Citywide speed limit reductions are coming to Seattle streets — UPDATE

Council member Mike O'Brien announces the speed change proposal on First Hill. (Image: CHS)

Council member Mike O’Brien announces the speed change proposal on First Hill. (Image: CHS)

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-9-33-57-amUPDATE: Some of Capitol Hill’s busiest streets are poised to get a 5 MPH speed limit reduction as part of a larger speed reduction proposal announced by city officials Tuesday. Speed limits on Capitol Hill’s arterial streets would be reduced from 30 MPH to 25 MPH, which includes E Pike, E Pine, Broadway, Madison, E Union, 15th, 12th, and Bellevue among others.

Seattle officials announced speeds on all residential streets would be reduced from 25 MPH to 20 MPH — the same speed limit as school zones, which will remain unchanged. Officials said that slowing vehicles down by even 5 MPH can be significant in improving survival rates in collisions.

“Speed kills,” said Council member Tim Burgess during a media event outside the Horizon House on First Hill. The City Council’s transportation committee is slated to take up the legislation on September 20th.

Council member Mike O’Brien, who chairs the City Council’s transportation committee, said he was confident the speed change legislation would be approved by City Council within a month. Once the legislation is passed, around 500 new speed limit signs will be installed at $200-$300 per sign. The city would then enter a warning period before police officers begin enforcing the new speeds. The move is part of Mayor Ed Murray’s Vision Zero plan to end traffic deaths by 2030

Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly said vehicle travel times should only increase by a couple minutes.

O’Brien said the change was not meant to discourage people from using cars, but to encourage people to walk or bike. “Today I know there are people that want to walk more or bike more in the city, but they don’t feel safe doing it,” he said.

Arterial street speed limit reductions will eventually be proposed for outside the city center area, Kubly said.

Original report: Five out of ten pedestrians will survive getting struck by a vehicle traveling 30 MPH. That jumps to nine of ten when the vehicle is traveling 20 MPH. In an effort to completely eliminate traffic-related fatalities in Seattle, City officials are planning to reduce speed limits on all residential and arterial streets across the city.

Survivors of pedestrian-vehicle collisions will join City Council members and transit officials Tuesday afternoon on First Hill to announce the speed reductions. Capitol Hill has several well documented hotspots for pedestrian-vehicle collisions.

Seattle’s current speed limit on residential streets is 25 MPH and 30 MPH on arterial streets unless otherwise posted.

Downtown was the first area that was supposed to see speed reductions as part of the plan announced last year. At the time, officials promised a “data-driven approach” to determine which routes are most in need of new measures. The simplest will be lowering speed limits.

Pedestrians have a much better chance to survive when vehicles are traveling at lower speeds and drivers have more time to see and react to other road users. By reviewing and changing our speed limits when appropriate, we can create consistent speed limits on our arterial streets, improve safety for everyone and reduce the severity of all collisions.

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33 thoughts on “Citywide speed limit reductions are coming to Seattle streets — UPDATE

  1. I’m a huge fan of the “20 is Plenty” campaign. There should be signs everywhere!

    Our city is tiny and compact. There is no reason to drive over 20 on side streets and even on many of our arterials. Driving over 20 saves little time but reduces risks to pedestrians. I’m all for this.

  2. It’s always shocking to see people try and speed along our narrow (often 1 lane!) neighborhood streets. How on earth do you expect to be able to see a car door opening or a kid stepping out onto the street? If you feel need to speed on our quiet neighborhood streets just admit to yourself that you left too late and do better next time.

  3. An additional change I would like to see citywide is to re-time the ‘Walk’ lights so that they lead the vehicle Green light as they do on the part of Broadway with the bile lane. This gives pedestrians a chance to get in to the intersection and be more visible to turning vehicles. As a driver and walker I really like this.

    • This is not going to make much of a difference, because our streets are already so congested that it’s often impossible to drive anywhere near the speed limit…..especially true for arterials.

      I’m irritated by the proliferation of all those “20 is plenty”-type signs on our neighborhood streets. They do nothing to affect driver behavior, but they add alot of visual pollution to our streetscapes.

    • This is Seattle. Pedestrians don’t have to look to their personal safety and can just step out into streets at any moment without fear of large heavy objects squishing them. Unless it’s a bus or streetcar, then it’s your fault.

