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Serious crashes on major arterials in Capitol Hill, Central District and First Hill area up from 2018, long road to Vision Zero, SDOT data shows

In April, a car seriously injured a bicyclist at the intersection of 24th Ave E and E Madison. A few months later, a driver was severely hurt in a crash just a couple of hundred feet up the street, on the intersection of 23rd Ave E and E John St.

The locations of these two crashes don’t just point to the places where lives were wrecked. They also offer a first glimpse into the traffic pain points on Capitol Hill, which have clustered on and near Madison in the first six months of 2019, data from the Seattle Department of Transportation show. The Seattle Times first reported on the data.

The two crashes are among the 98 serious or fatal collisions that happened in the first half of 2019. Ten people were killed in traffic. 88 were seriously injured, of which six on Capitol Hill, four on First Hill and eight in the Central District (including a sliver south of I-90). The dataset showed no fatalities in these neighborhoods in the first half of this year.

One important caveat, per SDOT: The data the department provided are preliminary. Usually, there’s a “pretty rigorous auditing process” in which SDOT works with officials from the Seattle Police Department, Washington State Department of Transportation, Washington State Patrol and hospitals to review and filter out discrepancies for a report that comes out at year-end, SDOT said.

Still, the data provides a glimpse into Seattle’s long road to Vision Zero, its plan to end traffic deaths and serious injuries on city streets by 2030, and problem zones for Capitol Hill, the Central District and First Hill, particularly on or near arterials.

Though arterials are generally hotspots for crashes, the total number of serious crashes on major arterials in the Capitol Hill/CD/First Hill area (plus a sliver of the ID) — Boren, Broadway, 12th, 23rd, Rainier, Pike/Pine, Madison and Jackson — is already higher than last year’s total and hovering near the totals for 2017 and 2015. City-wide, there have been more crashes in the first half of this year than during the same period in the previous four years.

Most Capitol Hill/CD/First Hill area 2019 crashes happened on E Madison, 23rd, a stretch of Rainier going north from I-90 and just below (though the famously treacherous street is more deadly and dangerous in the Southend), as well as S Jackson in the CD/ID. Another cluster of crashes is concentrated near Swedish hospital, with one crash on Boren and three within a two-block radius.

SDOT is already working to address some of the issues this year and next with smaller interventions such as installing “Leading Pedestrian Intervals” systems allowing pedestrians a 3-7 second head start in the crosswalk before drivers get the green light across the city, as well as major redesigns of corridors such as Madison Ave E BRT project.

The redesign of Madison is needed, 2019 data suggests. Just in the past six months, three crashes happened on the street, one involving a cyclist.

Some slightly better news among the tragedies: No crashes were reported on Pine or Pike East of I-5, continuing a decrease since 2016. Broadway has seen less serious crashes since that year as well, with one exception involving two cars in 2018. Another serious crash at the same location seriously injuring a pedestrian this year suggests the busy intersection can still be dangerous.

Though generally, traffic deaths and serious injuries have trended slightly downward between 2016 and 2018, this year’s data for the Capitol Hill/CD/First Hill area as well as the total number of 2019 crashes suggest Seattle is far from reaching goals laid out in “Vision Zero.”

“I think our track record is great and we’ve had obviously a population that’s increased significantly over the last few years,” said Jim Curtin, Director of Project Development at SDOT. “So while the absolute numbers are of concern to us, we don’t feel like Vision Zero is out of reach.”

But, Curtin said, “We have a lot of work to do to get to Vision Zero.”

With multiple road and safety improvement projects underway in Capitol Hill and the Central District, the city has its work cut out for the next couple of years.

That work includes outfitting many more traffic lights with LPI’s. SDOT wants to install them in 150 locations across the city by 2021. There are currently 60 systems installed, including, most recently, on a 2.3 mile stretch on Rainier Avenue South in the Rainier Valley. Though most tend to cluster near downtown, there’s also one at 17th Avenue and East Madison Street — the first one ever installed in the city.

Madison will get more LPI’s in the next couple of years, Curtin said, even before the Madison Bus Rapid Transit corridor project (which includes a major overhaul of the street from downtown to the Madison Valley and the addition of a RapidTransit line) projected finish date in 2022.

