Tacoma Witnesses Surge in Fatal Traffic Accidents Despite Safety Efforts

A Troubling Rise in Fatalities

Tacoma has seen a significant increase in fatal traffic accidents, reaching levels not observed since 2015. According to preliminary data from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the city experienced 35 fatal crashes in 2023, resulting in 44 deaths. This spike includes a particularly tragic incident on State Route 509, where six Arizonans lost their lives. The increase is alarming, marking the highest number of fatal crashes and fatalities since WSDOT began tracking this data, with previous highs recorded in 2022 and 2021.

City officials, including City Council member Kristina Walker, have expressed deep disappointment and sadness over these figures. Despite the upward trend in traffic fatalities in Pierce County and statewide, Tacoma has been working to combat this issue through various safety initiatives, aiming to reverse the disturbing trend and save lives.

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Tacoma's Response: Vision Zero Initiative

Tacoma adopted the Vision Zero initiative in 2020 to address the escalating traffic fatalities, aspiring to eliminate traffic deaths and severe injuries by 2035. The initiative, part of a broader movement across the United States, has led to reducing speed limits in residential and business districts and focusing on street redesign for enhanced safety. However, the pandemic and related staffing challenges have delayed these efforts, which are now gaining momentum under the city's renewed commitment to tackle problematic streets and improve traffic safety infrastructure.

Senior transportation planner Carrie Wilhelm highlights the initiative's impact, emphasizing the city's ongoing work to address dangerous streets like Portland Avenue. Despite the challenges and the time required to see tangible results, Tacoma is determined to implement significant changes to make streets safer for all users. This includes high-visibility crosswalks, streetlights, protected bike lanes, and other measures to reduce speeds and protect pedestrians and cyclists.

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Below is a table summarizing the key data points and initiatives mentioned regarding the surge in traffic fatalities in Tacoma and broader efforts:

Category Details
Fatal Crashes in Tacoma (2023) 35 fatal crashes, resulting in 44 deaths
Notable Incident Six Arizonans died in a wreck on State Route 509 in July
Comparison with Previous Years Highest tally since 2015; previous highs were 24 fatal crashes in 2022 and 26 fatalities in 2021
City Official Reaction City Council member Kristina Walker expressed disappointment and sadness
Vision Zero Initiative Adopted in 2020 with the goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2035. Efforts include lowering speed limits and redesigning streets for safety.
Challenges Initiative delayed by the pandemic and staffing issues, but now gaining momentum
Specific Streets Mentioned Portland Avenue and Pacific Avenue highlighted for redesign and safety improvements
Funding and Engagement $2.1 million in grant funding for Portland Avenue redesign. Public engagement to start within a year
Safety Audits Plans to audit three high-risk corridors annually for safety improvements
County and Statewide Trends Pierce County and Washington State also saw an increase in traffic fatalities in 2023
Legislative Measures Promotion of speed cameras and proposal to reduce legal blood-alcohol content limit for drivers
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This table encapsulates the key data and responses to the rise in traffic fatalities in Tacoma, the initiatives undertaken to address the issue, and the broader context at the county and state levels.

Infrastructure and Community Engagement

The city has secured $2.1 million in grant funding to redesign Portland Avenue, with plans to start public engagement within the year. Pacific Avenue is also changing part of a development plan initiated in 2019. These efforts are part of Tacoma's broader strategy to audit high-risk corridors annually, identifying issues and implementing necessary changes to increase street safety.

Tacoma's commitment extends beyond infrastructure to include community engagement and policy updates on safety and climate change. As the city collaborates with the Puget Sound Regional Council and other partners, there's optimism that these combined efforts will reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries, aligning with the Vision Zero goal.

The Wider Issue: Pierce County and Statewide Trends

Rising traffic fatalities extend beyond Tacoma, affecting Pierce County and the entire state of Washington. In 2023, the county and state witnessed an increase in fatal crashes and fatalities, with impaired driving and speeding identified as the primary risk factors. Efforts to combat these trends include legislative measures to promote the use of speed cameras and lower the legal blood-alcohol content limit for drivers.

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As Tacoma and Washington State grapple with these challenges, authorities emphasize the importance of preventative measures, such as increased law enforcement presence and targeted patrols. The ultimate goal is to ensure driver awareness and adherence to safety regulations, aiming to significantly reduce traffic-related deaths and serious injuries.

The collective efforts of city officials, transportation planners, and law enforcement are crucial in combating the rising trend of traffic fatalities. With ongoing initiatives and a focus on community safety, Tacoma, Pierce County, and Washington State can reverse these concerning statistics and create safer roads for everyone.

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