A Clarion Call: Focus on Traffic Safety
March 31, 2013
Clint Loper, Eckstein Middle School parent and neighbor
Lisa Quinn, Feet First Executive Director
We are all mourning the terrible loss of two of our neighbors who died last Monday on NE 75th Street. In one fatal moment, a driver plowed into a family, killing two grandparents who were out for a walk with their daughter-in- law and newly born grandson, who have life-threatening injuries.
The incident brought incredible sorrow to our community. It also created a sense of outrage — tragedies like this occur far too often and we can do more to prevent them.
The crash brought home a terrible reality. In Seattle, we are failing to make it safe for families to walk and bike in their neighborhoods. Somehow traffic collisions are treated as a simple fact of life, just one more item to report on the evening news. Seattle can do better.
Seattle has a Pedestrian Master Plan and with a goal to be the most walkable city in the nation. It’s past time to prioritize investments in pedestrian safety and supporting policies.
It would be easy to blame this tragedy on a specific person or the effects of alcohol. While these need to be addressed, the story is more complicated. NE 75th Street is an example of our misplaced priorities. NE 75th Street functions as a through-way to the freeway, rather than a place prioritizing the safety of 1,300 Eckstein Middle School students and the surrounding neighbors. The sidewalk in front of the school is narrow, with no buffer from the traffic. The driving lanes are wide, making it hard to cross the street while and inviting higher speeds. The street’s design places a higher value on moving vehicles than moving people safely within neighborhoods, which would ultimately create more livable and vibrant communities. Two-thirds of all traffic collision deaths occur on arterials, where vehicle speeds are higher.
Close your eyes for a moment and think of your own neighborhood. Chances are you have experienced vehicles traveling a high speed. In Seattle, the list of streets not meeting our community’s needs goes on and on. This tragedy could have happened in any of our neighborhoods.
In Seattle alone, 398 people died in vehicle-pedestrian collisions over the past decade.
We know how to improve safety. We have the tools and approaches; we just need the will. Other places around the world have invested in street redesign, changes in law, comprehensive education and strong enforcement, and have cut traffic deaths to half or one-quarter of America’s rate. While America has made progress, it has come more slowly, meaning tens of thousands of needless deaths.
It is time to redouble our efforts. Making our streets safer for everybody, whether they drive, take the bus, bike or walk, should be our top transportation priority.
As car manufacturers are working to make cars safer, we also need to protect our most vulnerable roadway users. We need to protect families choosing to go by foot or bike – those far away from the protection of airbags and seat belts. Making our streets safer for people to walk and bike makes streets safer for everyone.
It’s time to make it easier and safer to walk, by building and repairing sidewalks. It’s time to connect our neighborhoods with greenways – low-speed, low-traffic streets that are safer for families. It’s time for us to redesign arterials so that people who walk and bike can cross them or travel along them safely. It’s time for our government to invest so everyone is able to get around safely by whatever way they choose without a car. It’s time to make it safer for our kids to walk or bike to school.
In NE Seattle, the grief is turning to outrage. As horrible as this collision was, it could have been worse. What if the tragedy had happened as school was letting out, and dozens of Eckstein Middle School children were pouring down the sidewalks of NE 75th Street? That street is part of their neighborhood; and a part of their home. People have the right to feel safe in their neighborhood.
In this time of tragedy, it’s time for our community to come together and make sure our neighborhoods are safe for everyone. Investing in safer streets won’t bring back those who died this week, but if even one life is saved by preventing a future collision, it will have been a wise investment.
Join the community on Monday, April 1st at 4:00pm in front of Top Pot Donuts. The group will walk to pay respects to the family and to send a message that safer streets are necessary for everyone in Seattle. Additional details about the walk can be found at Seattle Greenways.