Tag Archive for 'advocacy'

Give Pedestrians the Green

This post is also posted on The Urbanist

Jonathan Glick and his son live in the Central District and often walk across 23rd Avenue. The street is a major thoroughfare and recently has been rebuilt. One wet evening, they went out to pick up dinner and walked along Union Street on the way back home. But, with dinner in one hand, and his toddler’s hand in the other, Jonathan couldn’t activate the pedestrian signal at 23rd Avenue in time. The awkward reach for the button with a heavy bag of burritos caused the two to miss their chance – leaving them standing in a winter storm until the next light cycle.

Over the course of the past year, Seattle has chipped away at dangers to pedestrian safety and obstacles to comfort. SDOT adopted a Director’s Rule for Pedestrian Mobility In and Around Work Zones, requiring safe access for pedestrians around construction sites and allowing fewer sidewalk closures. And the city council voted to lower default speed limits around the city to a safer 25 miles per hour on arterials and 20 in residential areas.

But there’s still another clear opportunity to improve safety further and substantially improve comfort for people walking: do something about those “push to cross” buttons, better known as “beg buttons”, all over the city.

Push button to beg

Begging to cross

Whether you don’t hit the beg button in time or don’t even notice it, you have two options for what to do when you miss your chance for the walk signal like the Glicks did:

  1. If you want to be an obedient Seattleite, push the button and wait your turn. This means you get to see all those cars go in the same direction that you want to with their green light, while you’re stuck standing there and staring at that red hand. Then, you wait for everyone else to go in all other directions, before finally, minutes later, you get your chance to cross. In Jonathan’s case, he stood with his son getting colder and wetter, realizing that the city hadn’t thought enough about pedestrians. For those recent transplants who aren’t familiar with waiting for the signal here’s an example of what it’s like to wait it out:

    Feeling frustrated, you might choose another approach…
  2. Eschewing Seattle tradition and risking life and limb, you decide to live boldly and scamper across the street. You then notice those turning drivers that aren’t expecting anyone to be crossing and who suddenly notice you too, in time to avoid making you a hood ornament. Breathless and invigorated, you feel like you’ve avoided the worst until you see that police officer waiting for you on the opposite curb…

Frankly, both options are unacceptable: nobody wants to wait when they “should” have the right of way, but crossing against the signal exacerbates conflict between people driving and walking and is dangerous for everyone. In short, having to push a button to cross makes you inconvenienced at best and vulnerable at worst. And, pedestrians are already the most vulnerable roadway users; people walking who are hit by a car are more likely to die in a collision than bicyclists or drivers.

In a New York Times editorial, Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) says, “Pedestrians, who lack airbags and side-impact crash protection, are largely rational creatures.” He argues against beg buttons, saying, “When you actually give people a signal, more will cross with it. As the field of behavioral economics has been discovering, rather than penalizing people for opting out of the system, a more effective approach is to make it easier to opt in.”

“Push-buttons almost always mean that the automobile dominates,” says City planner Jeff Speck in his book Walkable City. He continues, “Far from empowering walkers, the push button turns them into second-class citizens; pedestrians should never have to ask for a light.”

What if intersection crossings were designed for peds? (shows driver pushing button to cross)

Comic by Dhiru Thadani

In fairness, Seattle doesn’t have beg buttons everywhere, and the Seattle Department of Transportation has criteria that determine where push buttons don’t belong. According to SDOT city traffic engineer Dongho Chang, “This is determined by using counting equipment in the signal cabinet to record pedestrian crossing activation. High pedestrian use is currently defined as when crossing is activated 50% of the cycle for 12 hours. We will be evaluating updates to the guideline.”

And evaluate they should. First, SDOT undercounts the number of people who want to cross by only tracking when the button is pushed and not considering the people who don’t notice the button and the people who defy the button by jaywalking. Second, SDOT undermines Seattle’s Vision Zero plan for zero traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030 as the stated goal of transportation policy by designing an experience that creates conflicts between drivers and walkers. Besides, these buttons are often unnecessary because in many cases the traffic light is green for plenty long enough to let pedestrians cross if the walk signal were activated, without any changes to signal timing.

To put this solution in perspective, there are some problems with our transportation network that will take millions of dollars to fix, or even billions, such as filling in the missing sidewalks across the city. But no change to our transportation network would be as cost effective at transforming the experience for people walking as removing beg buttons. A change in policy and signal programming would revolutionize what it means to be a pedestrian in Seattle.

People in other cities from Victoria to Venice and from Santa Monica to Sudbury, have made similar arguments against beg buttons, however, no city has changed their engineering approach to improve intersections for everyone.

