Why Seattle is safer than Phoenix

An op-ed written by one of the wsj editorial board staffers illustrates a certain strain of belief in have-your-cake-and-eat-too-sism. Kaminski, in decrying how the mayor Mike McGinn (whom he gleefully points out is referred to as mayor McSchwinn by his political foes. Get it? it rhymes with McGinn) of Seattle worked to block the building of some car-based project; later claims that “Seattleites say they want to save the planet from global warming, but in their personal lives they want safe streets…”.

The disconnect Kaminski, and others of his ideological ilk, is this; that somehow streets can be made safer by ever-expanding the number and speed of privately operated motor vehicles. But this is simply not possible. Faster and more always equals more dead; mostly more motorists, but also more dead peds, and more dead bicyclists. The numbers are stark; comparing e.g. Phoenix with Seattle (metro areas), the Dangerous by Design survey estimates Phoenix to be FOUR TIMES more deadly to pedestrians than Seattle. The number spills over not just in pedestrian deaths, but also cyclists deaths, and also to MOTORISTS deaths; see e.g. Beyond Safety in Numbers: why bike friendly cities are safer (for everybody).

Thus Kaminski rejects car-user-fees as hair-brained; yet motorists are the source of enormous externalities — economic impacts that aren’t paid for by their users — from air pollution (never mind ‘global warming’), to mayhem, to free parking.

By the way, McGinn has only been mayor for the past two years; I’m not suggesting that McGinn has made it safer. It was already safe, relatively speaking — due in no small part to its general overall “anti-car” culture.


Seattle DOT (SDOT) puts out a fancy traffic safety report (every year, i imagine), e.g. here is  2011. Note the “speed studies”, p 7-7… their major streets are posted speed limits of mostly 35, with a few at 30, and one at 45. The 85th percentile speeds were running in the high 30’s.


2 thoughts on “Why Seattle is safer than Phoenix”

  1. The message below refers to the LAB Spring 2012 BFC listings — there was high hopes that Tucson would be promoted to Platinum… the safety aspects of it seem somewhat analogous to the remarks I made above about Phoenix vs. seattle — i.e. land use patterns matter:

    First off the sad news – on Monday the LAB will announce that we have been re-designated a Gold-level community. For many of you, I know that is very disappointing and I wanted to make sure you know it before it hits the press on Monday. PLEASE keep this news to yourself over the weekend. The LAB has specifically asked that we keep it out of the press, out of the media etc. until there is a national announcement. However, I wanted to let you all know because you worked hard on the application and as I said, I don’t want you to be blindsided by the national announcement. Please respect the league and myself and do not share this information until Monday. I will be sending out a local press release on Monday as well.
    The League will be giving us our official feedback very soon but I have already spoken with them. They cite two main shortfalls for our region in comparison with the platinum communities:
    1. Safety – Particularly our high fatality rate. Our 5-year fatality rate shows that we had 5 times as many fatalities as the platinum cities’ average. While our last couple years numbers are down, our 2008 and 2009 numbers were high. They also said our overall crash rate is 3 times as high.
    2. Ridership (measured by the American Community Survey (ACS) Commute Rate) – No big surprise here. While they acknowledge the improvements we made, they looked at our how our region covers an area greater than the city and so the regional commute rate given by the ACS is 1.7%. The average of the platinum communities is 12%
    I had a lengthy conversation with them about all of this. They acknowledge our land use patterns make it very challenging to compare us to the platinum cities. Their comparison on the numbers does not mean that we have to reach their averages to obtain platinum. They just wanted to show that they ultimately decided there was too much of a gap to upgrade our designation at this time. They also acknowledge the efforts of the task force, the great road riding scene and mountain biking community that Tucson has. They have mentioned that they want to collaborate to help other communities with similar land use challenges become more bicycle friendly. This was a hard decision on their part.
    Onto better news – on Monday the Walk Score national site will release their new Bike Score program. Tucson made the list as a Top 10 Most Bikeable City in the U.S. So we do have reasons to celebrate as well!
    I think the Platinum Task Force needs to get together relatively soon to discuss where to go from here. I propose Wednesday, June 21st at 10:00 a.m. as a tentative next meeting day/time. Let me know if you have any vacation plans etc. that would not allow you to attend that meeting.

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