Tag Archive for 'crosswalk'

Walking in Europe

I recently spent three weeks in the British Isles and Paris with an eye on the pedestrian experience. Now back in Seattle, I’m here to share what we have to learn from Europe (and what they could learn from us).

While Seattle is thought of as a pedestrian-friendly city in America, the experience walking in Seattle is very different than walking in the walkable European cities of Dublin, London, and Paris.

Seattle pedestrians are known for our almost robotic patience in waiting for the walk signal. On my visit to Europe, it took a while to get used to the fact that nobody, other than tourists, waits for the signal.

Walking is often called a mode of active transportation but it definitely felt more active in Europe than in Seattle. Watching for traffic, sidestepping slow moving locals and lost tourists, and hopping between narrow sidewalks and narrow roadways meant walking in Europe took more effort. It feels pretty passive by comparison to ignore cars and thoughtlessly obey crosswalk signals while walking here in Seattle.

Abbey Road cover, photo taken in London

Crosswalks like this (and albums like this) are not the norm in London

While urbanists often consider America as having poor pedestrian infrastructure, the experience is different between the continents. Crosswalks as shown on the cover of Abbey Road are the exception in England. Crossing is often done at your own risk, as pedestrians aren’t given the right of way like they are here and road markings for pedestrians are fewer and less clearly marked.

Marked pedestrian crossings can be far apart, and crosswalk signals often have a long wait for a short time to cross. Jaywalking in the British Isles was made easier by helpful labels on the pavement telling you which way to look.

Helpful street markings for jaywalkers

Helpful street markings for jaywalkers

Some areas had few crossings of major streets, like parts of downtown Dublin, giving pedestrians limited options for walking. In contrast, Edinburgh had plenty of narrow pedestrian alleys, called closes. While walking down small dark alleys wouldn’t be a comfortable experience in most parts of America, feeling safe, was never an issue in the northwestern part of Europe. In the many pedestrian areas that I walked through, there were very few beggars, homeless, or mentally unstable individuals. Not being asked for money or otherwise interrupted by someone on the street seemed to make for a much more comfortable pedestrian experience. We don’t often consider homelessness in the context of the pedestrian streetscape, but there is a relationship there that is worth consideration.

Trafalgar Square in London

This is far from Westlake Park

As far as the built environment goes, there were some pedestrian only areas like Grafton Street in Dublin, the Shambles in York, and parts of the Latin Quarter in Paris that were highlights of their respective cities, but I felt the well-used public living rooms were an even better pedestrian amenity. From busy squares in York and the crowded but comfortable Trafalgar Square in London to the River Seine with hundreds of Parisians enjoying their wine and cheese at sunset, there are no public spaces in Seattle that compare, and certainly not our busiest public parks like Victor Steinbrueck Park and Westlake Park.

Those great public spaces and pedestrian streets make the biggest difference in making walking in Europe more pleasant than walking in Seattle, but their success isn’t due as much to the architects that designed them as it is where they’re located. In the next post, I’ll share some lessons I learned from the European transportation infrastructure and how our focus is wrong if we want a similar experience here.

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Walking news roundup

There’s a lot of news out there to cover – here are a few stories:

And a couple SDOT news releases that I don’t have links for:

  • “Seattle Department of Transportation’s Roadway Structures crew will construct a new staircase near the southeastern city limits at 72nd Avenue South between Rainier Avenue South and South Taft Street.” The stairway will be closed starting next Monday through early May. “The new staircase will be wider with hand rails on both sides, and will sport a new bike runnel making it easy to roll a bike up and down the stairs.”
  • “Repairs are underway on the Duwamish Trail in West Seattle. The asphalt trail has been heavily damaged in places by tree roots and needs to be repaired for bicyclist and pedestrian safety.”
  • NE Ravenna Blvd between Green Lake and 15th Ave NE will be repaved. “Work includes grinding and removing the existing asphalt roadway, repairing areas of the concrete roadway base, repaving, upgrading pedestrian curb ramps and building a curb bulb at E. Green Lake Drive N. and N.E. 71st Street. Work is expected to be completed by the end of summer, dependant on weather conditions.”
  • Also, the pedestrian paradise known as the Ballard bridge will have a closed west sidewalk starting next Monday and continuing into April due to a painting project.

