Tag Archive for 'construction'

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SDOT’s 2011 plans include more pedestrian projects

The Seattle Department of Transportation’s 2011 to do list includes many pedestrian projects.

One project starting in March is the West Thomas pedestrian / cycling bridge, which links Lower Queen Anne with the waterfront.

The Mountains to Sound trail will provide greater pedestrian and bicycle accessibility around and across I-5 and I-90 near Beacon Hill.

The exciting Linden Ave N complete streets project will give a full makeover to 17 blocks’ worth of curbs, curb ramps, sidewalks, bike lanes, and trees.

Seattle is putting significant resources into improvements for pedestrians even in this lean budget year.

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Pine St sidewalk closed until May

From SDOT:

The sidewalk on the south side of Pine Street from Ninth to Boren avenues, by the Paramount Theater, will be closed until May for Sound Transit’s light rail construction project. The closure is needed to prepare for tunneling under I-5 so the rail line can be extended from downtown to Capitol Hill and then on to the University of Washington.


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Sidewalks mostly remain open at Westlake Streetcar Plaza

Sidewalks around Westlake Streetcar Plaza have mostly remained open after the conclusion of the holiday construction moratorium.

We reported back in October that construction had closed the sidewalks around McGraw Square, significantly impacting pedestrian movement. However, those sidewalks were completely reopened to accommodate pedestrians during the holiday construction moratorium during the past few weeks.

Now that the moratorium has passed, the construction project is continuing. The sidewalks along 5th appear to be remaining open, however a concrete sidewalk along Stewart has not yet been poured, so that sidewalk has been closed again. The latest report from SDOT says that construction will be complete in early February.

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West Thomas overpass construction to start in March

Work will begin in March to connect Lower Queen Anne with the Myrtle Edwards Park via a pedestrian and cyclist bridge over Elliott Ave and the railroad tracks. From Seattle Likes Bikes:

After years of work (and fears the project had stalled for good), SDOT has announced that it has the funding to move forward with a bicycle and pedestrian overpass connecting Lower Queen Anne and Myrtle Edwards Park. The bridge will be built in the middle of a 1.2 mile stretch where the park and the neighborhood currently have no crossings. The project will make the park and the Elliott Bay Trail much more usable for both recreation and transportation.

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What’s on your pedestrian wishlist?

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?

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15th Ave Reconstruction Open House

There’s an open house tonight for the reconstruction of 15th Ave NE. This project will include improvements to sidewalks and crosswalks. From SDOT’s blog:

Beginning in January 2011 the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will reconstruct most of 15th Avenue NE in the University District between NE Pacific Street and NE 55th Street. The roadway needs to be reconstructed to maintain an efficient and safe travel corridor for vehicles, pedestrians, and transit. To learn more and meet 15th Avenue NE project team members, come to an Open House December 8th!

The 15th Avenue NE project Open House details are as follows:
December 8, 2010
4:00 – 7:00 pm
University Heights Community Center
(5031 University Ave NE)
Room 209

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Westlake Streetcar Plaza sidewalks re-opened

We reported a few weeks ago that the sidewalks surrounding Westlake Streetcar Plaza / McGraw Square had been closed, significantly impacting pedestrian movement in the area. This project was expected to be completed prior to Thanksgiving, however it has been delayed “due to unforeseen site conditions and weather delays,” according to SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan.

The sidewalks and crosswalks have been re-opened, however, as work on site has stopped. Seattle has a holiday construction moratorium, disallowing construction downtown from Thanksgiving through January 1. This moratorium helps businesses downtown by reducing the impacts of construction to vehicle and pedestrian traffic during this busy time of year. It is because of this moratorium and to better support pedestrians during the holiday season that SDOT has re-opened sidewalks around Westlake Streetcar Plaza and constructed a temporary sidewalk along Stewart Ave.

However, due to the weather impacts and current work stoppage, project completion will be delayed by more than two months. Sheridan says, “We estimate the project will be completed and the square opened for public use by early February.”

