Archive for the 'issues' Category

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Appreciate and care for our sidewalks!

This is a guest post by Marjorie, a Seattle bus rider and pedestrian.

I’m living with my elderly mother in the house my parents bought in the 50s, and when the sidewalks were installed in the 60s my parents were assessed on their property taxes for 10 years to pay for these.

If the city is now giving people sidewalks without the property owners having to pay, then the city should reimburse (with interest) those who had to pay for their own sidewalks. I might make an exception for arterials. Arterials should always have sidewalks, but ironically many Seattle arterials don’t have these.

And property owners need to be reminded that they are responsible for maintaining their sidewalks. I spend many, many hours every year digging up the weeds that grow through the cracks. Otherwise the sidewalks will buckle and break and become unsafe for pedestrians.

How many people holler for sidewalks but then neglect them once installed? I have little patience with property owners who don’t accept the responsibility that goes with having sidewalks:

  1. Don’t park cars across curb cuts in sidewalks.
  2. Sweep or rake leaves – don’t let them pile up on sidewalks.
  3. Make sure tree branches are at least 8 feet off the ground over sidewalks.
  4. Prune back any shrubs growing over sidewalks.
  5. Make sure that tree branches don’t block street lights from illuminating sidewalks after dark.
  6. Don’t use parking strips (a.k.a. planting strips) for growing anything over about a foot high. It can obstruct the view of drivers and could lead to tragic accidents. Grow your veggies and flowers in your yard. Public safety should not be compromised.

And the government should not allow developers to block sidewalks for construction projects. This is unfair to pedestrians and can lead to bus riders missing bus connections at transfer points.

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Join “walk-in” TOMORROW to support a safer Rainier Ave

Rainier walk-inLast week, someone drove their car into a historic building on Rainier Avenue, injuring seven people.

In response to this event, the Columbia City Business Association has scheduled a “walk-in” tomorrow near the location of the crash to encourage action from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). There have been several severe crashes on Rainier, including one just six months ago when someone drove over the curb and into a nail salon.

From 4:30 to 5:30 tomorrow, participants will cross Rainier Avenue at Ferdinand Street during each light cycle. All are welcome to join in, including latecomers.

Rainier is the “Main Street” for the Columbia City business district, however drivers often travel in excess of the posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour therefore discouraging pedestrians from walking in the area and crossing the street.

The Business Association is asking SDOT to take action, specifically by providing the following:

  • Longer crossing times for pedestrians on Rainier.
  • Red light cameras at intersections to reduce the number of cars speeding through red lights.
  • A slower speed limit through our “main streets” and business districts.
  • Roadway design changes to reduce hazardous driving.

One possible roadway design change for this stretch of Rainier could be a lane rechannelization or “road diet”, which would add a center turn lane and reduce lanes for through traffic. In other locations, lane rechannelizations have been effective at reducing vehicle speed and collisions without affecting roadway’s ability to accommodate traffic. SDOT considers 25,000 vehicles per day as a maximum volume for a four-lane roadway to receive a lane rechannelization and less than 20,000 vehicles appear to travel this stretch of Rainier daily.

The Association is looking for SDOT to take action quickly so as to not allow further and potentially more devastating collisions to occur.

Mayor Murray and new SDOT director Scott Kubly have set high expectations for action by quickly deploying of a protected bike lane on 2nd Ave downtown. Can they do the same for Rainier before something worse happens?

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Vigil this Monday for teen struck in hit-and-run

15-year-old Trevon Crease-Holden was struck on July 19th at Walden and MLK. The driver fled the scene has yet to come forward. As the teen continues to fight for his life, there will be a vigil walk this Monday, August 5 at 5:30 pm.

More information is available at Seattle Neighborhood Greenways:

The Rainier Valley community is gathering on Monday, August 5 at 5:30pm the QFC on Rainier, 2707 Rainier Ave S, and walking four blocks to the site of the tragedy at MLK and South Walden Street. Trevon’s mother, Quianna Holden and other community leaders intend to speak at the Walden collision site. Representatives from local advocacy organizations and the Seattle Mayor’s Office plan to attend.

