By George Watland, Board Member, Feet First
The newly-released 2021 Annual Report from the Cooper Jones Active Transportation Safety Council (ATSC) contains some worrisome findings. According to this report, fatalities and serious injuries to people walking, biking, and rolling continue to grow across the state of Washington despite declining traffic volumes due to COVID.
The ATSC is charged with reviewing and analyzing crash data in order to identify patterns and to find points at which the transportation system can be made safer. The Council reports to the legislature annually to recommend changes in statutes, ordinances, rules, and policies to improve the transportation system for all modes of travel. The Council’s name honors Cooper Jones, a 13-year-old boy who died after being struck from behind by a driver as Cooper participated in a road race in Spokane County. Feet First has been the lead non-governmental organization advocating for pedestrian safety as a full member of the ATSC, joining a wide range of Washington state stakeholders representing many disciplines and perspectives in order to better protect people who walk, ride bicycles, and use other forms of active transportation.
The ATSC builds on the previous work of the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Council (PSAC), established in 2015 to identify changes to make Washington roadways safer for pedestrians. Feet First was a key player in advocating for establishment of the PSAC by the Washington State Legislature and served as a member of this council since its inception. The ATSC, established by the legislature in 2019, expands on this good work to include studying safety concerns for bicyclists and other nonmotorized users.
An estimated $5.13 billion is the total societal cost for the lives affected by fatal and serious injury crashes that involved people walking or biking between 2018 and 2020. That includes approximately $3.73 billion for the 351 pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and about $1.4 billion for the 1,385 serious injuries that occurred in Washington state during that time. Some of the key figures are:
- While vehicle traffic was significantly reduced in 2020 due to the pandemic, deaths of people walking, rolling, or cycling increased slightly from 116 deaths in 2019 to 119 deaths in 2020. The 2020 figure includes two “post 30-day” fatalities.
- There was an increase in fatalities and serious injuries where the pedestrian or bicyclist was traveling with traffic adjacent to the road: 19.8% of fatal crashes in 2019 and 29.8% in 2020.
- People walking, cycling, or rolling represented 22% of those who died or were seriously injured in traffic crashes—a higher percentage than in 2019 when it was 21%.
- Serious injuries to people walking and biking decreased 13.9% from 467 in 2019 to 403 in 2020.
- In 2020, there were fewer active transportation fatalities due to hit-and-runs: 21.9% of fatalities in 2020 were hit-and-runs, whereas 26.7% of crashes reported in 2019 were hit-and-runs.
- There was a reduction in the percent of reported serious injuries where the pedestrian or bicyclist was crossing the roadway in 2020 (51.7%) compared to 2019 (55.3%).
ATSC Action Teams completed two new white papers in 2021. Summaries and selected recommendations of each follow.
- Reduce Speed-Related Deaths and Injuries – analyzing accidents involving walkers, bicyclists and other non-vehicle methods of transportation.
- Provide guidance/standards in support of city/county wide default speed limit changes rather than requiring a case-by-case consideration of road speeds. This may include one set speed of 20mph for all residential and business district streets and a prioritized list for lowering arterial speed limits.
- Develop statewide access to collision, traffic volume, and speed data tools for local agencies to use. Consider using a public and private partnership to generate the information.
- Develop funding specific to speed limit changes at school/walking zones, business districts (could be matching), residential districts and high priority streets based on data. Provide support for low-cost speed counter measures such as feedback signs and channelization changes.
- Reimagine the Definition of Safety – actions that would move Washington toward mobility justice, mobility safety, and freedom of movement.
- Expand use of a leading pedestrian interval on the WALK signal to give pedestrians a head start and make them more visible to drivers.
- Encourage communities to include those with physical and intellectual disabilities in planning; hire people with disabilities into planning and development positions; create a pipeline to bring a broader array of perspectives into the transportation workforce
- Provide active transportation funding to enhance walking and biking safety on a par with the cost of crashes, deaths, and property damage that total $15 billion/year in Washington state.
Read more from the current ATSC report and prior annual reports at: