One morning in early May of this year, shortly before leaving for work, I checked my Twitter account and learned that police activity had closed a street a few blocks from my office near Tillicum Place in north Belltown. A man had been killed by a car, the tweet said. No other details were known.

As far as major cities go, Seattle is a relatively safe city for pedestrians, people on bikes, people driving. Still, we average around 35 traffic collisions within the city per day. Many only result in minor injury, but frequently the injuries are serious–and it’s often not clear what the outcome was for those involved–the driver is in critical condition at Harborview, we read. The pedestrian’s condition is not immediately known, their name has not been confirmed. News of these events ricochets around the city but settle into the background of our daily lives. At some point it fails to even really register as we become desensitized. Tragedy becomes news becomes statistics becomes a fact of life.

Today, in late November, I still do not know the name of that man who was killed on Denny Way in early May. I think about him every time I walk by the driveway where he lost his life, just as I think about Max Richards, and the poetry that his wife Marilyn Black read aloud at his memorial walk in October, whenever I walk past Belmont Ave and Bellevue Place in north Capitol Hill. And I think about Desiree MacCloud when I walk by 14th and Yesler and Leo Almanzor when I walk by 5th and Pike.

This morning, Seattle, all around our city are 240 white silhouettes placed yesterday by volunteers all over town. Every single one represents a life that was lost in the past decade, 2007-2016, within the city limits. As you go about your routines, you may notice one on your route to work, on your evening walk. If your reaction is, like me, to try and make sense of the senseless, you may try and find a pattern as to where they appear. And that pattern is there. Out of seven council districts, which have roughly the same population, the highest number of traffic fatalities happened in district 2, in South Seattle. District 2 had more fatalities than District 7, which contains downtown. The burden is not shared equally, as has been the case for decades.

But almost every single person in Seattle is affected by these events. It is impossible to ignore the toll that these deaths and serious injuries takes on our city. But there is a growing movement that seeks, even demands, to make our streets safer. Most of the work to make this happen is invisible. It is taking place in the offices of the Seattle Department of Transportation. It is happening at Seattle Neighborhood Greenways meetings all over our city, providing feedback on safety projects and pushing for ones where they were not previously considered. We are lobbyists for our own streets.

Ultimately, if we are successful, we can get to Vision Zero together, and make Seattle a safe place to walk, bike, or drive for all of our citizens. While we may not always agree on the ways to get there, I do believe that is something that all residents in Seattle can get behind and join me in working toward. We do, however, have to decide as city that we are serious about redesigning our city to put people over cars.

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  1. We would like to do something similar in TO. Any advice on where I can get the pedestrian outline. I assume that the signs were lasercut from coroplast?

  2. Seattle is not a safe place like it use to be. To many Urbanist have ruined a wonderfull
    City. It is not safe at night or anytime during the day. I have been mugged twice during
    day light hours around Cal Anderson Park in the last year.

    I also remember the days when I drove. Bike drivers use to hit vechicles all the time and
    some just drive by and hit rear view mirrors. You need a drivers licence to be on the road
    so biclyist need a licence to be on the road also.

    • I am sorry about your repeatedly being assaulted Bob. I hope you will have reached out to your community police officer about this. To be fair Bob, I don’t agree that Urbanists are the cause of these attacks. I think it is the failure of Seattle to respond successfully in terms of urban design and policy, to accommodate it’s population change that has made living in the city less safe for many people. Urbanists accept the challenges that urban growth brings and look to better the urban environment for the majority of the population by promoting design examples successful in other thriving urban areas that can be supported by the best available data. Furthermore, I believe one requires a license to drive an automobile because it is a machine that has the potential to kill people, something like a firearm license. Bicycles rarely reach the mass and speed required to kill other people. Cars and guns are deadly by design.

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