Dangerous and even fatal crashes on Aurora Avenue North in Seattle are far too common. The road is usually at the top of the list of roads with the highest number of crashes in the city.
We are a personal injury law firm, not engineers or city planners—but we have seen too many cases, and taken too many consultation calls from people who have been injured on this roadway.
Why are there so many crashes on Aurora Avenue?
Here are three separate—but connected—reasons that we have learned from our cases, and from the safety advocates working to improve Seattle.
People drive too fast
There are two parts to this: the speed limit, and the speeds at which people actually drive.
The default Seattle speed limit is 25 mph. On most of Aurora Avenue N, the speed limit has been 40 mph. Some sections of Aurora are posted at 30, some at 35 mph.
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has started to lower speed limits on residential and arterial roads. But Aurora Ave, as part of a state highway, is a little bit different.
To change the speed limit on a state highway that runs through Seattle, SDOT has to go through the state. The process of lowering the speed limit has been ongoing.
In partnership with WSDOT, we are lowering speed limits on portions of state routes that look and feel like normal city streets.
We installed lower speed limit signs on State Route 99/Aurora Ave N on March 30 (2021).
– SDOT Blog
The speed limit is one thing. The speed people actually drive is another.
The Seattle Bike Blog looked at an SDOT speed study in 2020 at Aurora Ave and N 112th street, where the posted speed limit is 35 mph, and noted the following.
- 92% of drivers were speeding.
- 66% of them were driving at least 40 mph.
- 25% were driving at least 45 mph.
The difference between 35 mph and 45 mph may not feel like much from behind the wheel of a car. But it makes a big difference if you are involved in a crash, especially if you are outside of a vehicle.
Vehicle speed affects the chances of being involved in a serious or fatal collision, and governs the severity of the crash.
Nine of ten pedestrians survive being hit by a car at 20 MPH,
Only one out of ten people survive being hit at 40 MPH.
We know that a high concentration of speed limit signs actually can help prevent injury crashes, based on this study in North Seattle.
But it is not the only method, or even close to the most effective.
Road design and infrastructure failures
It is not clear to us how much of a factor speed is on the number of crashes on Aurora Avenue North. What we do know is that drivers increase their vehicle speed when they have the opportunity.
Road design has traditionally favored motor vehicle traffic at the expense of safety and walkability. Long stretches of road without traffic lights, traffic control devices, even center-lane medians, encourage speeding. This becomes increasingly dangerous, particularly to our most vulnerable citizens, as population grows and spreads.
Big sections of Aurora Avenue are a pedestrian nightmare, in which the sidewalk is only inches away from the lanes of traffic. In other parts, the sidewalk simply fades off, or dumps people walking into a business parking lot, or a vehicle turn lane.
And those long stretches that allow drivers to gather speed are very dangerous to cross.