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Statewide pedestrian and bicyclist deaths and injuries continue to grow

Parker Miles Blohm

More people were killed or seriously injured biking and walking in 2018 than in any of the previous four years, according to the latest numbers from the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Last year, 123 pedestrians and cyclists were killed and 535 were seriously injured across the state, according to WSDOT's Active Transportation Annual Safety Report published in May.

There were only two fewer deaths in 2017. Serious injuries increased about 16 percent from 460.

While those increases may seem moderate, the number of deaths and serious injuries has generally trended upward over the past five years. In 2014, there were 82 deaths and 421 serious injuries.

Part of the increase can be attributed to population growth. But the portion of pedestrian and cyclist deaths compared to total traffic deaths has also increased. People walking and biking made up 22 percent of all traffic deaths in 2018, compared to 18 percent in 2014.

"I hate to use the 'canary-in-the-coal-mine' analogy, but if you do, pedestrians and bicyclists are the canaries," said Barb Chamberlain, WSDOT's active transportation director.

The numbers indicate that pedestrian and cyclist deaths are rising faster than motorist deaths, Chamberlain said. 

"If you fix it for pedestrians, you fix it for everybody in terms of reducing fatalities," she said.

A majority, 61 percent, of serious and fatal injuries among pedestrians and cyclists between 2014-2018 happened on city streets, according to the report. People are more likely to walk or bike in those areas.

The state is trying to eliminate pedestrian and bicyclist deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Chamberlain says Washington has done a pretty good job of educating people about distracted driving and driving while intoxicated. But there has been a shift to focus on engineering safer roads to get to the root cause of crashes.

"We need to start with designing a street or road that cues the driver to do the right thing," she said. "To slow down where they need to slow down, to be careful going around that corner because someone might be in that crosswalk."

A Seattle native and former knkx intern, Simone Alicea has returned to the Pacific Northwest from covering breaking news at the Chicago Sun-Times. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.