Editorial: Whose Safety?

Our society sets up a rather large apparatus to ensure our safety and we are lucky to have it. But it’s important to take a hard look at the safety apparatus policies to make sure we are putting emphasis in the right areas, and getting the most impact for our efforts, whether or not they are investments in time or money. That’s the spirit in which I recently checked fatality data in the City of Spokane. Here’s what I found out:

As of this writing (near the end of December) the City of Spokane has had 3 homicides and 4 deaths from fire incidents. And 10 traffic fatalities. Of those 10 traffic fatalities 6 of the victims were bicyclists or pedestrians.
That’s just one year. If you go back five years and add all the yearly totals together the numbers look like this: 45 homicides, 13 fire deaths, and 47 traffic fatalities—24 of which had bicyclists or pedestrian victims.

What do these numbers tell us? Fatalities are just one way to look at safety stats, but there’s an interesting correlation to our public safety expenditures. In the Spokane area, as in most local governments, law enforcement and fire safety/paramedic services take up over half of our government expenditures. Justifiably so. If people don’t feel safe, our whole societal fabric breaks down from education to economic development and everything in between. I would argue it’s worth the tens of millions of local dollars we invest in these services.

How much do we spend on dedicated bicycle and pedestrian safety? Almost nothing. What little is spent is generally from state and federal grants.

The notion of spending measurable local money on things like bike lanes, sidewalks, handicap ramps and transit facilities is still relatively new. Asserting the importance of these safety features might get you branded a “divisive radical” and for demanding “frivolous amenities.” Silly, I know.

But when we spend money on public safety we have the right ask whose safety we are ensuring. Is it the over 30% of Spokane County residents who can’t drive? Or the additional folks who may not be able to afford a vehicle? We all have a stake in making sure these folks are safe and have mobility. Mobility equals economic activity and no one wants to limit economic activity.

It‘s a good time to do some rebalancing of our safety expenditures. Costs may be relative, but safety should be universal.

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