Mayor McGinn’s Statement on the Bicycle Accidents

from the Mayor’s blog:

Improving safety and responsibility on our roads

As part of my commute I bike the same route taken on Dexter Avenue by Mike Wang, a 42 year old father of two who worked at PATH. One afternoon, on his ride home just two blocks from his office, he was killed in a hit-and-run accident while crossing the intersection of Dexter and Thomas. I see the flowers and the white ghost bike, reading “A cyclist died here,” almost every day. While biking from KUOW to City Hall on Monday morning, I went to the intersection of University Way and Campus Parkway, where Robert Townsend, a 23-year old man who delivered sandwiches on his bicycle for Jimmy John’s, died after being struck by a car this past Saturday. I then rode to the spot on Fairview Avenue where Brian Fairbrother, who worked at Espresso Vivace, died after crashing on a set of stairs on August 30th.

Each of these incidents is a tragedy. It’s not just the person on the bicycle who has been affected. The victims’ families and friends are in mourning, and I share their grief. Everyone who uses the streets in our city – whether it’s in a car, on a bicycle, on a bus or train, or on foot – is a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor, a friend who is just trying to get home safely. No one wants to be the person in the car who gets in an accident. No one wants have a friend or family member who is injured or even killed.

It’s time to stop finding fault with each other, and to start finding a remedy. There has been a lot of overheated rhetoric about cars versus bikes or bikes versus cars, and it’s not helping make our roads any safer. It’s not even accurate. Most people who ride a bicycle also own a car. Drivers will also park and walk across the street or on a sidewalk to get to their destination. A pothole is a danger to both cars and bicycles. And we pay the general sales and property taxes that help fund our road infrastructure. We need to take responsibility for not just our own lives, but for others too.

We need to look at what we can do to help people get where they’re going safely. That requires the public as well as city government to take new steps to address road safety. Here are the steps I am committed to taking:

Convening the community. My office will be convening a summit of community leaders, experts and elected officials to determine how best we can encourage an attitude of responsibility and empathy on the roads, and make it safer for all users. Seattle Department of Transportation Director (SDOT) Peter Hahn, Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief John Diaz, and several members of the City Council have already agreed to participate. We’re working on the details of the summit right now, nailing down a time and a place, and will make an announcement soon about the event.

Expanding education efforts. Seattle has and will continue to invest in several education programs, including those who drive, bike, walk and ride transit, about the rules of the road and ways they can help to improve safety. We are going to spend some more money this year to continue or expand those programs. We’re also going to take a close look at whether there are ways we can improve these education programs to more effectively meet the public’s needs.

Improving enforcement. SDOT and SPD currently work together to target locations where safety concerns have been identified. We already focus on behaviors that contribute to collisions, such as speeding and failure to yield, and on impaired driving. We’re going to reexamine all of those efforts and find ways to improve and expand enforcement. And we’ll do so in a way that avoids scapegoating, but that reminds everyone that they are responsible for protecting each other by following the rules of the road.

Continuing to invest in infrastructure. We have been investing in facilities that make it safer to use our roads. With funds from the Bridging the Gap Levy, we have repaved more than 128 lanes miles of arterial streets in Seattle. Earlier this year we increased the number of pothole repair crews from 3 to 9 to deal with the unusually large number of potholes we had this winter. So far we’ve filled more than 20,000 potholes in 2011, more than in 2009 and 2010 combined. Since the adoption of the Bicycle Master Plan four years ago, we have installed 113 miles of new bike lanes and pavement markings. On Dexter Avenue, we are going to add buffers to the bike lanes between Mercer and Denny to provide bicycles with more room and to reduce vehicle speeds. We’re going to continue trying new approaches, such as neighborhood greenways and cycletracks that make it easier for cars and bicycles to share the road. Next year, we are updating the Bicycle Master Plan which will help us understand where safety improvements are needed. And we are asking the public to help us fund these projects.

These steps continue the focus I have had on improving road safety since I took office. That includes everything from filling more potholes to reconfiguring streets to reduce speeds and create safer conditions for all users. We’ve rechannelized streets such as Northeast 125th and Nickerson in order to make them safer for everyone by lowering speeds and improving traffic flow.

The evidence was clear that we needed to act. SDOT’s data showed that a high percentage of collisions (51%) on Northeast 125th Street resulted in injury, compared to only 33% on similar roads in Seattle. These are accidents between automobiles, as well as accidents involving pedestrians. We know that high vehicle speeds are dangerous. In 2009, speeding was a contributing factor in 31 percent of all fatal crashes, and 10,591 lives were lost in speeding-related crashes. Given this information, I accepted the SDOT recommendation and directed them to rechannelize Northeast 125th Street. I stood up for safety.

That decision was not popular with everyone, but I felt it was the right way to improve safety on that street. And I’ve received some letters from residents of that neighborhood who tell me that the rechannelization has made it easier for them to safely drive from their residential streets onto and off of Northeast 125th Street.

I made a similar choice on Nickerson Street, in this case to improve pedestrian safety. A pedestrian hit by a car going 40 mph has an 80 percent chance of dying from the impact, while a pedestrian hit by a car going 30 mph has a 40 percent chance of dying from the impact. Before Nickerson Street was restriped, 85 percent of the traffic was going 44 miles per hour or below eastbound, and 40 miles per hour or below westbound — while the speed limit on Nickerson Street is only 30 miles per hour. We went out and collected data in February to see how well this was working. The data shows that traffic speeds are currently 35 miles per hour eastbound and 37 miles per hour westbound. While speeds are not down to the 30 mile per hour speed limit, they are still safer.

Each of those projects helped make the street safer for everyone who uses it. Driving remains the most common form of transportation in our city, and all of our projects are designed to help people who drive interact more easily and safely with other users, giving drivers more peace of mind. More people are biking in Seattle – the number of people riding a bicycle rose by approximately 60% from 2000 to 2009. Everyone has the right to be on the road, and it’s our job to help people do so safely and responsibly.

Public safety has to be our top priority on the roads. If we all look out for each other, we can get where we’re going safely.

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