Seattle mayor hopes to combat rising traffic deaths by enforcing 25 mph speed limit citywide

SEATTLE - Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan wants to lower the speed limit on streets to 25 miles per hour citywide. In her announcement, Tuesday, she says it's to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety.

The mayor and directors with the Seattle Department of Transportation say the city’s number of pedestrian deaths are increasing.

“We’re still one of the safest cities anywhere, but the numbers have been increasing in our city," says Durkan. "And every time someone is killed, it breaks our heart."

A total of 25 people have died and 153 have been seriously injured in crashes so far this year, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation. The city is ramping up its Vision Zero plan, to end all traffic deaths and injuries by the year 2030.

Over the next 18 months, speed limits will be reduced to 25 miles per hour citywide, and Seattle leaders will ask the state to reduce speeds along highways within city limits. Durkan explains the 2020 budget adds $200 million to invest in safety measures, including safety-enhanced traffic signals, safety cameras to five new school zones and double the number of red-light cameras.

“We live in a world where pedestrians have the right of way. As a driver we need to slow down and be a lot more careful about what’s going on,” says Eziquiel Villalobos who commutes from east Washington almost daily for business.

Durkan says a pedestrian is twice as likely to be killed if hit by a car traveling 30 mph than a car traveling 25 mph. SDOT reports a 35 percent decrease in crashes on streets that already have 25 miles per hour speed limits. On those same streets, SDOT also saw a 20 percent reduction in severe injuries and deaths and negligible impacts to traffic congestion.

Lake City Way, Rainier Avenue and Aurora Avenue are the three major streets the city says has seen pedestrian crashes and deaths. Durkan and SDOT say those arterials will have more focus due to the increasing number of pedestrians hit.

Some drivers worry slowing things down could make Seattle’s already heavy traffic worse.

“It’s going to cause a lot of congestion. People have to get acclimated to that kind of thing and to just spring it up and pop it on people, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” says pedestrian Tony Barnes.

“Huge myth that by having a higher speed limit everyone’s going to get there more quickly. Just not true,” says Durkan. “If you look at the number of collisions and crashes that happen, one of the number one things that slow people down are crashes and collisions because suddenly the road is stopped and you have to wait for the tow truck to come.”

Lake City Way in Seattle is full of businesses, traffic and pedestrians. Michael Cahn has worked on the street for four years. Even with flashing lights on some crosswalks, he says drivers still don’t pay attention to people walking through.

“I’ve seen some pretty close calls. I pay a lot of attention and many times when I’m crossing the street with the lights going, I’ve had people just blow by me. And if I wasn’t looking it could have been really bad. And I know people have been hit here,” says Cahn. “Nobody goes 30 through here. At night, we have classes at night, and people are doing 55-60 through this section. They blow through here.”

Seattle Police Department will double red-light cameras and safety cameras to hold more drivers responsible throughout the city. Cahn says pedestrians should also take heed to the increased safety efforts when crossing the street.

“Don’t look at your cellphone while you’re walking on the street. Put it down the minute you step into the street because the person driving might be playing with their cellphone and who loses? The pedestrian.”

The city is also creating a new Major Crash Review Task Force. This group will analyze serious to deadly crashes and then make suggestions to prevent future problems.