Capitol Hill’s most dangerous places to cross the street

Late last year, SDOT put together a map of pedestrian deaths in the past five years (h/t Walking in Seattle). With two pedestrian deaths, Capitol Hill appears to be a less fatal neighborhood for walking than the Central District. Downtown, particularly on 3rd Ave, claimed the most deaths. 23rd Ave and Rainier are also dangerous streets. But looking at the relatively rare instances of pedestrian death on the Hill doesn’t really do much to show where the true problem spots exist.

Pedestrian deaths on the Hill in the last five years


Pedestrian deaths in the past five years

SDOT’s 2009 traffic report (which I wrote about a few weeks ago at Seattle Bike Blog) came out a few weeks ago. The report includes a map of all reported collisions involving people walking. This gives a better idea of the trouble spots in the neighborhood. Not surprising to see East Olive Way, lower Pine and Madison’s danger zones — but apparently you had better watch yourself near 15th and John, too.

2009 Pedestrian collisions. Blue= 1 collision, Yellow=2, Red= 3-4. Check out the full report below

While the Central District had far more pedestrian deaths, Capitol Hill had far more non-fatal collisions. Given the population density and high walkability on the Hill, it makes sense that there would be more collisions than in other neighborhoods. However, the relatively low number of deaths could be attributable to the slow driving speeds on most streets in the neighborhood. Studies have shown that the odds of a pedestrian being killed in a collision with a motor vehicle going 20 mph is about five percent. At 30 mph, the odds jump to 40 percent. At 40 mph, the odds are a devastating 85 percent.

Meanwhile, the dataset also includes kindling for the ongoing debate of who is more at fault in Capitol Hill car vs. pedestrian incidents. The first table from the citywide report shows the most commonly recorded contributing factor in the collisions from the driver’s perspective — the second focuses only on the pedestrian’s contribution to the incident.

Not yielding the right of way is by far the biggest single factor for drivers — basically, the message is in most incidents, the driver hit somebody they were supposed to have yielded to. By law. But the presentation of the data in the report also supports the contention that Hill pedestrians had better watch where they cross as crossing “outside of Xwalk” was cited as the number one contributing factor from the pedestrian side of the collision.


2009 Traffic Report

UPDATE Per T’s note below, a look at citywide data for collisions by time of day and month shows just how important light is to pedestrian safety. Our darkest, rainiest months are the most dangerous for pedestrians as are the darkest hours of the standard commute times.

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37 thoughts on “Capitol Hill’s most dangerous places to cross the street

  1. I’d like to see the non-fatal pedestrian collision data normalized for the average number of pedestrians that use that intersection.

    Are some of these just a case of very high foot traffic density having a few outlying cases? Or are there places with low to moderate foot traffic but higher than normal collisions (maybe indicating that there’s something bad about that intersection).

    Also curious about the breakdown of the time of day.

  2. I’d like to see a lot more ticketing for failure to grant ROW to pedestrians, talking on a cell phone while driving, and not stopping at stop signs. It wouldn’t be hard. Just stick a beat cop at a busy intersection to record the violations. It’d probably be a ticket every few minutes, from what I see when I’m out and about, generating thousands in revenue per day per intersection, and making our streets safer. How’s that for a way to fix the city budget crisis and fund the 99 and 520 repairs?

  3. Duh?

    This happens all the time. Two examples from this weekend.

    1. Crossing the street on Friday evening at 10th and Pine (Cal Anderson Park crossing). I am in the crosswalk, but notice that the car (crossing at 11th when I entered the crosswalk) isn’t slowing down. I continue to cross, but stop short to make sure I don’t die. The driver of the vehicle (SUV. Surprised?) lays on their horn and they speed (they were going faster than the flow of traffic around them) by without even slowing at all.

