Are Seattle pedestrians really that safe?

Dangerous by design coverWhen it comes to pedestrian safety from vehicles, a new national study says the Seattle metropolitan area is the third least dangerous among the country’s 51 largest. Given the recklessness I have seen displayed by people crossing Seattle streets, I am rather surprised by this.

The study is called “Dangerous by Design.”  It was put together by Smart Growth America, an advocacy group for better municipal planning that developed something called a “pedestrian danger index.” The report used per-capita pedestrian fatalities over five years through 2012 adjusted for the percentage of the local population commuting to work on foot.

By this methodology, only Pittsburgh and Boston were safer for pedestrians that the Seattle area, which includes Bellevue and Tacoma. The highest danger was calculated in Florida: Orlando, followed by Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, followed by Jacksonville, followed by Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Pompano Beach. If the danger index numbers are directly comparable, Orlando was calculated as being nine times more dangerous than Seattle.

The study only counted pedestrian fatalities at the hands of a vehicle, which in the Seattle area averages about 38 a year. To me the far better measure would include non-fatal accidents, but I suppose that data is a lot harder to get nationwide.

However, we do have those numbers for the City of Seattle. In 2012, the latest year available, there were 487 vehicular collisions involving pedestrians, according to the city’s 2012 Traffic Report. Only eight were fatal.

To my New To Seattle thinking, it’s pedestrians who are the greater threat to their own safety. Too often I have seen them scurry across streets–especially in congested neighborhoods like South Lake Union and Capitol Hill–without first looking left and right like their parents undoubtedly told them. Even if pedestrians are in a crosswalk, where by law they have the right of way, prudence suggests they take this simple defensive measure.

On the other hand, while I don’t find Seattle drivers especially aggressive or prone to speeding, Allstate Insurance repeatedly has declared them among the worst in the country. I have speculated that could be due in part to what strikes me as routine and widespread violations of the ban on use of hand-held cellphones.

So in Seattle, maybe the drivers and the pedestrians deserve each other.

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