    • As a pedestrian who is super-careful and diligent, I find your attempt to victim-blame us for speeding cars to be really disgusting and factually unsubstantiated.

    • Eli, I’m writing as a pedestrian who lives and walks every day in the Pine/Pike area, I find your attempt to distract from the fact a huge majority of people around here step defiantly off the curb in front of oncoming traffic going under the speed limit, disingenuous. There are both pedestrians and vehicle operators that could use a refresher in manners.

    • Well see ERF – it’s not about manners, it’s about the traffic laws – You do know that as a driver you don’t generally have the legal right of way right at a crosswalk? And remember, that’s any place where streets intersect, marked with white lines or not. When a person comes to an intersection and shows intent to cross – mainly by stepping off of the curb into the crosswalk – and again remember that’s marked or unmarked- law abiding drivers are supposed to stop for them. That very, very rarely actually happens. If you try to cross the street at an intersection that doesn’t have a light without “stepping defiantly off of the curb” 99% of drivers will simply completely ignore you. The only thing you cannot do as a pedestrian is bolt out in front of a vehicle that has no possibility of stopping. If they can stop they are supposed to, so your “rude” pedestrians are actually right pedestrians. Stepping off of the curb is exactly what you are supposed to do. The drivers are the ones who are wrong and adding to it by honking, accelerating at people, yelling at them etc. makes them wrong and rude.

      Just remember that – while we pedestrians shouldn’t trust drivers at all and certainly shouldn’t endanger ourselves, we also shouldn’t feel at all bad about asserting ourselves. We have the right of way.

    • As a person who commutes as a pedestrian about 95% of the time, I have the opportunity to see a lot of very inconsiderate and dangerous behavior committed by my fellow pedestrians, by cyclists, and by drivers. The thing that never ceases to amaze me is that people seem to be oblivious to others. Pedestrians walk out in front of cars because they are looking at their phones, cyclists don’t obey stop signs or traffic signals, and drivers are sometimes inattentive or speed. I have to say that cyclists are the worst about not stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks (marked and unmarked). If everyone paid more attention and was mindful of others, I don’t think we would need these very costly and unnecessary measures.

    • @ CD neighbor…..I take issue with your assertion that drivers stopping for pedestrians happens “very, very rarely.” On my daily walk around Capitol Hill, I see this happening all the time, both for me and others. Yes, some drivers ignore me and stare straight ahead, but many do the right thing.

    • I certainly don’t have that same effect on motorists. I could stand at the corner all day long and if it’s not a light controlled one, most drivers would simply act like I don’t exist… I feel very much like I *must* step out, more than off of the curb, basically in front of cars, to get anyone to even slow down for me. Maybe I really am invisible…. but seriously it happens so rarely that it is a big surprise when a driver slows down of their own accord to allow me to cross the street.

    • It is the pedestrian’s responsibility to signal their intention to cross now by stepping into the street (where possible) and making eye contact with the driver. When you do this, more often than not the driver will yield. But often I observe pedestrians sort-of loitering on the sidewalk, looking anywhere but the driver, not clear if they want to cross or not….and in these instances the driver is likely to ignore them.

  4. Living on 11th, I feel so sad watching kids try to play basketball on what should be a quiet suburban street — but instead is a drag race strip for speeding cars who really should be on 12th.

    One day they’ll run into the street and be killed.

    On a 20 mph street, the cars are way more likely to yield.

    Of course, changing the rules (and leaving the streets unchanged) has little-to-no impact on driver behavior.

    • So a road in one of the densest neighborhoods in the nation’s 15th largest metro area “should be a quiet suburban street?”. I agree with the 20mph but that expectation is a lot. I get it people move from the suburbs and expect the same lack of traffic and quiet but it ain’t gonna happen.

    • It’s already happened in tons of other cities — why would it not happen here?

      Have you actually been to even the West End of Vancouver? Or anywhere in Portland outside of the downtown? Or, hell, anywhere in Sweden or the Netherlands, where 18 mph is the de facto standard for non-arterial streets?

      Of course, people biking, playing and walking on a side-street adjacent to Cal Anderson park should not have cars speeding by 30-35 mph — they can go one block off an arterial street.

