Tag Archive for 'downtown'

Sheraton Garden Walk complete

Sheraton Garden Walk

Sheraton Garden Walk at 7th and Union

The wall of the Sheraton Hotel used to impose one of the most monolithic streetscapes in the city on downtown pedestrians along 7th Avenue. However, over the past several months, a more interesting and engaging facade has been constructed. The project cost $2 million and, while it doesn’t turn 7th Ave into a lively shop-lined street, it still provides a significant enhancement to a dead zone within downtown. The Daily Journal of Commerce has a writeup on the Sheraton Garden Walk.

[T]he recently completed streetscape is designed to complement the urban fabric, while also amplifying its connections to its unique surroundings in a way that is playful and engaging.

[Landscape Architects, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol]’s design “borrows” key pedestrian assets from across the street and playfully simulates a traditionally two-sided street. A series of massive mirror panels — emulating vertical architectural bays in scale and proportion — are strategically placed to present the illusion of rich historic facades on the face of the simple concrete wall.

The mirrors reflect the historic facade of the Eagles Auditorium Building across the street, thereby replacing the blank wall of the Sheraton with the illusion of a much grander sense of architecture. The width of the mirror panels subtly offers the familiar module of storefront windows to passing pedestrians. The mirrors also “double” the apparent pedestrian activity on the treated side of the street.

The intent of the Sheraton Garden Walk is to create the illusion of being surrounded by green without truly enclosing the space — transitioning from a typical city sidewalk to a more welcoming, garden-scale environment that emphasizes “people space” over “car space.”

In order to balance the mirrors with reality, they are framed by rustic texture and seasonal interest, provided by vines that will soon grow to clad the remaining concrete facade. As they grow in, the lush plantings will wrap and embrace the sidewalk environment for maximum effect.


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?.


Kiosk Removal at 5th and Union

Today the kiosk at 5th and Union will be removed and the sidewalk restored. The removal of the kiosk will require a crane and in addition to obstructing pedestrian traffic, will also close two lanes of vehicle traffic. (View Larger Map)

This kiosk will be the third kiosk that has been removed of the five that were originally installed. These kiosks were installed from Pine to Seneca as part of a 1978 Fifth Avenue Improvement project. While originally well-intended, and probably an enhancement to the pedestrian experience at the time, the kiosks have not been used in a few years and are an obstruction to the pedestrian right of way.

Kiosk at 5th and Pine

Kiosk at 5th and Pine, before removal. Photo courtesy SDOT.

5th and Pine after Kiosk removal

5th and Pine after Kiosk removal. Photo courtesy SDOT.

The kiosks are privately owned by the adjacent property owners and this removal was requested by the Metropolitan Improvement District. According to SDOT, the MID “worked with the Department of Neighborhoods and the Seattle Department of Transportation to obtain the grant from the Neighborhood Projects Fund to pay for the removal.” These kiosks currently house an electrical box, so SDOT is involved to replace the existing electrical box with a less obtrusive structure. The MID hopes to have the remaining two kiosks removed over the next four years.


Public spaces downtown

Downtown is short on city parks, but there are quite a few public spaces that are privately owned. If you’re looking for a place downtown to stop and read a book, eat lunch, or just hang out, check out this handy-dandy map:

View Seattle’s Privately Owned Public Spaces in a larger map


Pedestrian safety laws being enforced downtown

Enforcement actions have begun downtown to keep pedestrians safe as part of the Holiday Pedestrian Safety Campaign.

As part of the Holiday Pedestrian Safety Campaign, targeted enforcement efforts by the Seattle Police Department will occur at high collision locations in the Center City area from December 29, 2010, to January 19, 2011.

The main goal of enforcement is to deter unsafe behavior by drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists, and to encourage people, whether they are driving or walking, to obey traffic laws and share the road safely. The effort will not detract from other policing duties or require additional funding, but will be part of the regular duties of the Seattle Police Department’s Traffic Section.

Drivers and pedestrians are both at risk of being cited for breaking any of these laws:

SMC 11.66.060 Blocking intersections and crosswalks
No person who is responsible for the operation of any railroad train or car shall stop the same within an intersection or on a crosswalk except to avoid accident or upon direction of a peace officer.