Trevon was on his way home with his little brother from a late night open gym at a local community center when they entered a marked crosswalk at Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and South Walden Street. A vehicle travelling south on MLK struck Trevon and continued without stopping to provide information or render aid. Seattle Fire Department responded and Seattle Police continue to search for the hit-and-run driver.

Quianna Holden says she can forgive the driver for hitting her son, but she cannot forgive the driver for not coming forward. She went on KIRO TV to make a heartbreaking plea­ for the person responsible to come forward so she can at least have answers. His mother says Trevon is a good son, and a good athlete who hoped to start football this year at Franklin High School.

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Memorial Walk for Crash Victims – Tomorrow

Last Monday in North Seattle, a woman and her infant were put in critical condition and the infant’s grandparents were killed when struck by a driver with a history of driving under the influence.

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has organized a memorial walk to take place one week after the crash – Monday, April 1, at 4pm. The walk will convene in front of Top Pot Doughnuts at 6855 35th NE.

The walk will pay respects to the family, but will also send the message that Seattle needs safer streets. The city has seen too many incidents like this – where neighborhood streets are the setting for car crashes and destroyed lives. The situation on our streets needs to change before something like this happens again.

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Campaign supports “All-Way Walk” intersections in Seattle

A new local campaign hopes to improve pedestrian safety at intersections by making all traffic light intersections turn in to “all-way walk”.

An all-way-walk signal allows pedestrians to cross streets in all directions with no vehicle traffic. However, the drawback is that pedestrians have to wait through two light cycles, one for each direction of vehicle traffic.

This group is on Facebook as “Seattle Campaign for Pedestrian-Safe ‘All-Cross/Walk Intersections’.

The city of Denver, as well as parts of San Francisco, have many more all-way walks than Seattle does. The Seattle Department of Transportation installed a couple all-way walks along 1st Ave within the past couple years, to go along with 1st and Pike downtown and Alaska Junction in West Seattle as the more prominent all-way walk intersections in the city.

The campaign says:

This common-sense safety campaign seeks “ALL CROSS/WALK” signal lights at signal light intersections in the city of Seattle.
ALL CROSS/WALK signal light intersections SAVE LIVES.
To help make the ALL CROSS/WALK intersections workable we’re asking the Council & Mayor to authorize the DOT to install NO TURN ON RED DURING PEDESTRIAN WALK TIME signs @ each intersection the DOT changes to all cross/all walk intersections.

ALL WALK/CROSS intersections are a COMMON SENSE, SAFETY FIRST solution to Seattle’s EXTREMELY DANGEROUS INTERSECTIONS . The current system preferred by Seattle’s DOT allows drivers to be moving behind and simultaneous to pedestrians – for pedestrians – especially those with babies, toddlers, children, seniors, the disabled, and the elderly, it’s horrific and frightening.

The group suggests the intersections of 23rd Ave S & Yesler and Madison & Boren as the first two intersections for implementing an all-way walk.

On the other side of the issue, SDOT says that implementing all-way walks would slow down traffic significantly. In fact, SDOT studied 70 signals in the downtown retail core and found that pedestrians and motorists would experience a significant delay at these intersections and at other nearby intersections – and that the delay for buses would be even worse.

For my part, I’m not sure that providing an all-way-walk at all intersections would be reasonable, but there are probably some intersections that would deserve it. Maybe some intersections on Capitol Hill, or the center of the Greenwood business district at 85th and Greenwood Ave N.

What do you think – are there other areas that are deserving? Or should all of them get the all-way walk treatment?

Where should Seattle implement all-way-walk intersections?

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Street disorder an issue for pedestrians

Seattle’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has started a new campaign to deter street crime and disorder, which has been met with opposition from homeless advocates and social service organizations, and with apathy from some Seattle residents.

The new campaign called “See it, send it”, encourages people to send photos of crime, disorder, and uncomfortable situations to their city council members. As reported by the Times:

Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of the visitors bureau, in an emailed message to city and county officials, said Seattle’s visitor experience has reached a tipping point.

“The situation is getting worse, not better, and we are hearing increasing negative comments from key convention, business and leisure travel customers and clients.”