      This is elementary traffic calming solved by a $1,500 speed hump or two. It’s not rocket science.

    • I was talking about your expectation that a inner city street be like a suburban street. Your quote: “Living on 11th, I feel so sad watching kids try to play basketball on what should be a quiet suburban street”.

      I said that 20mph is fine, but the expectation of a street with so little traffic as to allow basketball games is silly. This isn’t a cul de sac. There will be cars.

    • And yes, I have actually been to Portland, Vancouver BC, and the Netherlands. I am aware of it. I must have missed the basketball games in the middle of the street. Normally children don’t play in the street, even in the Netherlands. Because you can get hit by a bicycle too!

    • and constantly changing lanes and driving close on the freeway not only doesn’t save you time, it actually makes all traffic go slower… but just try to tell that to someone who does it. Unfortunately telling people the facts usually just makes believe even more in their fallacy.

  5. I have literally never seen a cop actually pull someone over for speeding or running a red light in Seattle. Not sure what good lowering the speed limits will do if we don’t have cops available or willing to enforce them.

    • You must not walk around the hill much then. I see it every now and again, and just saw 3 different cop cars cruising around Pine and Broadway while walking to get my lunch.

    • Cruising around doesn’t = traffic stops – did you actually see any of those cops stop someone for a traffic violation? I walk quite a lot – Capitol Hill, CD, downtown and very rarely see traffic stops, even when the violation happens right in front of a cruiser.

      I get it that beat officers generally have far more pressing things to do than issue traffic citations, but I also agree that lowering the speed limits without reinforcing it with tickets is useless. Drivers generally already speed – keep an eye on those electronic speed signs – 40 in 30 represents the majority, so signs and laws alone obviously don’t do a thing. If you ask me, the only thing that will make a difference is speed cams… always there, always working.

    • i agree with @trevor and @cd neighbor, i rarely see police stopping motorists for speeding and/or running lights/stops. and i too walk a lot around capitol hill, downtown and south lake union.

      if we’re going to get people to slow down it will require more than just new signs. it means that there will need to be a concerted, lasting effort to ticket those people who fail to slow down.

      and to @caphill’s comment above, if this change were about generating more revenue for the city they’d already have police out issuing tickets like mad; because many people fail to obey the current posted speed limits as it is.

  6. Good luck with this. Not a darn thing will change…and the only reason you see police cars on the hill is because they’re leaving the East Precinct to get to somewhere else. The only ‘cops’ the Hill gets are parking cops. Another photo opportunity to show our leaders patting themselves on the back while doing absolutely nothing. $150K for signs, $137K for a director of homeless, untold thousands for colorful crosswalks, soon we’ll be talking real money. So much better can be done with those amounts.

    • Amen. My employer in Eastlake has been trying for months to get SPD to roust the illegal homeless encampment/open drug market/stolen bike chop shop out from behind our building. We have been repeatedly told by SPD that they are understaffed and unable to respond unless it is a 911-worthy emergency. How they would ever find spare cops to enforce new speed limit is beyond me.

  7. They psychology of this is really fun.There are not enough police officers to enforce speed and basic traffic rules with everything else going on in this city. The more Eddy and Scotty approve road diets lesser limits, and ‘vision zero’ smoke and mirrors – the more speeders will turn to the paths (and streets) of least resistance.

  8. All for the lowering of speed on residential streets but definitely not arterials. As it is people are already doing 20 on the main streets and it is driving me crazy. How about cops ticket people going under the limit especially Uber drivers that stop mid street on a whim. Fuck this bullshit, it’s impossible to drive in this neighborhood now. Probably explains why people are speeding on quiter streets.

    • which arterials and at what time of day? if you mean rush hour, then that’s a different topic/problem. but i’ve seen people speeding on pike, pine, madison, broadway, 12th and 15th most times of the day. and it’s not illegal to drive below the speed limit on city streets.

      sounds like you have a bit of a road rage problem. it’s not impossible to drive in the neighborhood; many people do so. the difference is that other people understand that the earth is populated by other humans and so they modify their behavior to drive a little slower, allow for more time and generally be understanding of others.

      but i guess if all else fails you could indeed “fuck this bullshit” and go move yourself to a suburb where you can have wide boulevards with no pedestrians and can tear ass around in yer car!