On the same day Seattle unveiled plans to slow speed limits across the city, regional leaders took the stage at Neumos to call on voters to fund a dramatic expansion of the region's light rail system.
"Free yourself from this gridlock," King County Executive Dow Constantine told a crowd at the official kickoff of Mass Transit Now, the campaign to support Sound Transit 3. If it passes, ST3 will double the amount of light rail in the region, including new lines to Ballard, West Seattle, Everett, and downtown Redmond.
"There is no alternative," said Constantine, who also chairs the Sound Transit board. "Building another freeway—that's a joke."
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray linked the region's affordability crisis and racial injustice to the need for more transit.
"Too many people who are African American and work in our hospitals spend hours in their cars coming from south county," Murray said. "Too many people I meet who work in our hotels who are East African immigrants spend too much time riding the bus—hours and hours—to get their kids into daycare and then get to their jobs. If we want to create that racially equitable Seattle, then we need to pass Sound Transit 3."
Earlier in the day, city leaders announced another way they hope to give people alternatives to driving and make streets safer: a plan to reduce speed limits in residential areas and the city's core. The effort is part of Vision Zero, a nationwide campaign to reduce traffic fatalities. If approved, it would slow speeds on all residential streets from 25 to 20 mph and on some arterials from 30 to 25 mph. Slowing traffic could make streets safer and encourage more people to walk and bike instead of drive.
Traffic data shows that in a busy city like Seattle, reducing speeds in this way can improve safety without worsening traffic. Seattle Bike Blog explains:
Put yourself behind the wheel on a typical day on, say, 5th Ave. The street is rarely wide open with no traffic, so a higher speed limit doesn’t help you at all. You just crawl along at the speed of the vehicle in front of you. But in those few blocks where the road does open up, you hit the gas and get up to 35 or 40 before slamming on the brakes at a red light. You’ve cut effectively no time from your trip, but for that block or two your car was an outsized (and perfectly legal) risk to all the people driving, walking and biking in this dense area. At 40 miles per hour, someone hit will very likely die. At 25 miles per hour, someone hit will likely live. But more importantly, at 25 you are much more able to avoid collisions from happening at all.
In other words, there are two ways of measuring speed. A: The time it takes to get from one place to another (average speed) and B: The highest mark your speedometer reaches during your trip (top speed). This rule change will hardly affect A at all, but it could significantly reduce B. That’s a smart change.
According to the city, pedestrians hit by vehicles traveling 25 mph are half as likely to die as those struck at 30 mph.
Even without evidence that lower speed limits hurt drivers, some will claim this is another effort to discourage people from driving, another battle in the Seattle's supposed War on Cars. And city leaders will keep denying that. Then again, others of us don't have any problem with the War on Cars; we're actively cheering for it. As Charles wrote yesterday: "Cars are the greatest enemy of the city and the shovel by which humans are burying themselves."
Want to help offset the car fetishists? Join the campaign for Sound Transit 3 here. Or email your city council members about speed reductions. ST3 will be on your November ballot. The speed limits will get a council committee vote on Tuesday and a full council vote later this month.