Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.

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Six people have been killed on East Washington Avenue this year.

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In the wake of another fatality on East Washington Avenue, city data show that Madison’s efforts to rein in dangerous driving on the major roadway over the past several months have prompted slower vehicle speeds.

This ongoing work to create a safer environment for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists follows an increase in fatalities nationally and in Madison.

Since April, six people have been killed by motorists on East Washington Avenue. The most recent death occurred Sept. 20 at the Lien Road intersection. 

“Each of the six really, really unfortunate fatalities on (East Washington Avenue) involve bad choices made by someone,” Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said Tuesday at the City Council’s executive committee meeting. “Mistakes happen in our lives. What we need to get to is that bad choice should not be fatal.” 

She said that’s where Vision Zero, the city’s strategy to eliminate traffic deaths and severe injuries on city streets by 2030, comes in. 

“Vision Zero is focused on making our streets more forgiving and allowing people to live even when there are mistakes made by somebody involved and that is part of why speed is such an important factor,” Rhodes-Conway said. “Higher speeds are much, much more deadly.”   

On East Washington Avenue, the city has reduced speed limits to 25 and 30 miles per hour in certain sections, used traffic barrels on weekends to reduce capacity on the thoroughfare, retimed traffic lights to promote reduced speeds and improved crosswalks and lighting. 

The Madison Police Department increased enforcement on East Washington Avenue with the assistance of some grant funding and has issued 2,510 citations and warnings this year.    

Traffic Engineer Yang Tao reported that these efforts have influenced drivers to slow down. The percentage of drivers traveling over 40 miles per hour on East Washington Avenue at the Yahara River Bridge decreased from 8% to 1% from 2020 to 2021. 

“Things are shifting,” Tao said. “People are driving slower, especially for those who drive at a higher speed.”   

The city is going to advertise on buses to encourage safer driving, experiment with narrowing lanes, expand the speed limit reduction zone, bring higher visibility to crosswalks and install better pedestrian signage. 

Despite fewer cars on the road during the coronavirus pandemic, pedestrian deaths increased. The projected fatality rate for people walking increased by 21%, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.   

According to the Associated Press, traffic data indicates that the higher death toll is connected to higher average speeds and more people driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. 

“We’re not alone in this and that gives us both the opportunity to learn from what other cities are experiencing and trying, but also to share our experiences,” Rhodes-Conway said. 

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