One final thing – the nomination period for the worst intersection in Seattle ends this Sunday.

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All intersections legal for crossing

As many of you know, pedestrian crosswalks exist at every interesction in Washington, whether marked or not. But what about T-intersections? And what about odd-angle intersections? And, what about intersections where pedestrians are expressly forbidden? Well, the last one isn’t a legal crosswalk, but the other two are.

According to SDOT:

Legal pedestrian crosswalks exist at every intersection, including three way and odd angle intersections, whether the crosswalk is marked or unmarked. A marked crosswalk normally indicates a preferred pedestrian crossing point which is the safest place for a pedestrian to cross. Perhaps it is a location where lighting or visibility is best among a number of options, or where the potential for pedestrian-vehicle conflicts is lowest.

Safe crossings of streets are dependent upon good driver behavior and good pedestrian behavior. Any situation can become a dangerous one if poor driving or improper pedestrian or driver behavior is involved. While SDOT focuses on both traffic operations and the physical environment, everyone plays a role in pedestrian safety.

So, while three-way intersections and odd-angle intersections may not be particularly common, and while people may not cross at some intersections very frequently, they’re all legal crosswalks.

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Should signal countdowns exceed standard?

Our earlier post about some Seattle crosswalk signals not meeting the federal standard has raised an interesting question. The post points out that most Seattle intersections start the flashing “don’t walk” signal using the old design standard based on a pedestrian crossing at 4 feet per second (fps). SDOT will be changing these signals over the next several years to meet the new standard of 3.5 fps to extend the pedestrian clearance time for people to cross in the pedestrian clearance interval once the “don’t walk” signal starts flashing.

Pedestrian Intervals from MUTCD

Pedestrian Intervals from Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices

However, a reader asked, is meeting the standard good enough? “This isn’t about ‘meeting the standard.’ Are we a pedestrian friendly city? If we are, let’s lead and prioritize pedestrian mobility.”

So, should signals in Seattle allow more time for pedestrians to cross once the don’t walk signal starts flashing by, for example, designing for a pedestrian traveling at 3 fps? The drawback to this would be that the walk signal (the only time during which a pedestrian can legally enter the intersection) would be shorter because the don’t walk signal would need to start flashing sooner. The good thing is that people who have started crossing would have even more time to get to the other side before cross-traffic starts moving. And, in reality, people would still cross the intersection after the don’t walk signal has started flashing and they would be given more time to get out of the intersection, though this change might increase the number of people who would be given a citation.

When should the "don't walk" signal start flashing?

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A better solution in my opinion would be for the countdown seconds to be displayed for the duration of the signal, so that even during the walk signal, people know how much time they have to get across. Unfortunately that is expressly against the MUTCD standard. Perhaps this is not recommended because it could give a conflicting message to people who are not used to seeing a walk signal with a countdown.

Anyway, what do you think?

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Some Seattle crosswalk signals do not meet federal standard

Some of Seattle’s pedestrian crosswalk signals do not meet federal guidelines for how much time should be allowed to walk across an intersection safely after the don’t walk signal starts flashing.

The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) sets standards for municipalities to follow for traffic control devices, including crosswalks. SDOT uses this standard to set the amount of time pedestrians have to clear the intersection once the don’t walk signal starts flashing. This length of time before cross-traffic is allowed to move, called the pedestrian clearance time, should allow enough time for people to clear the intersection before the signal changes.

Pedestrian Intervals from MUTCD

Pedestrian Intervals from Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices

Until 2009, the standard was based on a pedestrian foot speed 4 feet per second, which is what many intersections in Seattle are based on. The latest manual recommends enough time for a pedestrian traveling at 3.5 feet per second (fps) to clear the intersection (section 4E.06).

So, if an intersection takes 10 seconds to cross at 3.5 fps, the current recommendation would allow the flashing signal to start with 6 seconds remaining and then there would be 4 seconds where the don’t walk signal would be up before the cross signal turns green.

However, a survey of several downtown Seattle intersections found that some intersections do not even meat the older, looser standard, giving pedestrians an inadequate amount of time to cross. All crosswalks at 6th and Virginia were found to be significantly out of compliance – to meet the current federal standard, the flashing don’t walk signal at this intersection would need to last for five seconds longer.

Several other intersections are out of compliance with the stricter 2009 standard, including crosswalks across 4th at Stewart and Pine, as well as crosswalks across 5th and 6th along Pine. These intersections are commonly used by tourists, as well as families with children and the elderly, who may move at a slower pace than other pedestrians. In many cases SDOT set the standard pedestrian clearance time not a second more than the previous minimum.

While Washington has not yet adopted this revised standard, “SDOT does plan on using 3.5 fps wherever practical and is doing so with all signal timing changes currently underway,” according to spokesperson Rick Sheridan.

The Federal Highway Administration has set a target compliance date for all signals to be updated by the end of 2014. “At the current pace of signal timing changes, SDOT would not be able to modify all locations” in this timeframe. “This will be raised during the 2012 budget deliberations to determine if additional funds can be added to allow all modifications to be made by the end of 2014,” according to Sheridan.

There is flexibility in the federal standard for SDOT to set their signals at a higher level than the minimum recommended time, so it’s unfortunate that these intersection times are so short. This is a difficult thing to measure, as it’s based on intersection width, but if you find an intersection that you believe does not allow enough time for people to cross, you can report it via SDOT’s Street Maintenance Request Form or by e-mailing traffic.signals@seattle.gov.

A follow-up post has been posted: Should Signal Countdowns Exceed Standard?.

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Ballard resident requests illuminated crosswalk

My Ballard reports on a resident’s request to add a pedestrian-activated crosswalk at the intersection of 24th Ave NW and NW 58th St. Kevin Tice has applied for this improvement to be included by the Ballard District Council on the list of projects that are sent to the city for funding by the Neighborhood Projects Fund.

In the application Tice writes, “The current crosswalk has an outdated overhanging crosswalk light that is barely noticeable by cars, especially during overcast weather. The crosswalk signs (one for each side) unfortunately do not deter the vehicles driving at speeds of 25-40 mph from stopping for many pedestrians. I have attached videos [see above] that I took recently of numerous cars passing waiting pedestrians, either because of their speed, or because they could not see them waiting due to parked cars near the intersection. In a span of 30 minutes, I recorded 10 such incidents. I personally have had to run across 24th avenue due to cars not stopping.”

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Overhead crosswalk sign added in West Seattle

West Seattle Blog reports that a flashing-light crosswalk sign has been installed at SW Findlay Street across California Ave. Previously there had been a hanging sign (without flashing lights). While California includes only two lanes of motorized traffic and a center turn lane, this project was requested by community leaders and funded through the Neighborhood Street Fund. According to one commenter, drivers rarely stop for pedestrians at this intersection, so hopefully the flashing lights will change that.


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Road rules for walkers

SDOT continues its series on the rules of the road by explaining the laws that apply to pedestrians.  Do you find any of SDOT’s rules helpful?  Should they focus less on pedestrians per se and more on reminding drivers about pedestrians’ rights, or is any attention to pedestrians helpful?

Here’s their pick for “most unknown or misunderstood law on the books”:

As we pointed out last week, every intersection contains a crosswalk whether marked or unmarked and drivers are required to stop for pedestrians at these locations. This law, without a doubt, is the most unknown or misunderstood law on the books. Most people are unaware of this despite the fact that this is true throughout the state of Washington. So it is perfectly legal to cross the street at an intersection even without the aid of crosswalk striping on the pavement.