In a world where Seattle’s political climate is more divergent than ever with national politics, now’s the time to take control of what we can control: our city.

Seattle can do this, and here’s how: ban beg buttons in all urban villages and urban centers and lower SDOT’s engineering threshold to have the beg button be eliminated for the entire day for any crosswalk signal that is activated 25% of the time for any 6-hour period during the day.

Transform the transportation network by positioning Seattle as a leader in safer streets and active transportation. Don’t discriminate against people walking – let all people cross the street at the same time whether walking, driving, or biking.

Give pedestrians the green.

So, how can you help make this happen?:

  1. Sign this petition to SDOT Director Scott Kubly asking for change.
  2. Tell everyone why the beg button should be banned under the hashtag #GivePedsTheGreen.
  3. Push the button. Always. As long as the push button is still used as a measurement of pedestrian activity, be sure to push it to make sure that SDOT counts people on foot when programming traffic signals.
Give Pedestrians the Green

#GivePEDStheGreen

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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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Transportation Advocacy Day

Join Feet First and other advocacy groups on Transportation Advocacy Day to meet with your elected official and support pro-pedestrian legislation.

Over the past months, staff and dedicated volunteers from organizations representing walking, biking, transit, rail, and public health have met to plan events and the policy developed the Transportation Advocacy Day platform to include:

  • The Neighborhood Safe Speeds Bill (SHB 1217) – this provides cities and towns broader authority to establish 20 mile per hour limits on non-arterial streets to lower accident rate and help protect vulnerable users.
  • The Safe and Flexible Street Design Bill (HB 1700) would encourage higher-quality bike and pedestrian facilities by allowing greater flexibility in design standards.
  • Support for the Transportation for Washington principles to Fix it First and Save Lives, More Transit, and Build Health and Great Communities.
  • Legislation to integrate health in transportation policy, planning and investments for public safety, health, and better transportation choices for all.

Here are more details:

  • Where:United Churches in Olympia
  • When: January 31, 2001 8am to 4pm
  • Cost: FREE,breakfast & lunch provided!
  • Transportation: Carpooling from Seattle and pick up from the Olympia Amtrak station is available

Sign up through the Transportation Choices Coalition.

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America Walks

DC’s StreetsBlog has a good profile of the walking advocacy organization America Walks:

People tend to identify most strongly with things that set them apart. If everyone’s doing something, it hardly seems worth calling attention to the fact that you do it too.

Which may be part of the reason it’s been hard for pedestrian advocacy organizations to build a strong identity around walking.

America Walks is the only national organization dedicated to pedestrian rights and walkability. The fifteen year-old organization supports community-based walkability movements, such as Seattle’s Feet First. America Walks is putting together a national coalition of organizations that support pedestrian mobility, including the American Heart Association and the Rails to Trails Conservancy, and predicts expanding from 70 coalition members today to 500 by 2012.

They also hope to gather 25,000 signatures for their vision statement:

By 2020, walking in everyday life is embraced across America. Streets and neighborhoods are safe and attractive public places that encourage people of all ages, abilities, ethnicities, and incomes to walk for exercise, recreation, and transportation. Walkable community policies promote health, economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and social equity.

DC StreetsBlog concludes:

If that’s the future, it’s also the past. After all, as America Walks points out, “In 1969 walking made up 40 percent of all transportation trips, but in 2008 walking trips decreased to 11 percent.” Although walking is good for our heart rates and waistlines, modern road design can make it hazardous to our health: in the past 15 years, 76,000 pedestrians have been killed.

“We need to create places where you feel safe and comfortable walking along the street and even in the street, playing in the street,” says Bricker. “Crossing the street needs to be easy, accessible and safe.” He points to simple additions like crosswalks, raised median islands, and countdown signals as innovations that immeasurably improve the pedestrian experience.

Funding for active transportation has risen dramatically from 0.1 percent of the federal transportation program in 1992 to 2 percent this year. Considering the fact that 11 percent of all trips are by foot, America Walks wants to make sure walking gets its fair piece of the pie.

And though creating a strong identity among walkers can be challenging, Bricker says, “We don’t hear people saying, ‘this is not important, walking is not part of the transportation system.’ People understand that walking is a fundamental part of life.”

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Editorial: Does Seattle need a pedestrian advocate?

The Planning Picture blog raises an interesting argument that pedestrians need an advocacy group. The writer perspective mostly references Vancouver, BC, but much of it applies to Seattle as well.

