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The Spokane Regional Transportation Council has a plan to end traffic deaths by 2042 – will it work? | Local news | Spokane | Pacific Northwest Inlander

click to enlarge Spokane Regional Transportation Council has a plan to end traffic deaths by 2042 - will it work?

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Between 2019 and 2022, the number of fatal and serious injury car crashes in Spokane County increased by 66 percent.

Iit’s a very bad time for traffic safety in Washington State.

Car crashes killed 810 people nationwide last year, the highest number in 33 years. Drivers are speeding and using their phones while driving more often than before. Pedestrians and cyclists are disproportionately represented in the death toll. The number of people getting behind the wheel after using multiple substances at the same time has increased. Drivers seem angrier and more aggressive. Rage shootings have tripled since 2018.

Spokane is not immune to the trend. Between 2019 and 2022, the number of fatal and serious injury crashes in Spokane County increased by 66% – from 28 deaths and 107 serious injuries in 2019 to 38 deaths and 183 serious injuries in 2022. Pedestrians make up just 3% from the total number of accident victims. , but 23% of deaths and serious injuries.

Car crashes killed 57 people in Spokane County last year, according to data from the Washington State Department of Transportation. For reference, that’s more than double the number of people killed in homicides investigated as murders in Spokane County in 2023.

“These aren’t just numbers or dots on a map, these are members of our own community who suffer serious ramifications from these accidents,” says Mike Ulrich, a senior transportation planner with the Spokane Regional Transportation Council. “That number — that condition — is growing rapidly.”

click to enlarge The Spokane Regional Transportation Council has a plan to end traffic deaths by 2042 - will it work?  (2)

Spokane Regional Transportation Council map

A map of fatal and serious injury crashes over the past five years by the Spokane Regional Transportation Council.

To address the crisis, the Spokane Regional Transportation Council — a regional agency with representatives from the city of Spokane, Spokane Valley, Medical Lake and other local jurisdictions — has spent the past few months working on a “Regional Safety Action Plan” to reduce regional traffic deaths and injuries.

The draft plan released earlier this week has a bold goal: zero traffic deaths or serious injuries in Spokane County by 2042.

The Transportation Council received a $400,000 federal grant to help develop its safety action plan. To qualify for federal grant funding, the safety action plan must include a “public commitment to an eventual goal of zero roadway fatalities and serious injuries.”

For several decades, the Washington State Department of Transportation has had a somewhat more ambitious statewide “Target Zero” goal for 2030. Recent trends have made achieving that look increasingly unlikely. Last year, the state’s Highway Safety Commission had a roundtable discussion about whether or not to change the goal, but ultimately agreed to keep it.

Ulrich says the Spokane Regional Transportation Board chose the 2042 timeline because it seemed a little more feasible.

“As we get closer to 2030, the numbers are obviously going in the wrong direction,” says Ulrich. “I think there’s been a recognition among the (Transportation Board) that it’s not exactly practical given the tremendous amount of work that’s going to be required to get to zero.”

The timeline was also chosen to align with the city of Spokane, which also chose 2042 when it adopted its “Vision Zero” project at the end of 2022. The city was awarded a $9.3 million federal grant for the implementation of the program last December.

The action plan launched by the Transport Council this week includes targets to reduce serious injury and fatal crashes for pedestrians and cyclists by 50% by 2030 and halve serious injury or fatal crashes in the ‘Serious Injury Network’ Council – Spokane County series. roads with historically high accident rates.

“The group believed the plan should align with the state in their 2030 target, but felt we should recognize that at this point it seems a little impractical to get to zero,” says Ulrich.

Once the plan is adopted, local officials will be able to use it to apply for additional funding from the federal and state governments.

Lack of funding has long been a challenge for cities hoping to make safe infrastructure improvements.

On Monday, Spokane City Council members plan to vote on a resolution aimed at helping solve funding problems, asking Mayor Lisa Brown to direct the Department of Public Works to implement “adaptive design” strategies for transportation projects in the city.

Adaptive design refers to temporary measures designed to slow down drivers and are cheaper and easier to install than typical traffic calming projects, which are often made of concrete. Adaptive models have been used in other cities and often involve planters, painted intersections, bollards and other low-cost improvements that make roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

City Council member Zack Zappone, who introduced the resolution, said it is intended to address challenges of delaying traffic calming projects due to lack of staff capacity and funding issues.

“It’s really cost effective,” Zappone said at a meeting last week. “We’re able to do more of these types of interventions in the city faster, so more neighborhoods, more people can have a safe experience.”

The Spokane Regional Transportation Council has a plan to end traffic deaths by 2042 - will it work?  (3)

Spokane Regional Transportation Council Chart

THE PLAN

The Transportation Board’s plan includes a list of 34 recommended actions for state agencies and local jurisdictions. The recommendations include a variety of infrastructure improvements as well as new approaches to education and traffic enforcement. They do not include cost estimates.

After the action plan is formally adopted by the Transportation Board in July, local jurisdictions will be able to choose exactly how they want to adopt it and follow the recommendations.

“We wanted to leave some flexibility for our members to be able to design a project that fits their community, so we’re not trying to be too prescriptive with all the recommendations,” says Ulrich. “I’ve proposed a menu of strategies for them to choose from.”

Achieving zero deaths and serious injuries by 2042 may be slightly more feasible than the state’s 2030 goal, but it’s still an ambitious target. Transportation projects take a long time, and 18 years can go by quickly.

Ulrich is cautious when asked how confident he is in the region’s ability to meet the 2042 target.

Transportation planning is a matter of prioritizing competing demands for resources, Ulrich says. Funding is always limited. Safety is a top priority, but many cities are struggling to find money to address transportation maintenance, capacity and congestion issues.

“To the extent that we can get the funding to implement the plan, yes, I’m fully confident that we can get to zero by 2042,” says Ulrich. “I’m not 100% sure there are funds.”

Ulrich emphasizes that achieving zero deaths and serious injuries It is possible. It happened in other communities. He points to Hoboken, New Jersey—a city of about 60,000 that adopted a Vision Zero action plan and has gone seven years without a traffic fatality.

The 34 recommendations of the draft action plan are divided into five subsections: “speed management”, “angle crashes”, “education”, “off-road crashes” and “pedestrians and cyclists”.

Many of the recommendations involve infrastructure changes such as narrowing lanes, adding guardrails, reducing the number of lanes, and installing roundabouts and pedestrian crossings. It recommends improving lighting in high-impact areas and signs of speed feedback and rumble strips ahead of sharp bends.

When it comes to traffic enforcement, the plan recommends increased use of automatic red lights and speed cameras, and that police departments prioritize increased traffic enforcement in high-impact areas.

Increasing enforcement could be difficult. Last week, we reported on how the Spokane Police Department’s traffic enforcement has been reduced in recent years due to ongoing staffing issues.

For education, the report recommends that local agencies collaborate on an information campaign focused on distracted and impaired driving, speeding and vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists and young people.

People can get an overview of the plan and take a survey about their road safety priorities here. A copy of the full plan is available here.