And from the ‘outlaw stupidity’ department:

But did you know that it actually against the law to dart out into the roadway or suddenly enter a crosswalk? The law states that no pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to stop. Darting out into the roadway is frequently a contributing cause in vehicle-pedestrian collisions. Stopping at the curb before entering the roadway signals drivers that you intend to cross the street.

One thing that may be important to know:

Another little known “rule of the road” for pedestrians is that there are certain circumstances that require the pedestrian to yield to vehicles. Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right of way to all vehicles upon the roadway. So if you’re crossing your residential street to go chat with your neighbor, be sure to yield to cars before you cross.

And some safety reminders:

In all circumstances, pedestrians should be certain that drivers see them before they enter the roadway. And don’t let the fact that you are crossing the street in a marked crosswalk lull you into a false sense of security. Be on guard for drivers that may not see you due to darkness, inattention, or other factors. Wearing bright, colorful, or reflective clothing can help drivers see you as you attempt to cross the street.

And a few reminders on laws that limit where pedestrians can legally cross. Unfortunately, some of these are hard to follow for those of us afflicted with chronic impatience:

At traffic signals, walkers should always obey the pedestrian signal which will indicate “walk” or “don’t walk” via symbols or text. Most people have a pretty firm understanding of these two phases, but what exactly does the “flashing don’t walk” phase indicate? To understand, let’s review the entire pedestrian signal cycle. The “walk” phase is intended to move pedestrians off the curb and into the crosswalk but not necessarily across the entire street (See our previous post that has more detail about how we determine crossing timing for peds). The “flashing don’t walk” phase is intended to inform pedestrians that they should not begin to cross the street if they are still on the sidewalk or curb. Pedestrians already in the crosswalk should continue crossing the street and vehicles should remain stopped to allow pedestrians to complete the crossing during the “flashing don’t walk” phase. Crossings should be complete by the time the solid “don’t walk” phase appears.

It’s important to note that pedestrians should not cross the street between adjacent, signalized intersections which are common in neighborhood commercial areas and in downtown Seattle. Crossing in these mid-block locations should only be done if a marked crosswalk is present.

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Road rules for drivers: yield at crosswalks

SDOT’s blog highlights some rules of the road for drivers, which is a good refresher for anyone who ever gets behind the wheel. The section on crosswalks is of particular importance for pedestrian safety:

Most people are unaware that every intersection contains a crosswalk whether marked or unmarked. This is true throughout the state of Washington. Drivers must stop for pedestrians when crossing the street at marked crosswalks and at intersections as well. Whenever a vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the driver of another vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.

When attempting to make a left turn at an intersection with pedestrians in the crosswalk, state law says that drivers can turn into the crosswalk only after pedestrians are one lane past the drivers half of the roadway. The image below should help clarify this law. Just remember that pedestrians and bicyclists have the right-of-way at crosswalks and intersections.

Washington State's Crosswalk Law

Although the rules are pretty simple, 251 drivers were at fault for hitting pedestrians last year. Drivers have a lot to pay attention to, but remembering the rules of the road is one way to be a more responsible driver.

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Broken crosswalk button fixed quickly

Broken crosswalk push buttonA reader reports a photo of a broken push button at Lake City Way & NE 20th Ave.

This broken crosslite button on the Lake City Way crossing at NE 20th demonstrates why having any crosswalks defaulted to Don’t Walk is a bad idea for pedestrians. I’ll send word to the city via that handy link you recently posted, let’s see how long it takes to repair. I’d imagine a stoplight at that location would take no more than 24 hours. In the meantime, the next crosswalks in either direction is 5+ blocks away.

He was right, SDOT fixed the crosswalk button by the next day. SDOT deserves credit for the quick response, but it’s unfortunate that the signal broke to begin with. This type of issue would be less common if all crosswalk signals would be automatic in walkable areas.

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