Mayor McGinn defends what the city is doing about the issue and points to growing tourism and a decline in downtown 911 calls as positive indicators. He also touts his Center City Initiative, which aims to create a vibrant and safe street environment, among other goals. Some Council members are critical of the mayor, however, and say there has not been consistent focus or follow through on the issue.

Unfortunately there isn’t consensus on the solution. Social service organizations emphasize the need for affordable housing, shelters, and treatment for drug abuse and mental illness. The visitor’s bureau wants more focus on safety patrols and enforcement of existing laws against illegal activity and aggressive panhandling, as well as outreach to individuals most in need.

Coincilmember Sally Clark posted on her blog, acknowledging the complexity of the situation.

We do have stretches of our streets and areas in our parks where crime, trash and behavior make a lot of people – including homeless people – feel less welcome and less safe. We’re not good at saying so. It makes us feel mean and less compassionate.

While some residents may dismiss the complaints about street disorder as a non-issue, or suggest that this is an issue that only affects tourists, this is an important topic for all pedestrians. Experienced urban residents may be able to ignore homelessness, begging, and drug use, or accept them as part of city life, but they do impact the pedestrian experience. It’s true that many types of public behavior are apparent in cities, and the diversity of people and activities is one of the things that makes city life interesting and appealing to many. But, based on my experience in other cities, mental illness and drug use aren’t inherently present in cities as they are in Seattle.

Recently, I had visiting relatives in town and we were enjoying a remarkable sunny weekend in October, and downtown Seattle was a vibrant and fun place to be. However, on our way walking from Pike Place Market to the waterfront, we passed someone shooting up on the sidewalk. I haven’t seen that before in Seattle, and would rather not see it again, regardless of whether I have visitors.

Pedestrian advocates may want new sidewalks to help people feel comfortable and safe while walking, but disorderly or intimidating public behavior undermines the quality of the built environment.

Many may call street disorder a “problem”, others will discern that it’s a symptom of economic issues and a limited safety net that affects people in many cities. It’s true the situation is complex, but the Visitors’ bureau calls attention to something that pedestrian advocates should be concerned about as well.

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Lessons from Europe: We’re doing it wrong

In the last post, I shared some of the differences between the pedestrian experience in Seattle and the experience in the British Isles and Paris. While I do believe the urban experience in Europe is better overall than that in Seattle, I don’t think the reasons for that are sidewalks or mixed use or greenways or any of the common urban discussion topics in Seattle.

While Europe suffers as much, if not more than us, by having given up streets that were once used by everyone to be for cars only, the fact that Seattle’s roadways are at least twice as wide as the back streets of Paris already puts us at a huge disadvantage in terms of the pedestrian experience.

Compact street in Edinburgh

Compact, pedestrian oriented street in Edinburgh

European town centers were built well before cars existed and this pedestrian-centered mode of development puts destinations close to each other and makes walking the most convenient way to get around. Paris isn’t a great city for pedestrians just because it has sidewalks.

Many European cities also have extensive and well-used transit systems and they are also an essential part of the transportation network. But London didn’t become a great city by building a great underground network first. It became a great city that required a great transportation system.

A dedicated contingent of Seattlites fighting for bus service, sidewalks, and other urban amenities will never make Seattle a great city. To improve the transportation network here, Seattle could spend $4.5 billion to put sidewalks on every block. But providing amenities for walking doesn’t in itself create a great place to walk. We would be better served by investing in development to build shops in proximity to people and providing housing for people to support the shops.

Parisians on the Seine

Parisians on the Seine at sunset

The answer isn’t density, however – that’s too imprecise a word. Density can mean 40 story towers with 80 feet wide streets in between. Density is only successful when it supports compactness. Compactness can mean narrow streets and narrow sidewalks, an ideal of the urban landscape that may be hard for Seattle to implement today.

But until we begin to value the spaces that keep us farther from the places we want to go, walkers will continue to be delayed and deterred by places that provide no value to the pedestrian. We can look to root out obstacles to compactness and anything that deadens the streetscape and keeps people off the street. Space-eating parking lots, large towers with giant underground parking garages, and abandoned storefronts all undermine a pedestrian-friendly urban area and keep people from enjoying our public squares.