A couple of things recently have brought my attention to the fact that pedestrians are perhaps becoming overlooked in the development of our cities. I know this sounds crazy, but bear with me. They are being overlooked, often, in favour of cyclists. At a recent Gaining Ground workshop that I attended there seemed to be a consensus that while bicycle advocacy was well advanced in some areas (and rightly so) and has achieved some notable victories (Vancouver’s downtown bike lanes for example) there is no one flying the flag for pedestrians.

The City of Vancouver has a Bicycle Advisory Committee which is consulted on major development proposals and capital projects to ensure that cyclists needs have been taken into account. In addition, there is the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition who are the leading cycling advocates in the area and then there is, of course, Critical Mass. All of these bodies do great work (although I sometimes have doubts about critical mass). The point is not that bicycle advocacy has gone too far, but that pedestrian advocacy has, erh… well, not really started yet.

This discrepancy is very clear here in Seattle when controversial road rechannelizations (diets) are proposed. Conflicts are often portrayed as bikes vs. cars, when in fact projects like these are just as valued by people on foot. The influence and power of local cycling organizations, at least compared to what exists for pedestrian advocacy, may be part of what makes bicyclists so prominent in these discussions. Pedestrians don’t have strong organizations that speak for us.

Organizations like Streets for All Seattle and Great City are working for a pedestrian-friendly city, but their umbrella of interests also is also big enough to cover people on bikes and buses. Feet First is the premier organization in Seattle supporting walkability, but its influence is limited.

Even without a strong pedestrian voice, SDOT is doing a lot of good work for people on foot – just take a look back at our archives to see the important projects SDOT is doing.

Unfortunately, it will take a while to replace all the poorly-placed curb ramps, install enough pedestrian signals, and build all the missing sidewalks. It will take time to make our city’s streets into complete streets for people in cars, on bikes, and on foot. It will also take a lot of money.

And while there is still another budget meeting where you can show support for the mayor’s Walk Bike Ride funding, the City Council has already shown disinterest in the funding sources for some of these important pedestrian projects.

Infrastructure is critical to make Seattle the most walkable city in the nation, as the city’s Pedestrian Master Plan aspires to accomplish. But it will take more than just sidewalks and signals to make Seattle the most walkable city in the nation.

Should the most walkable city in the nation require you to push a button to cross a street in parts of the urban core of the city? Or allow building construction projects to close busy sidewalks for weeks at a time?

Seattle is not the most walkable city in the nation nor will it be without walking advocates who work to make things happen.

Seattle needs advocates who will work not just to implement infrastructure projects that will save lives, but to change the culture that endangered them to begin with. Until pedestrians organize and push Seattle to becoming the most walkable city in the nation, the city will fall short.

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Feet First

Feet First is a walkability advocacy organization based in Pioneer Square and is part of the America Walks Coalition.

One of the biggest things that Feet First does is promote safe walking routes to school by partnering with parents and local schools. The organization also publishes walking maps of neighborhoods throughout Seattle, which include parks, bus routes, and other information you’d want to know when walking in the Central District, North Beacon Hill, and other neighborhoods.

The organization hosts periodic walks with city council members in various parts of the city. Additionally, you can sign up to become a walking ambassador to lead walks in your neighborhood that encourage others to walk more.

You can find out more by becoming a member of the organization (membership fees start at $30) or visiting their website at feetfirst.info.

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Streets For All Seattle Kickoff and Fundraiser TONIGHT

Streets for All Seattle is having an event tonight in Fremont at 7pm:

Please join us Thursday, July 29th, 7pm, at Nectar Lounge in Fremont for the Streets For All Seattle Kickoff Party and Fundraiser as we rock out before the City’s budget season begins.

Over the past three months our Streets for All Seattle coalition has grown in strength and size: over sixty organizations have endorsed our campaign, we’ve trained over one hundred volunteers, and thousands of people have signed on in support of our vision. Just as important, our elected leaders have reiterated their support for our goal of $30 million dollars in annual dedicated funding for pedestrian, bicycle and transit investments, but we know that our voices will need to be actively engaged in the budget process, which is why your support is so valuable.


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Streets for All Seattle

Streets for All Seattle is a campaign to increase funding for the pedestrian and bicycle master plans. The campaign has identified $30 million of potential funding sources that could be dedicated towards creating more complete streets (safe for all users) in Seattle. The funding sources aren’t identified on their website, but they do identify quite a few supporters, and it’s rumored that the mayor’s office may have been a catalyst for starting this public campaign.

Their website has a nice slideshow on the history of streets. You can also sign up to support the campaign on their website and find them on Facebook and Twitter.

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