Calling for a ‘paradigm shift,’ mayor announces new emphasis on pedestrian safety

In a Wednesday morning speech, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson pledged increased emphasis on making streets safe for pedestrians. With the mayor (L to R) were Assistant Police Chief Rod Sniffen, Acting Public Works Director Rob English and Development Services Director Susan McLaughlin.

In a speech delivered Wednesday morning at Sherwood Elementary School, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson pledged to increase the city’s spending on pedestrian safety, using the funds to pay for a multi-faceted approach that leverages speed-limit setting, road design and other infrastructure interventions with enhanced education and enforcement.

In announcing the initiative, Nelson pointed to the recent car/pedestrian accident on 220th Street Southwest, where a 2-year-old and a teenager crossing the street were hit by a car and sent “flying through the air.” The mayor pointed out that while drivers now have a plethora of safety features such as back-up cameras, blind-spot detectors and collision-avoidance systems, pedestrians have none.

“People are being killed and maimed every day in our country because people are driving too fast, late for softball game, distracted because their newborn demands their attention or talking on their cell phone,” Nelson said. “We are inundated with things occupying our attention while we travel down the road in a 4,000-pound vehicle, half of that weight coming from steel. It is no wonder that compared to those in vehicles, people walking and biking suffer disproportionately from serious injuries and fatalities when a crash occurs.”

Pointing out that historically the priority for traffic design has been ensuring the smooth and efficient flow of traffic, he stressed that this mindset needs to shift from merely reaching our destination to reaching our destination unharmed.

“In Edmonds. our streets make up 77% of our public space,” he pointed out. “We rely on streets not just to get us to where we need to go, but as a public space to socialize, play and eat. Edmonds streets should not function as highways; they are an integral part of our neighborhoods and provide inclusive spaces which enable us to come together as a community.

“Our streets need to be designed to balance needs for all users and prioritize the most vulnerable ones,” he continued. “We have a long way to go with about half of our streets lacking sidewalks, and many — like 220th — with long stretches without a safe pedestrian crossing. We must do more to protect the most vulnerable, those who are outside these vehicles.”

The mayor went on to pledge a multi-pronged approach to improving pedestrian safety in Edmonds, including the following: driver education campaigns; a new Complete Streets Steering Committee to review capital projects for opportunities to enhance pedestrian safety, review collision reports and make recommendations; expanding the use of transportation impact fees to include sidewalks and other multi-use enhancements rather than just to increase vehicle capacity; and implementing a safe streets dashboard on a City of Edmonds webpage to track progress.

To help meet these goals, Nelson proposes quadrupling the city’s annual pedestrian safety budget. In addition to addressing the above priorities, this would help fund measures that include building more sidewalks and implementing school zone speed cameras.

To boost sidewalk construction, the mayor also pledged to work to create a city sidewalk code that would require private developers to construct sidewalks as part of their projects, and where this is not feasible to establish an in-lieu program to fund sidewalk installation elsewhere.

“We fully intend to track our progress,” he stressed. “One measure of success will be more people walking in our neighborhoods and downtown. Our goal is to see a 20% increase in pedestrian activity by 2030, as shown in our annual public life surveys. Another goal is a decrease in fatalities or severe injuries due to traffic collisions as recorded in police department data.”

Nelson was followed to the podium by Development Services Director Susan McLaughlin, who echoed the need to design streets to protect all users.

Development Services Director Susan McLaughlin emphasized the need to prioritize and customize safe streets improvements based on adjacent land use.

“Specific actions and funding will be determined based on the type of street,” she explained. “Residential streets should of course have sidewalks and should be prioritized, but based on adjacent land use others may be lower priority. We’ll need to analyze based on people movement, not just vehicle movement.”

Assistant Police Chief Rod Sniffen acknowledged that enforcement is a critical part of the pedestrian safety equation, citing the good results from neighboring jurisdictions, which have used school zone speed cameras.

Assistant Police Chief Rod Sniffen highlighted the importance of enforcement as the safe streets effort moves forward.

In conclusion, Nelson stressed that he’s looking for nothing less than a paradigm shift.

“We need to shift from thinking of streets as just places for cars, and start thinking about them as public spaces with multiple uses,” he said.  “I am committed to making sure that our residents – be they pedestrians, cyclists or drivers – reach their destination unharmed. And we need to act now and not wait for the next near miss.”

– Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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