Frequently Asked Questions

What is Vision Zero?
Vision Zero is an approach to traffic safety, with an ultimate goal of ending traffic deaths and serious injuries. The idea began in Sweden in the 1990s, where they adopted it as national policy. At the core of Vision Zero is the belief that death and injury on city streets is preventable. For the most part, these aren’t “accidents.” Collisions are often the result of poor behaviors and unforgiving roadway designs. So we must approach the problem from multiple angles – street designs that emphasize safety, predictability, and the potential for human error, coupled with targeted education and data-driven enforcement efforts.

Isn’t Seattle already a safe city?
We are! In fact, Liberty Mutual Insurance recently ranked Seattle as the safest city for pedestrians. This is great news, but we know we can do better. People walking, biking, and driving are still dying and sustaining serious injuries. Nearly 30 collisions occur on our streets every day. Each year, more than 150 people sustain life-changing serious injuries and approximately 20 people die on our streets. These statistics tell only a fraction of the story. The impact on families and communities is devastating and life-changing. We know we can prevent and reduce fatalities on our streets through smarter street design and more targeted education and enforcement.

Is Vision Zero really achievable?
Yes. It’s an aggressive, but achievable goal. Vision Zero’s comprehensive approach to safety has contributed to crash reductions worldwide. In Sweden, the birthplace of Vision Zero, fatalities dropped more than 30% since this policy was first enacted in the late 1990s. Governments in the US are taking note and adopting Vision Zero policies – most recently, New York City, San Francisco and Portland.
Washington State’s Target Zero program provides a great local example of how these strategies save lives. Traffic fatalities have dropped 40% in our state since the first version of Target Zero was launched in 2000. Through partnerships with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, the Washington State Department of Transportation, and the Washington State Patrol, Seattle experienced collision reductions thanks to Vision Zero-style tactics employed on busy urban corridors. On Aurora Avenue N, collaboration with the State led to a 28% reduction in fatal and serious injury crashes. We’ve carried these strategies into our work on corridors like Fauntleroy Way SW, NE 125th Street, Nickerson Street and NE 75th Street where collisions and speeds have gone down.

How is Vision Zero different from the Road Safety Action Plan?
Throughout 2011, we worked residents, community partners, major institutions, and private companies to figure out how we could eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030. Out of this came our 2012 Road Safety Action Plan. Vision Zero is a recommitment to this goal – it is a re-energized effort to reach zero deaths on our streets, complete with concrete, near-term actions. 

What changes am I going to see on the street?
Primarily, you’ll start seeing lower speed limits and street design changes, because we know that higher speeds increase the incidence and severity of crashes. We also know that the best way to lower speeds is to pair the appropriate speed limit with a well-designed street. In addition to these physical and regulatory changes, you’ll also see more targeted traffic enforcement patrols in areas with a history of crashes. More details below on what you’ll start seeing in 2015.

Lower speed limits

In 2015, we’ll launch a 20 MPH Zone program in up to 10 areas. These will mainly be located close to schools and parks. We’ll drop the speed limit and install signs and pavement markings to make sure intersections are clear (to improve visibility for all travelers).

We’ll also be lowering speed limits on busier arterial streets. By the end of 2015, downtown streets will be 25 mph (they’re currently 30 mph). We’ll also be lowering speeds on major arterial corridors throughout the city – Rainier Ave S, Martin Luther King Jr Way S, Airport Way S, 35th Ave SW, SW Roxbury St, Delridge Way SW, Fauntleroy Way SW, Harbor Ave SW, and W Marginal Way SW. We’ll pair these speed limit reductions with street design changes, which will engineer the roads for safe travel speeds.

How does lowering the speed limit impact traffic fatalities?
Driving at or below 25 mph decreases stopping distance, gives drivers and pedestrians more time to see each other and react, and improves drivers’ ability to avoid crashes. Vehicle stopping distance improves by 45 feet (23%) when traveling at 25 mph versus 30 mph. This small 5 mph decrease in speed means that many crashes can be avoided. The speed at which a vehicle is traveling directly impacts the likelihood of death for pedestrians or bicyclists who are struck. Someone struck by a vehicle going 25 mph is half as likely to die as someone struck at 30 mph. If crashes do occur, the severity of injuries goes down with lower speeds.

Isn’t a lower speed limit going to mean trip will take longer?
We’ve done some math and know that the average car trip in Seattle is about 3.5 miles. If you’re going 30 mph without any interruptions, a lowered speed limit of 25 mph will add about 1 minute to your trip. We think that 1 minute is worth it, to save someone’s life.

Will lowering the speed limit make traffic worse?
No. Travel time is generally determined by factors like traffic signals, congestion, and turning vehicles. Lowering the speed limit from 30 to 25 mph will effectively impact drivers who are traveling at excessive, unsafe speeds.

Is this a way to raise additional revenue for the city?
No. We’re lowering speed limits to make the city safer for people walking, biking, and driving, and to help meet our goal of zero traffic fatalities. Our goal isn’t to issue more tickets, it’s to reduce traffic fatalities, which is why we’ll lower speed limits and modify the street design to lower vehicle speeds.  As noted above, we know that driving at or below 25 mph improves drivers’ ability to avoid crashes

Redesigned intersections and corridors

As noted above, we’ll be pairing speed limit reductions with street design changes on a number of major streets throughout the city – Rainier Ave S, Martin Luther King Jr Way S, Airport Way S, 35th Ave SW, SW Roxbury St, Delridge Way SW, Fauntleroy Way SW, Harbor Ave SW, and W Marginal Way SW.

In downtown and in urban centers throughout the city, we’ll change traffic signal timing to favor people walking, and add things like leading pedestrian intervals – these give people walking a head start; the WALK sign comes on before the green light for cars, so you can get into the crosswalk and be more visible to people driving. We will get rid of dual turn lanes (where there are two lanes side-by-side turning the same direction). These types of lanes create what’s known as a double threat crossing for people walking, where a car in one lane might stop, but a car in the other lane often won’t. At certain intersections where there are high numbers of crashes involving turning cars, we’ll eliminate turns on red.

Enforcement and education

Seattle Police Department traffic officers will increase their presence at high crash locations and also conduct emphasis patrols that target DUIs, distracted driving, and things like not yielding for pedestrians in the crosswalk. Before they go out and do these patrols, we’ll be sure to get the word out – these emphasis patrols are not just focused on issuing tickets – they’re also focused on educating people about the rules of the road and the right behavior.

We also want to get out there to reward people doing the right thing and remind people of the good safety record we have, but that there’s an opportunity to do better. We’ll be conducting “re-enforcement” patrols to reinforce good behavior. These will involve teams of SPD and SDOT staff. Keep your eyes peeled and follow the rules of the road – you might just find yourself rewarded with a gift card for a cup of coffee.