Tag Archive for 'original reporting'

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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.

[poll id=”9″]

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?


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?.


Asphalt sidewalk / parking strip on 15th

Last month we posted about a new asphalt sidewalk on 15th Ave between 94th St and 97th St. This type of walkway isn’t as good as a standard concrete sidewalk, but it was an improvement that the community requested. According to SDOT spokesperson Rick Sheridan:

Seattle has approximately 12,000 street block faces that lack sidewalks. The number of blocks lacking sidewalks far exceeds the resources available to build them and SDOT only has funding to build approximately 10 to 20 block face equivalents per year.

SDOT looks for ways to maximize the impact of our funds by using less expensive construction materials like asphalt. It is not only less costly, but also can be placed faster than concrete, helping stretch our dollars further.

On 15th Ave NE between NE 94th and NE 97th streets, SDOT addressed the neighborhood’s desire to improve pedestrian accessibility and upgrade drainage infrastructure. We did so with a modest budget by utilizing asphalt for the walkway, and replacing and covering an old drainage culvert. SDOT also separated the roadway from the sidewalk with a landscaping strip, which will deter parking and improve the pedestrian walking environment.

Despite the best intentions, though, you still see problems like this:

Asphalt sidewalk used for parking

Vehicle parked on asphalt sidewalk

SDOT has not provided figures for the cost of an asphalt sidewalk, but construction costs for a standard concrete sidewalk can range from $40,000 to $300,000 per block. It’s likely that the asphalt sidewalk here cost less than half of what a concrete sidewalk would cost.

With so many sidewalks yet to be paved, lower cost installations mean more sidewalks get built faster. But would it be better not to spend anything than to spend on an asphalt sidewalk / parking strip? Is the new sidewalk better than what was there before, or is it a waste of funds?

What do you think?

[poll id=”7″]


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.


2011 Worst Intersection in Seattle

The pedestrians have spoken!

2011’s Worst Intersection in Seattle… isn’t an intersection at all. At its cross streets that don’t actually cross – John, Thomas, Harrison, and Republican – Aurora presents a nearly half-mile long barrier to pedestrian movement. Aurora Ave is a human-made scar through Seattle that obstructs the flow of people – nowhere worse than between the dense Lower Queen Anne / South Lake Union areas.

View 2011 Worst Intersection in Seattle in a larger map

The street grid will eventually be reconnected, but not until the completion of the Alaskan Way Deep Bore Tunnel boondoggle in 2015 or 2016. Councilmember Tim Burgess earlier requested that WSDOT open crossings at the completion of the Mercer Corridor Project in 2014.

Regardless of when these intersections are restored, it’s too long to wait. In the three year period between April of 2005 and March of 2008, five pedestrians were struck within the 0.4 mile length of Aurora between Denny and Mercer – this is more than were struck in the 4 miles immediately to the north between Mercer and Green Lake.

Opening these crossings to people on foot would make it significantly easier to access Seattle Center and for workers on either side to access more lunch and happy hour options. The closed intersections mean that many trips take an extra 10 minutes of walking, which is inconvenient enough to discourage people from walking at all.

Reopening the intersections could improve safety for vehicles as well. There were 72 collisions on Aurora from Thomas to Republican during the time period referenced above. Vehicles here move 40-60 miles per hour, so providing signalized intersections would protect motorists as they turn onto Aurora.

I’m not optimistic that we’ll see changes anytime soon. This section of Aurora carries roughly 60,000 vehicles daily, and signals would delay these vehicles. Highway 99 is under the jurisdiction of WSDOT, an organization whose goal for decades has been to move more cars, and adding a signal here – where Aurora is essentially a freeway – would go against their deeply-ingrained traffic engineering standards. 60,000 drivers could generate a lot of complaints, sadly more than a few concerned pedestrians can.


Over $1 million budgeted for Seattle’s stairways

This year’s SDOT budget includes funding from three separate programs for maintaining and rehabilitating city-owned stairways.

According to John Buswell, Manager of Roadway Structures, over $200,000 is budgeted for stairway maintenance. This includes routine repairs and approximately 70 stairway inspections. “Typical repairs may be the replacement of a damaged rail section, repair of a broken stairway tread, or damage following a winter storm.”

The remainder of the funding is for rehabilitating stairways that are beyond simple repairs. More than half of the remaining $900k comes from the voter-approved transportation levy Bridging the Gap, which is funded through 2016. According to Buswell:

Often we are able to completely replace a stairway, adding new features that meet the current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for stairways. This work will usually add up to 75 years of additional useful life to the stairway.

Seattle has over 480 public stairways. Keeping them in good condition is a challenge, but they are an important and unique component of the city’s transportation infrastructure.


Vote for the Worst Intersection in Seattle

Note: The winning intersection has been announced.

