Kudos to Washington Transportation Secretary Roger Millar who this week used the words “resilient response” to tell the House Transportation Committee that the state had to stop building freeways.
Want to address inequity, climate change, and the increasing serious injuries and death on roads? Don’t build any more highways.
Washington State had set a goal to reduce walking and cycling fatalities by five percent annually, with a goal of zero road deaths by 2030. In reality? More people are being killed on the roads every year. In 2021, 600 people died in Washington State in 540 crashes.
Sadly 118 cyclists and pedestrians were also killed, with 2,411 crashes resulting in serious injury. That statistic on fatalities is the most since 2006, and 16 percent more than in 2020.
Of the crashes 2,411 of them in 2021 resulted in serious injury — also the most since 2006 and 16% more than in 2020, as David Kroman wrote in the Seattle Times.
Building more freeway lanes require money, maintenance and contribute to the death of state residents.
Tom Fulcoro in Seattle Bike Blog writes that two billion dollars are required for annual maintenance but there’s only 900 million dollars available for annual funding. Looking at Washington State’s Department of Transportation’s estimate of 115 billion dollars over ten years to add enough lanes to keep everyone at currently posted speed limits? That requires an additional gasoline tax at close to $2.50 dollars a gallon.
As Mr. Millar posits: “Addressing congestion through adding lanes to the Interstate system is not financially feasible, it’s not economically feasible, it’s not environmentally feasible. It’s just not going to happen,” said Millar. “We need to think about doing things differently…”the state’s path of continually expanding freeways to solve congestion has “come to a dead end.”
And the way out? Use smarter infrastructure, enhance accessible public transit, provide affordable housing closer to work, strengthen walking and cycling networks. And emphasize active transportation, encourage congestion to reduce vehicle driver related serious injuries and fatalities.
That is already being enacted in Seattle where instead of using police to enforce driver behaviour the City is converting to the Safe Systems Approach, also called Vision Zero. In this approach every human life matters, and the point is to ensure that no one is seriously injured or dies.(The City of Surrey with Shabnem Afzal is championing Vision Zero. You can take a look at some of their work here.)
In Seattle there is an emphasis on encouraging cycling and walking with a Safe Routes to Schools Action plan approved in 2021. The City is also making changes to high crash intersections, creating medians at centre lines, and installing pedestrian leading intervals (LPIs).
Pedestrian leading intervals are created for a nominal cost of less than 2,000 dollars an intersection. Pedestrian crossing lights are reprogrammed to give pedestrians anywhere from a three to ten second start to cross the street before vehicular traffic is allowed to proceed through a crosswalk.
This has been successfully applied in New York City where there are over 2,238 of these leading pedestrian crossing intervals. New York City had a 56 percent decrease in pedestrian and cyclist collisions at locations where LPIs were installed. NACTO, the National Organization of City and Transportation Officials estimates that LPIs can reduce pedestrian crashes by 60 percent. (The City of Vancouver installed just eight LPIs in 2020).
In the face of a statewide “traffic emergency” it is now recognized that you simply cannot build your way out of congestion. Reducing trips enhances sustainability, reduces carbon emissions and improves individuals’ mental and physical health.
As Secretary of Transportation Millar concludes
“We are a Target Zero state, and we’re going the wrong way,”The data shows our system isn’t safe. It kills people, and we need to invest to stop that.” Washington State Department of Transportation estimates that the monetary cost of collisions, injuries and deaths is about $14 billion per year. Of course, a life is more important than money.”