With funding for alternative modes of transportation being cut in the latest national transportation bill, supporters of walking, biking, and riding have suffered a defeat. But this is an opportunity to realize that to create a great pedestrian environment, the path of least resistance isn’t convincing people to think that they want it. The solution is creating a place where people demand it.

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2012 Worst Intersection in Seattle: 5th and Denny

5th and Denny, no crossing

The worst intersection in Seattle

The 2012 winner of the Worst Intersection in Seattle is 5th and Denny. This intersection has a lot going for it, but a missing crosswalk and a dangerous one, along with a pedestrian signal that works only if someone hits the button, impede mobility in the area and undermine the city’s efforts to promote walkability.

You could pick dozens of bad intersections in Seattle from an era of car-friendly road building. However, in the case of 5th and Denny, the concrete that was poured decades ago isn’t the biggest problem; it’s the regulated, almost deliberate hostility to pedestrians in an area that demands the opposite. Four blocks away from last year’s worst “intersection” of Aurora and its non-crossing cross streets of John, Thomas, Harrison, and Republican, 5th and Denny is an active intersection for multiple modes of transportation in a very walkable area in the heart of the city. The sidewalks are relatively wide and smooth and the intersection has two plazas and street-friendly retail.

5th and Denny push button

Push to cross

Bordering Belltown, this intersection is host to substantial foot traffic from residents. Unfortunately, pedestrians aren’t allowed to cross Denny on the east side of 5th/Cedar, and instead must cross three streets instead of one. On southeast-bound 5th Avenue, which some call the “5th Avenue onramp,” pedestrians are forced into areas outside drivers’ lines of sight and cars veering onto Fifth speed by.

One of the most remarkable problems of this intersection is the one that is the easiest to address. People trying to cross Denny often find themselves stuck waiting for the signal to change, not realizing that they have to push the button to cross.

5th and Denny looking northwest

This intersection has potential

In much of this area near the Space Needle and multiple hotels, tourists from Tucson to Toronto and Spokane to Sequim experience what walkable, urban, Seattle has to offer. With high pedestrian traffic, frequent bus service, and the monorail soaring overhead, this intersection could serve as an example of what a pedestrian-friendly city can be like. However, the 5th and Denny intersection treats them like second-class citizens with the same “no pedestrians” sign they might see if trying to cross a freeway in Fargo and the same push button signals they would use to cross an 8-lane suburban highway in Houston.

For all of Seattle’s progressive urban undertakings – greenways, road diets, and the proposals to lift parking requirements – what does it say about the city if we can’t be practical enough to make an important urban intersection work well for walkers? What does it say if we don’t allow pedestrian to cross an urban intersection without hitting a button? What does it say if we’re ok with pedestrians being forced to cross three streets instead of one? What does it say if we allow pedestrians to be hidden behind a pillar?

It says that despite the city’s progressive urban ambitious, we will never reach our potential as a city until we rethink intersections like 5th and Denny that put cars first and put pedestrians last.

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Vote for the Worst Intersection in Seattle in 2012

The nominations are in and we have a large group of terrible places for peds, cyclists, and motorists who want to get around a safe and comfortable way. Here are this year’s nominees for the Worst Intersection in Seattle (click on images to see map):

