Tag Archive for 'Belltown'

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.


Driver kills pedestrian after failing to yield

There’s been a rash of bad news to report lately. We’re a little late to report this, but a Belltown resident was struck and killed at 2nd and Bell during the last week of December. A 48-year-old woman was walking with the signal when a car failed to yield and struck her. The woman died the next day. From the Times article:

In a safety meeting this week, Noel House clients said the corner has been a longtime safety threat, [program director for Noel House Eileen] McComb said in a message to City Councilman Tim Burgess.

The corner is tree-shaded and a magnet for petty criminals, though McComb said conditions have improved lately. There is busy pedestrian traffic because of a minimart, on-street parking and nightlife.

“There’s a lot of visual noise with restaurants and activities going on,” McComb said. “I sense that people driving through, who may not be familiar with that area, don’t understand how dense the population is.”

A $2.5 million city project is planned this summer to transform four blocks of Bell Street into a parklike mini-boulevard, with lights, play structures, plants and wider sidewalks. Meanwhile, Burgess said he’s asked city transportation Director Peter Hahn to look at immediate safety and lighting improvements. Council members Nick Licata and Sally Bagshaw, with utility and police officials, also have shown interest, McComb said.

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Pedestrian hit by train

A train hit a pedestrian near the waterfront near midnight last night. A train was blocking the intersection of Elliott Ave Alaskan Way and Clay St and a 34-year-old man was struck by another train after crossing underneath the first.


Walking through Belltown

Belltown is the densest part of the city outside of downtown and makes for a good place to walk. This route goes along the two most active streets in Belltown – 1st and 2nd Aves.

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Start at 1st and Virginia and head Northwest, parallel to Elliott Bay. This part of Belltown has the most shopping and, being close to downtown and Pike Place Market, is an easy starting point. Walking along either side of the street is fine, but the right side has several small parking lots that interrupt the streetscape.

The first parking lot you pass has a wall decorated with one of the larger graffiti-style urban art projects in Seattle (go here for pictures from the Hideous Belltown blog).

As you continue walking, you’ll see lots of historic low-rise buildings and will pass more retail, including an Army/Navy Surplus Store. At Battery St, you’ll pass over highway 99 and will have a view of Elliott Bay. On the other side of the street you’ll see some more old Belltown buildings, including the Austin A Bell bldg from 1890.

Historic buildings in Belltown

Old architecture from 1889-1890

Continue walking a few more blocks and turn right at Vine St. Vine St is a relatively narrow street lined with trees but without much for retail or dining. Vine isn’t a major street, so you won’t have a crosswalk or a traffic light when crossing Belltown’s Avenues, so be careful. Pedestrians can legally cross any intersection, but some drivers may not know that. Unless you’re doing this walk at a busy time of day, you should be able to cross easily during a break in vehicle traffic.

Turn left at 5th Ave and walk a block in parallel with the monorail. You’ll arrive at Tilikum Place, a shaded outdoor plaza with a fountain, surrounded by a few places to stop and eat.

Tilikum Place

The trees offer shade and there are benches to watch the fountain in the summer months

Feel free to stop and rest or continue and walk southwest along Cedar St. At 3rd Ave, you’ll see a large mural on your right on the building of New Horizons Ministries.

Mural at New Horizons Ministries

Colorful mural at 3rd and Cedar

Belltown has a diversity of architecture to enjoy. The buildings on the eastern side, away from the water, tend to be shorter and are less likely to be inhabited by any street-level retail or dining. As you continue towards the water, you’ll see more recent development and high-rise condo buildings. We’ll turn left at 2nd Ave toward downtown.

2nd Ave is a 3 lane street with relatively few traffic lights, so it does have some fast-moving vehicles. However, the parking and trees insulate help to insulate pedestrians from the street, and curb-bulbs at intersections make it feel a little safer to cross the avenue. As you continue southeast, you’ll encounter more bars and restaurants, especially once you get to Battery St.

Feel free to stop at any one of these restaurants or bars for something to eat and drink, or stop for a game of pinball at Shorty’s.

A few blocks more and we’ll end our walk at 2nd Ave & Virginia, just a block away from where we started.

Highlights: continguous urban streetscape, density, restaurants and bars, stop and rest at Tilikum Place, coffee shops, diverse architecture, wide sidewalks

Lowlights: a few parking lots, some dead spots without much to look at, can be rough at night, not much retail outside of 1st Ave, lack of designated crosswalks


Uptown Loop Discussion Brownbag

Great City has set up a lunch-time talk downtown next Thursday about the Uptown Loop:

Imagine a looping urban trail that includes a breath of sea air in Myrtle Edwards Park, art in the Sculpture Park, breakfast spots in Belltown, the Seattle Center, coffee spots in Lower Queen Anne, and tennis or picnic in lower Kinnear Park. An entire day of activities, highlighting Seattle’s finest, all in one easy stroll.

Come discuss ideas about how this Uptown Loop strengthens pedestrian accessibility and secures the relationship between urban forests, walkable city streets, community amenities, residential living, and waterfront vistas.