be put into Vision Zero,” Shannon said.

Lizz Giordano is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Seattle’s Rainier Valley who specializes in transit and housing. She can be reached here and more of her work can be found here.

📸 Featured Image: In the past decade and a half, about a third of road deaths and a quarter of collisions have occurred in the South End along Rainier Avenue South or Martin Luther King Jr Way South. Pictured here where they cross these are two of the busiest streets in town. (Photo: Lizz Giordano)

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