The COVID-19 pandemic and our response to it is having a profound impact on the nation’s roadway safety. With the sharp rises in speeding and alcohol consumption, traffic fatalities are dramatically increasing in communities across the US. The most vulnerable users are pedestrians. National data show that the fatality rate for people walking spiked 21% in 2020, the largest recorded year over year increase.

 Locally, we are experiencing the same challenges. We lost 34 people in Dane County due to crashes in 2020, and in 2021 we have already had 40 people die on Dane County roadways. Ten of the 40 fatalities occurred in Madison, seven on city-maintained roadways, and six on East Washington Avenue. On East Washington Ave., five of the six victims were pedestrians, and one was a bicyclist. Five out of the six fatalities occurred at night, mostly after midnight, and four of the six occurred on roadway segments where the posted speed limit is 35 mph or greater. Three of the ten fatalities occurred on roadway segments managed by either Dane County or the State.

While the police investigations into these crashes are still ongoing, preliminary analysis reveals that speed, alcohol, drugs and inattentiveness were some frequent factors involved. Each of the six fatalities on East Washington Avenue involved a mistake on either the driver’s or other road user’s part. However, we believe human mistakes do not have to be fatal. That’s why we are focusing on reducing traffic speeds – we know that crashes are less deadly when speeds are slower. We are aiming to achieve zero traffic deaths through our Vision Zero initiative.

A staff team from my office, Traffic Engineering, and Police Department has been working on responding to the crisis, and towards Vision Zero on East Washington Avenue and beyond. We’ve made numerous pedestrian crossing improvements along the corridor and lowered the speed limit. We have also adjusted environmental controls, traffic signal timing, speed boards, and electronic messaging to convince drivers to slow down. MPD has greatly stepped up enforcement on East Washington Avenue, with well over 2,500 warnings and citations issued.
Data for E. Washington Ave. Outbound, All Day (Yahara River Bridge)

Data shows that our efforts in managing the speed are having a positive effect, reducing the percentage of vehicles traveling over 40 mph by around 30-90% depending on the time of day and location. The below graphs are examples of how speeds have improved on East Washington Avenue from 2020 before the City’s countermeasures to 2021 after the City’s countermeasures.
Data for E. Washington Ave. Outbound, 11PM-1AM (Yahara River Bridge)

With each traffic fatality, a family will never be the same. The City’s efforts to understand each fatality and to improve safety on East Washington Avenue and beyond will continue. We will aggressively pursue innovative measures to address fatalities and serious injuries, such as creative messaging, creative education campaign, speed management and roadway treatments.

We will not stop until we eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries. To achieve that, we need everyone’s help. Our daily choices matter, especially when we get behind the wheel. We need to slow down, pay attention, and look out for each other. We are in this together. Let’s work together to change our roadway safety culture.

View the 9/28 Common Council presentation on Vision Zero efforts along East Washington Avenue here: East Washington Avenue Safety & Speeds
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Category: Transit