Tag Archive for 'crosswalk'

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Crosswalk closure on 15th Ave NE

A reader shares that a crosswalk on 15th Ave NE is closed:

The funny thing is, in the time it took me to take the pictures, 5 people crossed the street anyway. One guy even pushed the walk button and went down and stood in the driveway and waited for the light to turn red. What I really don’t get is why did SDOT leave the driveway open at all? The parking lot connects to the alley on the back side.

For reference, this is the crosswalk by 3925 15th Ave NE, in the middle of a roughly 2.5 block stretch of 15th Ave NE that for historical reasons has no cross streets. It’s a place that gets a good bit of foot traffic into UW main campus since it’s the most direct route from Stevens Court and Mercer Hall and a couple parking lots

It would be nice if SDOT made accommodations for pedestrians in this situation, but fortunately many people don’t let mere orange barricades keep them from their destination.

This work appears to be part of the 15th Ave NE Reconstruction between NE Pacific St and NE 55th St. Based on the online project schedule (which may not be accurate), the weekday work should finish this Friday and then the construction appears to be scheduled for completion at the end of this weekend.


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?


New crosswalks this fall

Five new crosswalks are being installed this fall by SDOT including the new crosswalk in Phinney Ridge that we linked to a few weeks ago.

SDOT crews are preparing to mark three new crosswalks on Roosevelt Way NE between NE 90th Street and NE 97th Street. These new crossing will improve pedestrian mobility between the shops, restaurants, and transit stops in this neighborhood commercial area. The new crosswalks will be installed on Roosevelt Way NE at NE 90th Street, NE 92nd Street, and NE 97th Street.

Another marked crossing will soon be installed at the intersection of Hillside Drive E and Lake Washington Boulevard E in the Denny-Blaine neighborhood. This crossing will enhance Lakeview Park which is bisected by Lake Washington Boulevard. The new crossing will link the forested trails on the west side of the street with the sweeping Lake Washington and Cascade Mountain Range views on the east.

All five of these new crosswalks have one thing in common – they were requested by residents. Do you know a great location that should be considered for a new marked crosswalk? If so, drop us a line at walkandbike@seattle.gov and we’ll check it out.


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?

[poll id=”4″]

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.


Neighborhood improvements by SDOT

It’s always exciting to see the before and after photos that SDOT shares from neighborhood pedestrian improvements. Click for photos and more details on improvements at Ravenna Ave NE and Lake City Way NE as well as Lakeview Blvd and Harvard Ave E.


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.


Crosswalk finished on Phinney Ridge

PhinneyWood reports that the crosswalk at NW 73rd St and 8th Ave NW has new curb ramps and has been striped. The intersection has bus stops on both sides, so this new crosswalk should make crossing the street safer.


Crossing improvements planned near Beacon Hill Station

A few months ago, Beacon Hill Blog drew attention to the unsafe conditions at the intersection of Beacon Ave S and Lander St. Since then, they have Beacon BIKES has met with SDOT to design a new crossing to allow pedestrians to cross more safely.


Ergo Crosswalk

Check out this cool crosswalk design, which matches much more closely how people actually cross the street. (Hat tip Seattle Transit Blog):

Clever Crosswalk design


Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt

The book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt, goes into a lot of detail about driving behavior. While it mostly covers motor vehicle traffic, it talks about a few things that may be of interest to people on foot.

It spends some time talking about Dutch woonerven where people on foot and on bicycles share the space with people in cars, creating a calmer and safer environment than typical roadways for everyone.

It also provides some insight into crosswalks, showing that unmarked crosswalks may actually be safer for pedestrians:

Studies do show that motorists are more likely to yield to pedestrians in marked crosswalks than at unmarked crosswalks. But as University of California – Berkeley researchers David Ragland and Meghan Fehlig Mitman found, that does not necessarily make things safer. When they compared the way pedestrians crossed at both kinds of crosswalks on roads with considerable traffic volumes, they found that people at unmarked crosswalks tended to look both ways more often, waited more often for gaps in traffic, and crossed the road more quickly. Researchers suepect that both drivers and pedestrians are more aware that drivers should yield to pedestrians in marked crosswalks (even though 35% of drivers polled did not know this). But neither are aware of this fact when it comes to unmarked crosswalks. Not knowing traffic safety laws, it turns out, is actually a good thing for pedestrians. Because they do not know whether cars are supposed to stop – or if they will – they act more cautiously. Marked crosswalks, by contrast, may give pedestrians an unrealistic picture of their own safety.

Another interesting fact is that if you cross the street without looking, you’re less likely to be hit, though I wouldn’t recommend that.

The book is worth a read if you’d like to learn about safer roadway design, the lack of effectiveness of street-signs, and the causes and dangers of driver inattentiveness, just to name a few of the topics covered.