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Vision Zero | Our top-to-bottom review provides a roadmap and new actions to reverse challenging trends in traffic safety

People crossing the street in downtown Seattle. Photo: SDOT.

Blog stats: 1,200 words | 7-minute read


At-a-Glance:

  • We’ve published a draft top-to-bottom review of our Vision Zero initiative for public feedback.
  • We were awarded a $25.6 million federal Safe Streets and Roads for All grant to support the installation of key safety infrastructure.
  • We’re advancing five momentum-building actions to improve safety using proven measures in 2023, which are:
    • Phase in additional “no turn on red” signs at downtown intersections.
    • Accelerate leading pedestrian interval (LPI) rollout where existing signal systems can support it.
    • Partner with Sound Transit to implement a series of improvements along Martin Luther King Jr. Way S to enhance safety for all travelers.
    • Engage the public on automated enforcement to address equity concerns about future expansion in neighborhoods with many fatalities and serious injuries.
    • Elevate City Traffic Engineer to a new Chief Safety Officer role.

We’ve published a draft “top-to-bottom review of our Vision Zero initiative, which aims to end traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Mayor Bruce Harrell and SDOT Director Greg Spotts commissioned the agency self-examination after seeing years of traffic safety success reverse course in recent years.

The review makes 12 recommendations to improve the effectiveness of Vision Zero, along with five momentum-building actions Mayor Harrell and Director Spotts identified for us to implement in 2023. Additional Vision Zero funding was recognized as a key challenge in the review. Fortunately, this will be partially addressed by the recent award of a $25.6 million Safe Streets and Roads for All grant for safety enhancements in underserved neighborhoods from the federal government.

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ranks Seattle’s streets as some of the safest in the United States, there are still more than 10,000 crashes a year resulting in an average of 28 fatalities and 180 serious injuries.

We want to hear from you – please share your feedback using this online form.

A person using a power wheelchair travels across a crosswalk in the city. Other people walk across the street. Cars and large buildings are in the background, along with a green light and pedestrian walk signal.
A person using a power wheelchair crosses the street in downtown Seattle. Photo: SDOT.

Conducting a review was the first order of business for Mayor Harrell and Director Spotts after Spotts’ confirmation.

The review focuses on how we can deliver safety interventions with demonstrated effectiveness in locations where they are most needed. All recommended strategies and tactics are intended to inform further work to align funding, policies, procedures, and activities within a Safe System framework to support Vision Zero.

“Every Seattle resident should be able to feel safe getting where they need to go. This review and the concrete actions that follow reaffirm our One Seattle commitment to safety, as we work relentlessly to get back on track to reaching our Vision Zero goals. We’re transforming our streets to promote walkability and a people-first transportation system, one rooted in safety and equity, where neighborhoods most impacted and historically underserved receive the support and improvements they deserve.”

– Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell

“On my first day as SDOT Director, I commissioned this top-to-bottom review to identify how we can strengthen the Vision Zero program to save lives. The findings and recommendations in the review will help SDOT prioritize safety across our entire agency, with a focus on underserved communities, pedestrians, cyclists, and people with mobility challenges. Our five early momentum actions, coupled with implementing $30 million in projects funded by the federal Safer Streets grant, will create safer and more welcoming neighborhoods and boulevards.”

– Seattle Department of Transportation Director Greg Spotts

Driven by the need for immediate action, and previewed earlier this week at the State of the City Address, Mayor Harrell and Director Spotts identified five momentum-building actions in the report:

  1. Phase in additional “no turn on red” signs at downtown intersections. A recent study published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers finds that no turn on red signs can reduce pedestrian-vehicle conflicts by over 90 percent. In Seattle, right-turn-on-red crashes account for nine percent of collisions with pedestrians at intersections with traffic signals.
  2. Accelerate leading pedestrian interval (LPI) rollout where existing signal systems can support it. This proven safety improvement gives people crossing the street a head start before drivers get a green light. We have already installed this safety upgrade at about half of Seattle traffic signals, which has led to a 48 percent reduction in the number of people being hit by turning cars while crossing the street in these locations.
  3. Partner with Sound Transit to implement a series of improvements along Martin Luther King Jr. Way S to enhance safety for all travelers. Projects include, but are not limited to, increasing train warning bell volume, evaluating traffic signals, refreshing pavement markings, launching a safety campaign, and making it easier and more convenient to cross the street at stations.
  4. Engage the public on automated enforcement to address equity concerns about future expansion in neighborhoods with many fatalities and serious injuries. Over the past two decades, there has been a 20 percent reduction in crashes at intersections with red light cameras, and a 50 percent reduction in crashes near school zone speed cameras.
  5. Elevate City Traffic Engineer to a new Chief Safety Officer role. This new position will sit at the highest levels of our organization, creating a direct and effective presence to prioritize safety in every aspect of our work.

These five momentum-building actions will be in addition to the recently announced traffic safety improvements in underserved neighborhoods funded by a $25.6 million “Safe Streets and Roads for All” grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. This federal funding will be combined with at least $5.1 million in local funds to build infrastructure such as new sidewalks, ADA-accessible curb ramps, protected bike lanes, crossing improvements, and more. The grant will fund safety projects in the Rainier Valley, SoDo, Downtown, and U District neighborhoods. You can read more in our original grant proposal or this previous blog post.

“With a new Mayor and SDOT Director, we now have concrete plans to improve the safety strategies to buck the negative statewide trend and substantially reduce traffic fatalities in Seattle. I appreciate the Harrell Administration proactively combining this top-to-bottom internal review with an initial boost in federal dollars for solutions. I believe Seattle should more quickly expand automated camera enforcement because we know it works and more quickly bring people inside because those experiencing homelessness have been collision victims at an alarming rate. I look forward to expediting any legislation needed to implement these strategies for improved safety in Seattle.”

– Councilmember Alex Pedersen, Chair of Transportation Committee


Spotlight: What is Vision Zero?

  • Vision Zero is Seattle’s commitment to end traffic deaths and serious injuries on city streets by 2030.
  • It’s also an international transportation safety movement, shifting how we approach safety to focus on the most effective ways to reduce harm and move toward a culture of care and dignity for everyone who uses Seattle streets.
  • We adopted the goal of ending traffic deaths and serious injuries in 2012 through the Road Safety Summit Action Plan and formally launched our Vision Zero program in 2015 to organize and strengthen the effort.
  • In addition to the goal itself, Vision Zero comes with several grounding principles that guide our work, including:
    • Traffic deaths and injuries are preventable.
    • Humans make mistakes and are fragile.
    • Success does not hinge on individual behavior, but on the design of a safe system.

SDOT's Vision Zero logo. The image says "Vision Zero safer streets for Seattle" in blue letters.
Vision Zero logo. Graphic: SDOT
Graphic noting that safety is one of SDOT's core values and goals. The graphic includes the word "safety" in large letters, a yellow heart icon, the SDOT logo, and text that reads "we believe everyone should be able to move safely throughout the City. Our goal is to create safe transportation environments and eliminate serious and fatal crashes in Seattle."
Safety is one of our six core values and goals. Graphic: SDOT.

We’re sharing the top-to-bottom review now to engage with elected officials, stakeholders, and you – the traveling public. Public feedback will help inform our Vision Zero Action Plan update, the Seattle Transportation Plan development, and other efforts in 2023 and beyond. The entire department will continue to prioritize improving traveler safety for everyone – especially for the most vulnerable travelers – as our top focus.

Several people including young people bike along a protected bike lane. Large buildings and parked cars are in the background, as well as utility poles and signs.
People of all ages bike along a protected bike lane on NE 40th St in the University District. Photo: SDOT.