The nominations are in. In no particular order, here are this year’s nominees for Worst Intersection in Seattle (click on images for map):

  1. Intersection at NE 45th St & 7th Ave NE 7th Ave NE and NE 45th – “The bizarre center-of-the-intersection crosswalk, the fact you have to wait three whole signal changes to cross catty-corner (which nobody does), the fact that it’s the only “safe” crossing of 45th for several blocks headed east (so you end up with mass jaywalking). Just awful.” (nominated by Tom F)
  2. Aurora and cross streets Republican, Harrison, Thomas, and John – “These intersections all suck for not existing, pedestrian-speaking. We have enough geographic barriers to movement in this town, we don’t need to create our own with concrete.” (nominated by Hans)
  3. Eastlake Ave & Fuhrman Ave Eastlake NE and Fuhrman E – “ear-crushing noise off I5, car drivers rushing to turn off or onto the University Bridge, which often means navigating around a ‘oh hey a pedestrian’ car stopped across the pedestrian walkway, which pushes you out into the Bicycle Lane, who in turn have their own troubles with cars failing to yield.” (nominated by Jeremy Mates)
  4. Aurora Ave & Bridge Way exit Bridge Way exit off of Aurora – “Has the most dangerous sidewalk in the city. I believe many people would get hit there were people actually using it. It is a soft turn off of Aurora, so drivers come flying around at 50+ mph. Drivers can’t see if anyone is on the crosswalk and pedestrians can’t see if anyone’s coming toward it. To make matters worse, there’s a two foot drop from the sidewalk to the street, so if you saw a car was coming at the last minute, it wouldn’t be easy to get back to safety. When I’ve walked up Aurora this way, I’ve gone way out of my way to 38th to get back onto Aurora, rather than put my life on the line trying the direct path.” (nominated by NJL)
  5. Mercer St / I-5 on-ramps & Fairview Ave Mercer / I-5 ramps and Fairview – “Basically a 8-lanes of freeway onramp / offramp. Not only can’t you cross Mercer at all on the east side of Fairview, but if you’re on the north side of Mercer, there are no pedestrian signals to cross any street – you’ll have to walk a block back north to cross Fairview at Valley.” (nominated by Troy)
  6. Latona Ave & Pacific St Latona Ave NE and NE Pacific St – Pedestrians have to “dodge cars, large trucks AND bikes at this intersection. The Burke Gilman trail merges with the sidewalk at this intersection so you have large numbers of bikes, many moving fast, that must be avoided by pedestrians. The noise from the I-5 bridge makes any attempt to warn “on your left” impossible to hear. Large trucks entering and leaving Dunn Lumber have a steep hill that they must stop on before pulling across the Burke Gilman trail/sidewalk and turning onto Pacific. Vehicles on Pacific turning south on Latona must not only do the usual checks but also look over their shoulder for fast moving bikes on the Burke Gilman. A mess for all!” (nominated by pat)
  7. Westlake Ave & Valley St Westlake and Valley/Broad – “It is particularly dangerous if you are trying to cross Westlake on the north side of the intersection. It is a soft right turn for people traveling east on Valley and turning onto Westlake, so most don’t slow down at all or bother to consider there might be pedestrians who have the right of way. Also, the cross walk a block up Westlake is mostly useless, as no one ever stops for it.” (nominated by NJL)
  8. Pine St & Boren Ave near Capitol Hill / First Hill Pine and Boren – A very busy pedestrian intersection, with pedestrians exposed to the noise from the freeway below and surrounded on all sides with cars and concrete. “I keep hoping those overpasses are near their end-of-life so they can be replaced with something that buffers the noise, ideally with some vegetation.” (nominated by Tom F)
  9. Fairview Ave & Eastlake Ave Fairview and Eastlake – “The sidewalk vanishes into a parking lot. The parking lot itself is barely distinguishable from the road when it isn’t filled with cars.” (nominated by NJL)

[poll id=”6″]

Update: The winning intersection has been announced.


Nominate your worst intersection in Seattle

Walking in Seattle is going to identify the worst intersection in Seattle, and you’re invited to submit nominations. Once nominations have been received, all readers will be invited to vote for the worst.

The worst intersection could be the most dangerous, or perhaps one with limited pedestrian crossings, poor signaling, or no curbs. Intersections like 23rd & Yesler or 12th & Madison are two intersections that might be worth nominating. Whatever qualifies as your “worst,” suggest it in the comments. The most nominated intersections and intersections with the most persuasive nominations will make it to the voting round.

Update: Time to vote!


“Walking” and “Seattle” becoming more popular

A few weeks ago, Google released a neat tool that allows you to see how frequently words appear in literature published since 1800.

After a significant decline in popularity in the first half of the 20th century, “walking” is appearing more often in literature now than ever before. Seattle is also on the rise. Click here for Google’s Ngram Viewer.

"Walking" and "Seattle" appearing more often in literature


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.