Rainier Traffic Safety Campaign

Community member creates safety awareness artwork in Rainier Beach.

In December 2019, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced 4 steps to making our streets even safer and to achieve Seattle’s Vision Zero goal of ending traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. At that time, we launched the effort by reducing speeds to 25 MPH along Rainier Ave S., which now has a consistent speed limit for 3.5 miles south of S Alaska St. We’re also in Phase 2 of improving safety and bus reliability on Rainier Ave S. The next steps include upgrading a traffic signal at Rainier Ave S and S Rose St, adding red bus lanes, and a center turn lane. 

To complement the street engineering underway, we will simultaneously run an education campaign encouraging people to drive safely and to continue to get the word about Seattle’s Vision Zero goal. 

We recently sat down with Natasha Marin,  our partner in the education campaign,  for a Q & A to talk about traffic safety on Rainier Ave S. Natasha is a community builder, interdisciplinary artist, author and visual storyteller.  Her community centered organization, NonWhiteWorks, “thrives in community with visual storytellers who can connect important messages with those who need to receive them most.” 

In her Q & A Natasha sheds light on our upcoming safety meme contest – one component of the education campaign to inspire young folks to get involved – and the impact and importance of including new voices when building strong relationships with community. 

Natasha Marin courtesy of Natasha Marin

In her words, our campaigns with Natasha and NonWhiteWorks feature non-white, non-skinny, and gender nonconforming bodies to raise awareness around traffic safety issues on Rainier Ave S; and use these opportunities to seek out and engage with folks who rarely see themselves centered in big public campaigns. We couldn’t agree more! 

Question: We know that to reach our Vision Zero goal there is still a lot of work to do, but how can this campaign and our collaboration inform future improvements, enhance engagement, and create awareness? 

Answer: This campaign will be “successful” when the folks most affected get to lead the conversation around how best to resolve these traffic safety issues. My role, as an independent third-party consultant, is to advocate for any related messaging to be sourced directly from the community. That means creating accessible opportunities like the safety meme contest for folks to weigh in. Of course, the intention here is not to make light of the serious traffic safety issues on Rainier Ave S, which have led to more crashes than any other street in Seattle. 

Image from “Don’t Blend In” campaign, courtesy of Tariqa Waters

Question: Why the meme contest? What does it bring to the overall campaign about traffic safety on Rainier Ave S?

Answer: Since last year, I’ve been providing support to SDOT with community engagement regarding the messaging around the serious traffic safety issues on Rainier Ave S. The safety meme contest is one of many efforts to center the folks most directly affected by these issues. 

As we all know, traffic safety isn’t necessarily on the forefront of people’s minds these days. We are bombarded with negative stories in the media and many of us turn to memes for relief. 

Memes are accessible, shareable, and give SDOT the opportunity to step aside and make room for the necessary voices (especially youth and young people) in our community to be the conversation leaders. 

Community members creating art about safety awareness for Rainier Valley Safety Campaign
Students and community members create safety awareness artwork in Rainier Beach

Question: We know that community messaging and outreach are important. What can SDOT do to improve our communication and be impactful? How can we be better thought leaders and doers for safer streets, including more community involvement and leveraging partnerships? 

In my anti-racism practice, I do a lot of work with storytelling. The first thing we learn (hopefully) is how to listen. When we listen to those who are most vulnerable— and bizarrely least likely to be acknowledged and deemed experts or resources—we give ourselves permission to learn. 

SDOT has been listening to the real-time feedback from the community and has heard the resounding cry that more needs to be done. The ability to course correct has long been considered a sign of maturity and growth. This is hope I hold for all my clients. 

My suggestions to SDOT have been to spend less time talking and more time listening. This is also my advice to many individuals and organizations. The wisdom of the collective is there. The information we depend on is the information we share. To communicate with impact, we must first look soberly at who is most negatively impacted by the traffic safety issues on Rainier Ave S. 

Meme of dog with paw to ear
We are listening…

We will have three winners by February 28, selected by YOU the community. Cast your votes on Instagram and join us at The Station on February 28, from 2 – 4 PM to celebrate the meme winners and  learn more about what’s to come on Rainier Ave S. We can’t wait to see you there! 

“Can memes save our lives? Doubtful. But information, awareness, and representation save lives everyday. ” – Natasha Marin