For now, though, it’s good that pedestrian movement is being prioritized and the sidewalks are open. SDOT will likely at least re-close the temporary sidewalk along Stewart to pour new concrete. We will check in on the area early next year when construction continues to see if SDOT chooses to re-close the already-completed sidewalks.

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SDOT’s explanation for crosswalk closure worth examining

Earlier this week we pointed out that the crosswalk along Westlake at Mercer has been closed as part of the Mercer Corridor Project. We have an update, as SDOT has responded to confirm our assumptions:

You are correct that the eastern crosswalk at Mercer St. and Westlake Ave. N is closed due to the two left-hand turn lanes from southbound Westlake Ave. N onto eastbound Mercer St. The volume and timing of traffic turning left (traffic that crosses the eastern crosswalk) is too high to keep the crosswalk safely open. This traffic configuration is in place to accommodate high volumes of traffic now using Westlake Ave. N to access Mercer St. while construction is occurring on other streets, such as 9th Ave. N.

The eastern crosswalk at Mercer St. and Westlake Ave. N will likely be closed for the duration of the Mercer Corridor Project, through mid-2013.

(emphasis above is mine) The Mercer Corridor Project will significantly improve the pedestrian environment in this area, however, like the McGraw Square construction, this is another project where the impact to pedestrians is worth examining.


View Westlake @ Mercer Crosswalk Closure in a larger map

As with most things SDOT does, safety appears to be one of their foremost considerations. However, the current intersection signaling appears to pose safety risks to both drivers and pedestrians. The current light signals allow drivers on southbound Westlake Ave to turn left onto Mercer St after yielding to northbound traffic. Then the signal changes to a green arrow to allow a protected left turn. By allowing drivers to turn left on yield, the chances of a vehicle collision are increased, which is apparent upon observing rush hour traffic. Due to traffic back-ups, northbound vehicles sometimes have to stop on green before entering the intersection or stop in the intersection, making the unprotected left turn dangerous for vehicles during peak hours.

Vehicle navigating unprotected left turn

Vehicle navigating unprotected left turn

Furthermore, with the large “Crosswalk Closed” signs, and no visible crosswalk signal on the east side of the intersection, drivers will be less likely to scan for pedestrians inevitably crossing in this area. The crosswalk closure means that there may be fewer people on foot to be hit by turning cars, but with drivers focusing on navigating the unprotected left turn, the few pedestrians who do cross (albeit illegally) may be more likely to be hit.

Keeping traffic moving through the intersection may be a bigger reason for SDOT closing the crosswalk, but doing this doesn’t significantly increase how many cars can turn left onto Mercer during peak periods. During this evening’s commute, only around 2-5 cars were able to turn on the unprotected left arrow – a relatively small number compared to the high number of cars that turn left on the protected arrow. Re-opening the crosswalk may slow down the cars that are able to turn left on yield, but the number of pedestrians crossing here isn’t high enough to have much of an impact to left-turning traffic.

One of the goals of the Mercer Corridor Project is to support walking in the area – the project will create a street through a neighborhood (South Lake Union) where there is now basically an onramp to a freeway. So why shouldn’t this transformation start with the beginning of the construction project?

By closing this crosswalk, SDOT is expecting people on foot to cross Westlake twice to cross Mercer once, which can add over three minutes to a walk on foot – a long time to spend navigating a single intersection, especially in a city that aspires to be the most walkable city in the nation.

Pedestrians walking on closed crosswalk

Life-threatening jaywalking or civil disobedience?

As with most construction projects, some inconvenience is unavoidable. However, if SDOT were serious about improving safety at this intersection and upholding the objectives of the Mercer Corridor project, my opinion is that the unprotected left turn for vehicle traffic would be eliminated, at least at peak periods, and the crosswalk would be re-opened at all hours.