    2. Crossing at my personal least-favorite intersection, Boylston and Pine on Saturday evening. Multiple peds are in the crosswalk. Vehicles on W-bound Pine and S-bound Boylston are stopped. A vehicle (Surprise again, an SUV) speeds through the intersection without slowing and comes within inches of hitting myself & others

    Maybe an obvious solution to this problem would be to actually enforce traffic violations and driving under the influence? Just a thought. It’s really getting to the point where I feel unsafe walking around my neighborhood on Thurs, Fri, and Sat afternoon/evenings.

  4. Of the 215 collisions where drivers failed to grant right of way, how many failed to do so because they simply did not notice the pedestrian?

  5. the collisions where a pedestrian was “outside of Xwalk” when they were hit, is that defined as a marked crosswalk versus an unmarked intersection or is that all crosswalks regardless of markings? maybe i missed it but i don’t think that was defined in the report.

  6. this is definitely worth checking out. From personal experience, it seems that many drivers are unaware that they must treat unmarked intersections like those with crosswalks when it comes to granting right of way to pedestrians.

  7. Yeah, 15th and John is pretty dicey, especially at rush hour. In the evenings, people race up the hill from 12th and pass on the right (usually around 14th) to jockey for position to turn left from the right lane at 15th and continue on Thomas. They are frequently going faster than 40mph (by my reckoning from the sidewalk) when they do this.

    Another fun spot is Boren and Terrace in First Hill, which actually has pedestrian-activated caution lights. I cross there twice a day, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been honked at, flipped off, or simply driven by while in the crosswalk.

  8. Between Bellevue and Broadway, maybe speed bumps will do the trick for cars to slow down – maybe flashing yellow (or RED) lights. Something needs to be done.

  9. I work on Capitol Hill close to Seattle University. It amazes me that we don’t have more accidents/deaths in that area. Seattle U students rarely stop before crossing the street, whether it be at a crosswalk or nearest corner. I can not tell you how many near-misses I have had because someone chooses to cross the street when I am approximately 10 feet away, traveling 25mph. When I was younger and my parents taught me to cross the street what they taught was STOP, LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE CROSSING ANY STREET, EVEN CONTROLLED SIGNALS YOU NEED TO MAKE SURE CARS ARE STOPPED BEFORE STEPPING IN FRONT OF THEM. We are talking College students who feel they are invicible and own 12th avenue. Whenever there is a pedestrian accident around that particular area, I always assume it to be the pedstrians fault, based on what I witness day after day for more the 25yrs.

    Seattle U needs to teach their students/faculty how to properly cross the street. A 2500lb+ vehicle can not stop in the rain traveling at 25mph w/in 10 feet. Sorry, just can’t happen.

  10. I’m surprised more collisions aren’t attributed to driver inattention, nearly all of my misses and 100% of my hits have been because the driver didn’t see me while they were doing something stupid, like racing to make a left turn before oncoming traffic started moving, or making a right turn on red while looking to the left for traffic. Or just, you know, not paying attention to the crosswalk.
    The note about light and weather is really, really important. Drivers have a hard time seeing pedestrians at twilight and at night in poorly-lit areas (which is most of the Hill), and in rainy conditions they aren’t thinking about pedestrians *and* they’re more likely to skid when stopping. I find walking in this town on a rainy evening is about a hundred times more harrowing than walking in the rain in flat, well-lit towns.

  11. Just like the bikers in this city, many of the pedestrians (of which I am one) feel entitled to the roads more than the cars. Very often, the person in the car simply doesn’t see a pedestrian until they are already defiantly crossing the street wondering why no one is stopping.

    A responsible pedestrian looks both ways, makes sure ALL cars are stopped before crossing, and then walks. Simple.

    I’m not saying drivers aren’t at fault at all, but the peds need to take some responsibility too.

  12. I also would like to add (as a pedestrian myself) that when it’s dark or stormy outside it helps to exercise some common sense when you can about your apparel. Try not to wear all black when it’s dark out, or try to put something bright/reflective on your outerwear to increase your visibility. While I have had a couple of near misses from absent-minded drivers, I’ve also been behind the wheel and witnessed just how hard it can be to see someone when the weather conditions are so severe. Just like cyclists need to make sure they’re visible, so do peds!

