Tag Archive for 'question'

Should jaywalking laws change?

Pedestrians in Seattle, unlike those in some other American cities, often seem hesitant to jaywalk. While that may show us to be a patient and obedient sort of people, strict obeisance to marked crosswalks can impede pedestrian mobility as broken pedestrian signals add time to pedestrians’ perambulations.

Waiting for light signals adds up to a lot of wasted time and reduces the efficiency of walking compared to other modes of transportation. This seems to conflict with the goal of the city’s Walk, Bike, Ride program to make walking one of the easiest ways to get around.

For what it’s worth, only 1 of 4 city council members who participated in our Q&A clearly denied ever jaywalking.

By voter-approved ordinance, marijauna use is the city’s lowest-priority law to be enforced by the city. Our city council members are willing to admit to jaywalking, but would they admit smoking pot? If jaywalking is something that even our elected officials do, should jaywalking be the new lowest law-enforcement priority?

Or should the laws change? Should we make jaywalking legal unless it obstructs other vehicular movement?

[poll id=”10″]


How did the recent closure of Pike Pl affect vendors?

Drivers are currently not allowed to drive through Pike Place Market due to ongoing construction and road closures.

Some people feel that Pike Place Market should be closed to vehicles permanently. Vendors, however, prefer that the road remain open. Last year, we asked if the road should be closed and respondents came out heavily in favor of the idea. This is a walking blog, though, so that probably skewed the results.

If this were a real journalistic outlet, we would conduct interviews with vendors to provide some perspective. As it is, I can only offer my opinion that the Market is better off without cars.

Has anyone else been there with the road closed? How do you think it worked out?


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″]


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?


Editorial: Does Seattle need a pedestrian advocate?

The Planning Picture blog raises an interesting argument that pedestrians need an advocacy group. The writer perspective mostly references Vancouver, BC, but much of it applies to Seattle as well.

A couple of things recently have brought my attention to the fact that pedestrians are perhaps becoming overlooked in the development of our cities. I know this sounds crazy, but bear with me. They are being overlooked, often, in favour of cyclists. At a recent Gaining Ground workshop that I attended there seemed to be a consensus that while bicycle advocacy was well advanced in some areas (and rightly so) and has achieved some notable victories (Vancouver’s downtown bike lanes for example) there is no one flying the flag for pedestrians.

The City of Vancouver has a Bicycle Advisory Committee which is consulted on major development proposals and capital projects to ensure that cyclists needs have been taken into account. In addition, there is the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition who are the leading cycling advocates in the area and then there is, of course, Critical Mass. All of these bodies do great work (although I sometimes have doubts about critical mass). The point is not that bicycle advocacy has gone too far, but that pedestrian advocacy has, erh… well, not really started yet.

This discrepancy is very clear here in Seattle when controversial road rechannelizations (diets) are proposed. Conflicts are often portrayed as bikes vs. cars, when in fact projects like these are just as valued by people on foot. The influence and power of local cycling organizations, at least compared to what exists for pedestrian advocacy, may be part of what makes bicyclists so prominent in these discussions. Pedestrians don’t have strong organizations that speak for us.

Organizations like Streets for All Seattle and Great City are working for a pedestrian-friendly city, but their umbrella of interests also is also big enough to cover people on bikes and buses. Feet First is the premier organization in Seattle supporting walkability, but its influence is limited.

Even without a strong pedestrian voice, SDOT is doing a lot of good work for people on foot – just take a look back at our archives to see the important projects SDOT is doing.

Unfortunately, it will take a while to replace all the poorly-placed curb ramps, install enough pedestrian signals, and build all the missing sidewalks. It will take time to make our city’s streets into complete streets for people in cars, on bikes, and on foot. It will also take a lot of money.

And while there is still another budget meeting where you can show support for the mayor’s Walk Bike Ride funding, the City Council has already shown disinterest in the funding sources for some of these important pedestrian projects.

Infrastructure is critical to make Seattle the most walkable city in the nation, as the city’s Pedestrian Master Plan aspires to accomplish. But it will take more than just sidewalks and signals to make Seattle the most walkable city in the nation.

Should the most walkable city in the nation require you to push a button to cross a street in parts of the urban core of the city? Or allow building construction projects to close busy sidewalks for weeks at a time?

Seattle is not the most walkable city in the nation nor will it be without walking advocates who work to make things happen.

Seattle needs advocates who will work not just to implement infrastructure projects that will save lives, but to change the culture that endangered them to begin with. Until pedestrians organize and push Seattle to becoming the most walkable city in the nation, the city will fall short.


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.

[poll id=”2″]


Trade-offs of sandwich-board signs

The A-frame advertisements that local businesses place on the sidewalk to attract business can get in the way sometimes. Those sandwich boards have to compete for sidewalk space with bike racks, outdoor tables and chairs, trees, and of course people.

For that reason, the city limits businesses to one sandwich board. However, recent enforcement of that rule is hurting a Pioneer Square business.

Customers at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop have been cut by more than a third since the bookshop was told to remove its second sign.

While people do need enough space to use the sidewalk comfortably, advertisements for nearby establishments can be a helpful enhancement to the causal walking experience.

At a time when businesses and Pioneer Square in general are struggling, is a one-sign limit reasonable? In Portland, businesses have to pay a nominal fee for additional sidewalk signage. Would a policy like that be an improvement here?