CHOKEPOINTS

WA looks for answers as bike, pedestrian deaths hit 20-year high

Sep 8, 2022, 6:58 AM | Updated: 10:09 am
Rose petals in the shape of a heart are left on the sidewalk near the spot where four international...
Rose petals in the shape of a heart are left on the sidewalk near the spot where four international students died a day earlier in a bus crash on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle, Washington on September 25, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JASON REDMOND

The numbers are in, and we are not doing a good job behind the wheel when it comes to sharing the road with bikes and pedestrians.

We have talked about how deadly 2021 was on our roads. 592 people left their homes and did not return, a 20-year high.

155 of them were on bicycles or walking. “We are going the wrong way,” the Washington Department of Transportation’s Charlotte Claybrooke said. “We’ve had a 26% increase in deaths of pedestrians and bicyclists on our roads and a 28% increase in serious injuries.”

Under 3% of all crashes involved bikes or pedestrians, but they represent 26% of deaths. It’s simple physics. Bicyclists and walkers lose when encountering a car.

And not surprising, most of these deaths are happening in cities, not on rural roads, and most are happening at conflict points like intersections and crosswalks.

“Most of them are where a pedestrian is crossing a street, and it might not be at a signalized intersection,” Claybrooke said. “It could be any legal crosswalk. The same is true for bicyclists. The majority of them are happening in intersections.”

And the causes are variable: a car turning without seeing a bike, a pedestrian crossing a dark street at night, a bike blowing through a stop sign or signal. Everyone has a role to play in preventing these deaths, but it is the drivers that are being targeted for fixing the problem.

And again, it’s because cars never lose against bikes and pedestrians.

Claybrooke said the legislature has given WSDOT the green light to reduce speeds where it makes sense.

“That means adjustments to the roads like roundabouts instead of a traffic signal that help to naturally lower the speeds for motorists and changing the road features so that we provide separated facilities,” she said.

With Washington traffic deaths on the rise, Democrats mull expanded ‘complete street’ design

Traffic calming devices, like speed humps or raised intersections, are also in the tool kit. So is simply lowering the speed limits.

More photo enforcement is also in the bag. It used to be those red light cameras, speed cameras, and photo enforcement were only allowed by the legislature in Seattle or big cities.

That has changed.

“[The legislature] expanded that and allowed for other cities to be included and to utilize that tool and not just in school zones and where there are traffic signals,” Claybrooke said. “They can be used near hospitals, near parks where you find children playing. It’s much broader than it used to be.”

Drivers can expect to see more photo enforcement and other measures in cities of all sizes across the state until the number of fatal accidents goes down.

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WA looks for answers as bike, pedestrian deaths hit 20-year high