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.


3 Responses to “2012 Worst Intersection in Seattle: 5th and Denny”

  • You captured it perfectly. I’m very happy my nominee won. The funny thing about intersections all around town is they always seem equally bad, ESPECIALLY on Denny. But this is a very good example.

  • Exactly! The biggest problem I have when a pedestrian (or as a cyclist who sometimes has to use the sidewalk) is those dammed buttons. There is no reason that there should be a “don’t walk” signal when the parallel light is green. None. I shouldn’t have to wait for a full intersection light rotation (some lasting over a minute) to cross the intersection as a pedestrian (shortening those signal rotations would help). Some buttons don’t work which then requires what looks like jaywalking to a lot of people (there are two lights like this that never seem to get fixed by SDOT despite reporting of the problem multiple times). Or some buttons are hard to reach if with a bicycle (yes, sometimes the actual bike route utilizes a sidewalk not an actual bike path or the street). I was recently in San Francisco for four days – that is a city we need to look to. One with hills and high density, very pedestrian friendly. Not once did I need to punch a button to cross a street and not once was I constantly waiting at each block for a “walk” signal (walk signals seem to be timed for pedestrian, not driver speed…you know how in Seattle you walk from 6th to first and encounter a “don’t walk” at each block?). SDOT just doesn’t get it at all.

  • Good choice! but there are many contenders. I didn’t submit an entry, but mine would have been EVERY SINGLE UNMARKED CROSSWALK IN SEATTLE! As those of us who walk and bike are well aware, every intersection contains an unmarked crosswalk and cars are legally required to stop for pedestrians at these crosswalks. Someone should inform the drivers of this law! I would estimate that approximately 1 out of 200-300 drivers are willing to stop for pedestrians at unmarked crosswalks.

Comments are currently closed.