“We’re looking at a few things,” including LPI’s, “we can do sooner rather than later,” Curtin said.

The Madison BRT corridor overhaul, slated to start in June of next year, should also tackle some problem zones near Madison intersections with 23rd and 24th. “We have some pretty well-documented collision patterns out there involving turning vehicles and pedestrians,” Curtin said, adding that the signaling system there today is “ancient and needs to be replaced.”

This will happen through making crosswalks across the street shorter, as well as bike and pedestrian improvements at key intersections in including 12th Ave and 24th Ave.

The Madison BRT project will also include a new protected bike lane on E Union.

Curtin said protected bike lanes, by organizing the roadway, increase safety for everyone on the road by increasing structure, predictability and protecting turns at all intersections and shorter distances for crossing pedestrians, and added that SDOT is working on getting “those protected bike lanes up to Capitol Hill via Pike and Pine,” part of the work SDOT is doing on the Center City Bike Network. 

“We’re still working out the details, but we are going to go to construction on that in late September,” he said.

That should be good news for pedestrians as well. Nearly half of all 2019 incidents in the area comprising Capitol Hill, First Hill and the Central District involve pedestrians (a little more than the city-wide 2019 average of 40%).

Another early 2019 hotspot, 23rd, will also see upgrades, part of the 23rd Ave Corridor Improvements project. Between John St and SR 520, SDOT will add new protected eastbound left-turn signal phase at 23rd Ave E/E John St., curb ramps, and crossing improvements. Work is slated to start in the spring of 2020.

In the South, the 23rd Ave changes are more significant. While planned to be ready earlier this spring, construction— including sidewalk, curb ramp and signal pole work — is still underway.

Safety in the Rainier/23rd area near I-90 will be critical, as the two arterials will be the main access points to new Judkins Park light rail station slated to open in 2023. Sound Transit projects at least 45% of riders will be coming and going on foot or by bicycle, 42% by bus.

But, Curtin suggested, physical street improvements alone won’t get the city all the way to Vision Zero. Out of 97 severe crashes in early 2019 (SDOT said it would likely filter the carjacking and shooting incident in Lake City earlier this spring out of the dataset) nearly one fifth involved someone under influence, and in over 10% of cases, Police noted “inattention indicators.” In eight cases, failure to yield was a factor, and in nine, speeding.

Curtin said SDOT would work with the Police Department later this year to do “emphasis patrols” for drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians.

“We want to engineer our streets for slower speeds so that pedestrians and bicyclists are less exposed to traffic,” he said. “But we also need people who are out there to be sober and paying attention.”

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16 thoughts on “Serious crashes on major arterials in Capitol Hill, Central District and First Hill area up from 2018, long road to Vision Zero, SDOT data shows

  1. Hate me all you want cyclists/pedestrians but the other day 2 people on rented bikes went roaring through the red light at 12th & Madison and a minute later a woman walking crossed at a red light on Pine & 12th, headphones in and looking down at a phone. When do they take responsibility for their actions?

      • Yes, they hurt me who was driving and was scared to death. I driving very slowly and still could have hit and possibly hurt them. Of course they hurt people. They are arrogant, they don’t follow the laws, they don’t follow the whole system we have set up to protect them. Give me a break.

    • I don’t hate you. As a cyclist, a pedestrian and a driver I’d be extremely happy if everyone obeyed the rules, even when they think it doesn’t matter because:

      1) the rules (like not jaywalking, not running stop signs or lights, not speeding etc.) are there not for the times you can see everything is just fine and you can do as you please, or for those times when you’ve clearly seen that you need to stop/slow/yield etc, but rather for those times when you *think* you are good to go, but you’ve missed something… and believe me you see far less than you think you do…

      2) It’s better for everyone when we are *all* predictable.

      Can motor vehicles wreak more havoc… for sure, but that doesn’t absolve everyone else from following the rules as well.

