While it’s disappointing that the city council rejected proposed funding for the Pedestrian Master Plan, good infrastructure is only part of what makes for a walkable city. There are some things that can be done without millions of dollars for new sidewalks or crosswalk signals.
Here’s my low-budget pedestrian wishlist:
- Reduce the number of sidewalks and crosswalks blocked for construction – Building construction has slowed and fewer sidewalks are blocked for private construction. Still, SDOT projects like McGraw Square and the Mercer Corridor project are inconveniencing pedestrians. Sidewalk and crosswalk closures negatively impact people on foot, who in some cases have to cross busy streets twice. In order to reduce the inconvenience to Seattle’s pedestrians, I’d like to see the city limit sidewalk and crosswalk closures.
- No “push to cross” buttons anywhere with a WalkScore above 90 – Intersections where pedestrians have to push a button to cross are the default in suburban places like Puyallup. In walkable urban areas of Seattle, these buttons are out of place. While the buttons may make sense late at night or early on weekend mornings when signal cycles are short, the standard style of button gives no indication of whether it needs to be pushed to change the signal for pedestrians. During busy hours of the day people on foot shouldn’t be forced to wait minutes at an intersection because they didn’t push the button. Removing these buttons, or at least changing signals to automatically allow pedestrian movement, would be a powerful way to let pedestrians know that they are important and to improve pedestrian movement in Seattle’s most walkable areas.
- No right on red anywhere with WalkScore above 90 – Drivers have to be aware of many things in order to turn right on red. Conflicts between walkers and drivers are inevitable in popular pedestrian areas. Disallowing right on red in Seattle’s most walkable areas would keep people on foot safer. Unfortunately, this would probably raise objections from drivers as it would reduce vehicle flow.
- Issue citations to drivers who block crosswalks – There are some intersections where heavy vehicle traffic often blocks crosswalks (and cross-traffic). While I can empathize with drivers who proceed through the intersection not knowing that they’re going to get stuck, legal enforcement could help pedestrian movement (and vehicle movement too).
- Recalibrate all countdown timers to allow for safe crossing – Some crosswalk signals start their “don’t walk” countdowns with only 6 seconds to go. Not all pedestrians can walk quickly enough to cross in the little warning time given. Some intersections in tourist-friendly areas (e.g. near Pike Place Market) already have very long countdowns. By adding more time to the crosswalk countdown in other parts of the city, slower-moving people will be able to cross intersections more comfortably and all pedestrians will have a better chance to make it through an intersection.
- Re-direct loudspeakers at parking garages – Many downtown parking garages and alleys are equipped with loudspeakers directed at pedestrians that say “Warning: vehicle approaching”. Pedestrians have the right of way on the sidewalk, so shouldn’t drivers be warned that pedestrians are in the area instead of the other way around? Requiring garages to change their loudspeakers to ask drivers to watch for pedestrians would send the message that cars are not more important than people just because they are bigger.
We might see all of these wishes granted in a walkers’ wonderland, but in reality we won’t see any of these this year. And, in a car-oriented American city like Seattle, some of these measures would be controversial. Still, each of these wishes would help Seattle to reach its goal to become most walkable city in the nation.
So, what’s on your pedestrian wishlist?