  13. Hey, yelling person, I observe probably 90 percent of pedestrians yeilding, looking both ways, and then crossing. Sadly, when you have someone that feels as if they actually OWN (I can do it too) the road, that person doesn’t give half a shit about someone else’s life.

    Before you call me, or other people that spend more time walking than you do, stupid maybe consider the following:

    Yeild to pedestrians at ALL intersections (it’s the law)
    Stop at stop signs and lights (it’s the law)
    Don’t speed (it’s the law)
    Don’t park on the sidewalk (it’s the law)
    Don’t park in bike lanes (it’s the law)

    It doesn’t feel to good to be talked down to, now does it?

    You may experience pedestrians doing things that are stupid a few times a week (and these people need to learn to not be stupid) and think it’s an epidemic. I see drivers doing all of the above on a daily basis to no consequence. Maybe we have a right to complain about our lives being threatened, yeah?

  14. Agree that pedestrians need to yield too, Xtine, but look at the data in the post. 215 failure to yield ROW by cars, only 52 by pedestrians. The data says that it is much more often the cars fault. Cars are x4 more likely to be at fault due to failure to yield when they don’t have right of way than pedestrians when there is a collision between a car and a pedestrian. So, the problem here is clearly mostly that cars are failing to yield when they do not have the right of way, not that pedestrians are failing to be sufficiently careful.

  15. …or at the very least (especially if you are like me, and basically everything you own is black/grey/Seattle camouflage) make it a point to walk opposing traffic when possible and ALWAYS shoulder check before crossing at an intersection to make sure no one is coming up behind you about to turn into your crosswalk.

    I absolutely agree pedestrians have responsibility for being prudent and visible (and can appreciate this, since I drive occasionally myself). My problem is really with the overt aggression/disregard for peds on the part of drivers that I unfortunately witness almost daily. That is inexcusable.

  16. as the controller of a machine that has the potential to cripple and kill, you, as a driver, are held to a higher standard. there’s a reason that you have to get tested and licensed to drive a vehicle; it’s why we don’t let 10 y/o kids drive. the operation of your vehicle in a safe manner is ALL your responsibility. you are expected to modify your behavior if conditions warrant it. such as when you’re driving in an area that has high pedestrian traffic like capitol hill.

    can’t see very far when it’s raining, reduce your speed then you can react more quickly. have a hard time coming to a stop on 12th from 25mph within a 10 foot distance, slow down (especially if you know people are just going to walk out in front of your car). just because the sign says “speed limit – 25mph” doesn’t mean that’s how fast you must drive. slow down and pay attention.

  17. I can’t follow all these charts and graphs you are so fond of publishing. Can you please just tell us which intersections are dangerous on the hill? THank you.

  18. …how bent out of shape drivers get about having to stop for the occasional pedestrian, or having to slightly give way in a lane to accommodate a bicyclist. Yes, if it were constant, it would get annoying. But it’s not. Besides, you’re in a climate controlled box, while the folks outside are taking on the elements and exerting themselves. Value judgments about driving vs walking vs biking aside, the driver’s ‘inconvenience’ amounts to a minuscule caloric expenditure to press a break pedal, then another to again move your foot to the accelerator a couple of seconds later. What’s the big deal again?

  19. I think most drivers are well-aware that they must stop for a pedestrians crossing at an unmarked intersection. They just “pretend” that they don’t know so that they can continue on with their oh-so-busy and important lives.

  20. First of all, oiseau, nowhere in tiredinseattle’s post did he/she call a pedestrian “stupid”….that’s your word.

    I think a contributing factor along 12th between Madison and Jefferson, adjacent to Seattle U, is that every intersection has either a marked cross walk or a traffic light, and drivers understandably get a little impatient (this is not to condone not stopping when needed). This is probably necessary, because the students will cross regardless of whether the intersection is marked, but at the same time it is part of the problem.