SMC 11.53.400 Further limitations on overtaking and passing
Whenever any vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the operator of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass such stopped vehicle. (RCW 46.61.235(4))

SMC 11.50.270 “Walk” pedestrian-control signal
Pedestrians facing a walking person symbol signal may cross the roadway in the direction of the signal. If pedestrians have begun to cross a roadway while facing such a signal, all approaching vehicle operators shall stop to allow them to complete their crossing.

SMC 11.50.280 “Don’t walk” pedestrian-control signal
Pedestrians facing a steady or flashing hand symbol signal shall not enter the roadway, but if pedestrians have begun to cross before the display of either signal, vehicle operators shall stop to allow them to complete their movements.

It’s good to see enforcement like this, even if it is only for a small part of the year.


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.


More support for pedestrian safety campaign

Since our article on SDOT’s pedestrian safety campaign, more local blogs have spoken out in defense of the controversial campaign, including PubliCola, Seattle Transit Blog, and Seattle Bike Blog.

Here’s a dancing, umbrella flash mob, using umbrellas as part of the safety awareness campaign:

Following this, King 5 reported that a local business owner wants to know why we didn’t have a dancing, street-shoveling flash mob to clean up the snow. (that’s a joke)

Seriously, though, SDOT is getting their $47,000 out of this safety awareness campaign. While some people may criticize it, more people know about the campaign and the safety umbrellas than would have been possible without mainstream media coverage. Even if it’s the umbrellas that are receiving all the attention, people across the city are now more aware of the risks to people on foot. Whether that awareness translates to safer driving and fewer collisions downtown, however, remains to be seen.


SDOT’s pedestrian safety initiative critcized

SDOT is working to make downtown safer for pedestrians during the dark winter months as part of their Holiday Pedestrian Safety Campaign. There are more pedestrian collisions during the winter months as shoppers rush around dark downtown streets.

One way they are doing this is by providing bright umbrellas for pedestrians downtown to borrow. The umbrellas make people more visible to drivers and also serve as a visual reminder of the safety campaign, which also will use advertisements, posters, and other ways of getting people to think about safety.

However, some people aren’t happy with the campaign and feel that the $47k that SDOT is spending to reduce the risk of collisions would have been better spent on snow removal or in myriad other ways.

While the region’s response to Snowpocalypse 2010 (also known as snOMG) was underwhelming, the factors that contribute to Seattle’s snowpocalyptic tendencies are greater than what SDOT can solve, even if they took money away from safety initiatives like this.

It’s easy to second-guess how money is spent, but it’s not as easy to keep pedestrians safe in the street. This Holiday Pedestrian Safety Campaign takes a relatively small amount of money ($47,000 or 0.00015%0.015% of SDOT’s budget) and uses it to help stop collisions and potentially save lives.

SDOT makes a strong argument in support of the campaign:

So, as highlighted in Seattle’s Pedestrian Master Plan, changing behavior is one of the keys to making everyone safer, especially when traveling around downtown. It’s convincing pedestrians to look before entering the crosswalk and getting drivers to be more aware of people walking.

Some have argued that trying to change driver and pedestrian behavior is a waste of time and resources. However, to create a walkable city we must use all available tools to reduce the number and severity of crashes. That means engineering improvements, enforcement and education. Our campaign this year includes bus ads, posters, stickers, displays for merchants, umbrellas, publicity events and public service announcements. The money we are investing in this pedestrian awareness campaign is worth it if we prevent one collision or save one life.


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.


Should Pike Place be closed to motor vehicles?

One of the best places in Seattle to experience on foot in Seattle is Pike Place market. However, with the crowds of tourists that the summer months bring, the people overflow from the sidewalks into the road and people compete for space with vehicles.

Jaywalking is legal around the market, but if the streets were closed to cars, people on foot could walk around with more freedom, turning the market into a great pedestrian plaza.

However, market vendors tend to prefer the current configuration, which allows access by delivery drivers and early-morning customers.

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