by Ellis Simani
Twenty-four collisions were recorded along Rainier avenue throughout the first month of 2017. This number might seem high at face value, but when you compare it to the 42 collisions that took place on the arterial in January of 2016 and the 62 collisions that occurred during the month in 2015, the statistic begins to look a lot more promising.
For the past few years, Rainier Avenue has been getting an increasing amount of attention for its high collision rates, an alarming number of fatalities and the high frequency at which drivers crash into businesses in Columbia City. Rainier Avenue is commonly known to be the most dangerous street in Seattle, but our analysis of data from the Seattle Department of Transportation suggests that this may be changing.
Over the past 10 years, there have been nearly 3,600 collisions along Rainier Avenue. Over 12 people have died on the street over the past decade and hundreds have been injured, many very seriously. In the span of a year alone, 8 vehicles collided into businesses in and around Columbia City, injuring several individuals and causing catastrophic damage to local businesses.
The problems that have developed along Rainier are not common among the city’s most congested streets. Aurora Ave N and Lake City Way NE carry nearly twice the amount of vehicles, and yet Rainier has double the number of crashes per mile and averages at least 1 crash per day.
In a 2015 report, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) recorded that at one section of Rainier, nearly 18 percent of cars traveled at least 10 mph over the posted speed limit of 30 mph. The next highest was a section of Aurora Ave, where about 5 percent of drivers traveled above the posted 35 mph speed limit.
In 2014, SDOT began reviewing the high number collisions on Rainier as part of Seattle’s Vision Zero campaign which sought to reduce traffic fatalities throughout the city to zero by 2030.
By 2015, SDOT broke ground on the Rainier Avenue Pilot Project, a plan aimed at reducing collisions throughout a segment of the arterial from S Alaska Street to Kenny Street. The project consisted of a 4 to 3 lane rechannelization, a speed limit adjustment from 30 mph to 25 mph, and other transit and pedestrian-centered efforts to incentivize commuters to travel by foot or public transit.
Speed rates have dropped considerably since the project’s implementation, and collision rates have fallen 15 percent overall with injuries and bicycle collisions down 30 and 40 percent respectively. About 25 percent more rear-end collisions have occurred since the project was completed, most of them occurring during in the months May in June. Travel times have also started to increase since the project finished, with initial data suggesting that it takes about 1 minute longer to travel northbound during peak commute hours, and about 1 and a half minutes southbound.
One general concern for the project, aside from longer commutes from slower-moving traffic, was that drivers would avoid the longer commute times on Rainier by simply changing their route to MLK Jr Way S, causing more accidents and congestion along that street. As some expected, more drivers are now traveling along MLK, with an increase of 8,765 vehicles per day and a decrease of 5,870 vehicles per day of daily traffic on Rainier.
Comparing MLK and Rainier
We analyzed SDOT’s collision data along MLK from 2015 to 2016 and found that while there was a 15 percent decrease in overall collisions along Rainier Avenue, there were about 4 percent more crashes on MLK over that same time period. Fortunately, there have been relatively no changes in amounts of injuries. There were 307 collisions recorded along MLK in 2015 and 171 injuries, 5 of which were labeled as serious. In 2016 there were 318 collisions recorded and about 172 injuries, 10 of which were reported to be serious.
The South Seattle Emerald will continue to monitor collision data along both Rainier and MLK over the year as efforts to improve traffic along Rainier Avenue continue. Phase two of the project will begin this year as SDOT expands efforts on Rainier from S Kenny St to S Henderson street, with the main goals being reducing vehicle speed, collisions and improving transit reliability. The project will be funded in part by funding from the Real Estate Tax, and also by Move Seattle, the $930 million levy voters passed in 2016 to improve street safety throughout Seattle.
If you’re interested in taking part in the planning stages of the second phase of the Rainier Ave S Corridor Improvements Projects, SDOT will be hosting its first event of the year on March 7th at the Emerald City Bible Fellowship from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm, where they will share Phase 1 results and get community input on changes to be made in the extension of the re-channelization. Current plans expect for a finalization of design and concept in the fall of 2017 and for construction to begin sometime in 2018.