On the other hand, SDOT is correct that this is a high-traffic area, and reducing the number of cars able to turn by eliminating the unprotected left turn and by re-opening the crosswalk will have some impact on how quickly vehicles can drive through during rush hour. What do you think? How would you respond to these questions?:

  1. Does blacking out the crosswalk signal and putting up “crosswalk closed” signs make this intersection more or less safe than if the crosswalk were still open?
  2. To address the safety issue posed by jaywalking pedestrians, should SDOT install physical barricades (e.g. jersey barriers) or should there be a police presence to reduce the number of people on foot who cross illegally?
  3. If you were walking along the east side of Westlake and needed to remain on the east side of Westlake, would you cross here illegally where there has been a crosswalk in place, or cross Westlake twice to cross Mercer legally?
  4. Is SDOT striking the right balance between vehicle throughput and pedestrian accessibility?
  5. Is there another way this intersection could be configured during the construction period?

Should this crosswalk across Mercer be closed to pedestrians until 2013?

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Share your thoughts in the comments. Also, if you have a strong opinion or questions of your own, contact the construction project hotline at (206) 419-5818 or mercerinfo@seattle.gov.

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Crosswalk closed at Westlake and Mercer

Update: SDOT explains reasons for closure

As part of the Mercer Corridor Project, the east crosswalk at Westlake Ave is closed.

Closed sidewalk at Mercer and Westlake

While there is not currently any construction in this area, a few weeks ago, the crosswalk signals were covered and large “CROSSWALK CLOSED” signs were placed on each side of Mercer.

SDOT has not returned an email requesting comment on the closure.

Vehicle traffic has been rerouted as part of the construction project and now a high volume of traffic is turning left onto Mercer from southbound Westlake.

It’s not clear exactly why the crosswalk is closed or how long it will be in place.

Perhaps the crosswalk was closed to make it easier for vehicles to turn, as now there is more vehicular traffic passing through the intersection.

This closure probably has good intentions, however they are not apparent to people in the area. Safety is a key consideration for any traffic flow change, however closing this crosswalk may in fact be making the intersection more dangerous.

As with most sidewalk and crosswalk closures, a significant number of people are ignoring SDOT’s attempt to close the crosswalk and are crossing when traffic has the green light. It does not appear that SDOT has a plan to address the danger created for these pedestrians who choose to cross without a crosswalk signal.

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Westlake Streetcar Plaza Closed to Pedestrians

Westlake Streetcar Plaza under construction

Westlake Streetcar Plaza (also known as McGraw Square) is currently under construction at the southern terminus of the Seattle Streetcar. This project will provide a new public space downtown and should be a welcome improvement to people on foot in the area. However, it appears that six crosswalks will remain closed during the construction period through Thanksgiving.

The area in red below is closed to pedestrians:

View Westlake Streetcar Plaza in a larger map

Like much of downtown, this is an area of high pedestrian traffic, however the area under construction is completely closed to pedestrians. SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan says that safety is the reason:

The southeast corner of Stewart and Fifth is closed because buses, trucks and larger vehicles have difficulty making the corner in turning left from Stewart and often cut it. Until it is reconfigured as part of the work, it is not safe for pedestrians to stand there. The closing the sidewalk and crosswalk are due to this corner not being available for use.

The northeast corner of Olive and Fifth Ave is closed because it is now under construction. There is a deep excavation of approximately 20 feet in depth at that location. As it is now a construction zone it is no longer an area where we should have pedestrians walking.

We apologize for the inconvenience but safety is a key priority as we undertake construction. We encourage walkers to respect the closures as they exist to keep pedestrians safe.

I’m appreciative that SDOT is concerned for the safety of people walking in the area. However, sometimes obstacles can create unsafe situations as people walk around them. While passing by earlier in the week, I saw a man on crutches walking in the roadway of 5th Avenue along the fence. While that kind of behavior is not legal, it’s not surprising either.

This makes me wonder – does the closure of these crosswalks really improve safety in the area, or does it just invite people to make dangerous decisions? It seems like parts of this area could be made available to pedestrians during parts of the construction process. Should SDOT be doing more to make the area passable for pedestrians while under construction?

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