      • Not really….. perhaps if you only drive you can take that attitude. You likely will be quite unharmed, physically at least – though your mental state may be quite a mess, if as a driver you hit a distracted pedestrian, but as a cyclist I will be hitting the ground regardless of whether or not the distracted party is a driver, another cyclist or a pedestrian… and yes, while there are far more people out there driving, and thus I encounter more of them, I have certainly seen an uptick in distracted walking (i.e. people staring at their device and walking right out in front of me and people who are deliberately jaywalking. Bike shares have certainly not done anything to reduce the ding-dong cyclist numbers… electric ones allowing them greater speed at which to carry out their stupidity. I very much desire to not hit *anyone* – being that I like my body in the one relatively fit and healthy piece that it is now, so I would ask that everyone, regardless of your transportation mode, please pay attention and follow the rules. It’s really not difficult – getting to where you are going a few seconds later won’t hurt nearly as much as being hit by another road user.
        As far as it being somehow ‘unfair’ to weight much less dangerous pedestrians and cyclists with as much responsibility as drivers – well…. we don’t. Drivers need to be tested, licensed and insured, because we recognize the disproportionate risk of harm they pose. The expectation that we all follow the rules is not unreasonable.

    • louise, I live a block away from 12th/madison, and walk, bike and drive.

      Next time you have a moment, consider standing and watching for three or four light cycles. It’s the rare one when at least one or two cars doesn’t blow through the red light at the end, or turn right on red where it’s specifically prohibited off madison, etc.

      Or look at the Seattle DOT traffic reports, which show 50-80% of drivers breaking the law by speeding on seattle streets.

      Not excusing people on bikes – they should follow the rules too – but the moral indignation at one group vs others is misplaced.

      • D Reeves: I came down here to make a version of the same comment, and you said it so much better than I was going to. Thank you!

      • I’ve lived in Seattle for a very long time, and it is clear that vehicles running red lights is FAR more common than it was 10-20 years ago. And when was the last time you saw a driver getting ticketed for this infraction?

        ALL users of our roads….pedestrians, cyclists, drivers…must improve safety by obeying our traffic laws. But is this going to happen? No, not in this selfish, me-first day and age.

  2. The one thing missing from all this data the city, county and state are gathering and analyzing: what is the actual CAUSE of all these accidents?

    Were the drivers impaired? Were they driving without licenses or with suspended licenses? Were the offending drivers young or elderly? Were stolen cars involved?

    Seattle can do all the traffic calming and safety improvements it wants, but if we have drivers who ignore them or who routinely drive dangerously without repercussion, more people will be maimed and killed simply going about their daily lives.

    Similarly, is anybody keeping track of statistics involving victims? Were they crossing in marked areas? Did they have noise-cancelling headphones on?

    The purpose of collecting and analyzing such data wouldn’t be for the purpose of, say, promoting ageism or “victim-shaming.” The purpose would be to look for trends and enact rules, procedures & laws to counter-act the trends that kill our neighbors and friends. We can go back to being hyper-sensitive, politically correct and polite when people stop dying.

    I could be wrong, but right now I don’t see the city of Seattle doing anything to understand the cause of accidents.

    You cannot fix something until you know what the problem is.

    • Hi there,

      As mentioned in the article, sometimes SPD or WA State Patrol does note factors that could have played a role, and SDOT incorporates it in their data. I’m pasting information from the article about the four that were part of the dataset here for your convenience:
      Out of 97 severe crashes in early 2019 (SDOT said it would likely filter the carjacking and shooting incident in Lake City earlier this spring out of the dataset) nearly one fifth involved someone under influence, and in over 10% of cases, Police noted “inattention indicators.” In eight cases, failure to yield was a factor, and in nine, speeding.

      • On getting data, I’d love to know the percentage of crashes involving Uber/Lyft drivers compared to the percentage of Uber/Lyft vehicles.

        Given how many times I’ve almost been hit by an Uber or Lyft driver, my expectation is that it would be x10 higher, wildly disproportionate.

        But I don’t know, and I’d love to see if that’s actually true. I suspect it would make a good press story too if a reporter wants to go investigate and see if that data is available.

  3. I noticed you used the word “accident” early on in this piece. Could you change that to crash or collision (as you have in the rest of the post)? Accident implies nothing could have been done to prevent it, but most crashes are preventable. Thanks for considering!

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