  21. Kerry, the “incidents” that occur when a driver is turning right at a traffic light are almost always the result of the pedestrian not obeying the “walk-don’t walk” signal. When the red hand starts flashing, it means “do not cross” but it is often ignored by the oh-so-busy-and-important pedestrian, greatly increasing the chance of an incident or even an injury.

  22. @calhoun I don’t think that’s true. It seems like there’s a lot of confusion about this — especially for people who aren’t from areas where there’s a lot of pedestrian traffic (i.e., outside downtown areas). I notice this question coming up a lot on the Seattle PI’s “Getting There” traffic blog, for example January 2010.

    People don’t think about pedestrians at all (except as a source of irritation) unless they’ve been one themselves.

  23. @mike.silva Agreed. Especially when the consequences are so dire. It’s easy to say (or post internet comments about) things like “pedestrians who are stupid enough to dart into traffic should get run over!!!1!!,” but the reality of a dead person — an actual dead human being, can’t possibly be justified.

    Also, you’d think they’d realize hitting someone would leave a heck of a dent in their car.

  24. @calhoun:
    This has not been my experience. 99% of the right turn near-misses and hits I’ve seen (and experienced) have been where the pedestrian had a walk signal and the driver was not paying attention. Usually it’s a driver who’s been eager to make a right on red for the duration of the light, and once it turns green they gun it, not bothering to look for people first. I see this play out nearly every time I stand at the northwest corner of Denny and Olive Way, and have seen cars brush back pedestrians while careening around that corner. I also frequently yell at drivers for doing this on Pike and 12th. I used to work near a corner with a dedicated walk phase for the signal sequence, with red lights for all the drivers. Nearly every day I had to yell at some inattentive driver trying to make a right on red during the walk phase, and twice I was hit by cars failing to see me before they made their turn.
    Also, when the light starts to flash, it means don’t *start* walking, not that people aren’t allowed to be in the intersection. It means you have a set amount of time until the light turns red, if you want to sprint across the street that’s your prerogative, you still have a right to be in the crosswalk. Drivers are still required to yield to pedestrians until the solid don’t walk is displayed.

  25. There are numerous traffic and pedestrian rules that are rarely enforced because the Police don’t have enough people to deal with minor crimes. One would hope that, as considerate citizens, we would follow these laws without enforcement as they protect ourselves and others. But a growing percentage of people are selfish barbarians. Their only interest is to satisfy their wants and needs and everyone else is just an obstacle (road kill). Words cannot express the depth of reckless stupidity I see every day on the part of drivers (Speeding, not yielding, not signaling, not signaling, not signaling, not signaling, etc.). But I see it every day from an increasing number of pedestrians as well (running across the middle of the street, ignoring walk signals, walking off the curb at a corner without “Stop, Look, Listen”—apparently their mothers didn’t love them enough to teach them that. Or maybe, just maybe its the bloody ear-buds that drown out everything around them.
    Driving or walking is a community event. As we move through the landscape, we influence all sorts of other people. And we must act with the welfare and safety of all. Let’s not be barbarians.

  26. @tiredinseattle,
    My view is that if you can’t stop quickly enough for an unaware pedestrian, you are not driving safely, slowly, or aware enough yourself. (Note: For the sake of this argument, someone trying to commit suicide by jumping in front of your car at the last second is very much aware of your existence so I’m excluding them.)

    The person wielding the deadly weapon has the responsibility to not endanger other people, even those clueless, self-absorbed pedestrians that are completely unaware of the existence of you, your car, or anyone else outside their iPhone bubble.

  27. That last paragraph is a classic example of some pedestrians feeling entitled. Yes, when a pedestrian is already in the crosswalk when the “red hand” starts flashing, obviously they can continue, but those still on the curb should obey the law and stop walking. There is a good reason for this…it creates a little “window” for the right-turning cars (who have a green light still) to turn on to the intersecting street, thereby improving traffic flow.

    Ideally, there should be a balance between the legal rights of pedestrians and drivers, but only if both parties respect and obey the laws.