  1. Pine St & Boren Ave near Capitol Hill Pine and Boren near downtown – “Dangerous for cyclists and remarkably unpleasant for pedestrians for an intersection that’s unavoidable for the commute of thousands of us.” (nominated by Hans Gerwitz)
  2. Queen Anne Dr / Raye St
    Raye St / Queen Anne Dr / 4th Ave N / 6th Ave N in Queen Anne – “This is a 6-way intersection, controlled by all-way stop signs, with no sidewalks, and is filled with cars. Completely chaotic atmosphere on foot or on a bicycle.” (nominated by Louis)
  3. Broadway Ave / Terrace St
    Broadway and Terrace St in Capitol Hill – “The crosswalk is NOT striped yet it is a busy intersection with people crossing to/from the #9 bus stop for Harborview. Lots of elderly folks too … and drivers WILL NOT STOP for people crossing because they are in too much of a hurry to make the light at Broadway/Boren.” (nominated by Gordon Werner)
  4. 5th Ave / Denny Way
    5th Ave and Denny Way – “My vote is for 5th Avenue and Denny Way. Or as I call it, the 5th Avenue onramp.” (nominated by Ryan on Summit)
  5. Montlake / 520 Montlake and 520 – “It stinks no matter what your mode of transportation. Crowded roads, terrible pavement, many crossings.” (nominated by Mike)
  6. Eastlake Ave / Harvard Ave Eastlake and Harvard – “The trip north isn’t so horrible (relatively speaking), but going south over the University Bridge, then quickly merging into traffic and across two lanes is nightmarish. Cars are dodging backed-up left-turn traffic at Fuhrman, bicycles are moving fast on the downhill with visibility limited by the bridge, and the street is a torn up mess. At least most of the grit from after the snow has been cleared out of the bike lane.” (nominated by Jason)
  7. 15th Ave / John St
    15th Ave and John St – “This intersection is rather bizarre as the street grid on either side of 15th Ave doesn’t match up. John and Thomas (on the other side of 15th) are rather busy arterials that carry two of Metro’s busiest bus routes (8 & 43) plus a huge amount of cars trying to access the neighborhood and Group Health. Typically cars trying to go east to west have to make a right turn on the red light at 15th onto John try speeding around the corner while pedestrians have a walk signal.” (nominated by Chris Mobley)
  8. 37th Ave / Lake Washington Blvd / Harrison St
    37th Ave E & Lake Washington Blvd & E Harrison St – “No crosswalks or other clear intersection markings, limited visibility for and of cars coming up the hill on Lk WA Blvd, most cars speeding. This might seem like an intersection in the boonies, but this is the flattest way to get from Madrona and Leschi to the Montlake Bridge or University Bridge.” (nominated by Maggie)
  9. 35th Ave and Avalon Way 35th Ave SW & Avalon in West Seattle – “Terrible for walking and biking. It has heavy traffic, no bike lanes, badly marked crosswalks, and there has been no sidewalk on the southeast corner for several years.” (nominated by Peter)
  10. 15th / Beacon Ave 15th and Beacon Ave in Beacon Hill – Long light cycles and long crossing distances make for an intersection worth avoiding if you can. (nominated via Twitter by @BeaconBIKES, commentary by Troy)
  11. Lafayette / Spokane Lafayette Ave and Spokane St – Would be a perfect way to access Jefferson Park from the residential area, except there are four lanes of speeding traffic to cross, there is no marked crosswalk, and there is no sidewalk on the south side of the street. (nominated via Twitter by @BeaconBIKES, commentary by Troy)

Which is the worst intersection in Seattle in 2012?

  • 5th Ave and Denny Way (26%, 6 Votes)
  • Raye St / Queen Anne Dr / 4th Ave N / 6th Ave N (22%, 5 Votes)
  • Pine and Boren (17%, 4 Votes)
  • Montlake and 520 (13%, 3 Votes)
  • 35th Ave SW and Avalon (9%, 2 Votes)
  • Lafayette Ave and Spokane St (9%, 2 Votes)
  • 15th and Beacon Ave (4%, 1 Votes)
  • 15th Ave and John St (0%, 0 Votes)
  • 37th Ave E & Lake Washington Blvd & E Harrison St (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Broadway and Terrace St (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Eastlake and Harvard (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 23

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Note: Poll will close on April 1st.

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Nominate your worst intersection in Seattle in 2012

Nominations have been received – you can vote here

It’s time to submit your nominations for worst pedestrian intersection in Seattle. Last year you all voted Aurora Ave and John/Thomas/Harrison/Republican as the worst intersections in Seattle.

Go ahead and comment on this post to submit your nomination and tell us why it’s the worst. The criteria for “worst” intersection is your own – this could be an intersection with poor signaling, missing sidewalks, safety issues, and maybe is one you have to use every day.

The deadline for nominees is March 18 and after that we’ll put the most-nominated spots up to a vote.

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