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Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board

Six Steps to a More Walkable Seattle
Priority issues of the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board

Following are the issues that the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board has identified as its top priorities. These were identified at the May 9, 2001 meeting and revised in subsequent member discussions; the final text was adopted at the September 12, 2001 meeting. The agreed purpose in identifying these six points is to be able to effectively communicate the Board's issues and concerns to policy makers and to provide focus to the Board's own work efforts. The points are listed below in no particular order of priority.

  1. Proportionate funding equity for pedestrian improvements.
    Discussion: In the last few years, the City has significantly increased funding for transportation. However, funding for pedestrian improvements (such features as curb bulbs at corners, crosswalk upgrades and sidewalk repairs) has apparently not kept pace. Indeed, it has reportedly declined in absolute terms. (The Board is researching the actual figures.)
      Desired outcome:
    • Increase CIP funding for pedestrian improvements.
  2. Preserve and enhance the streetscape and the pedestrian experience.
    Discussion: City actions such as removing parallel parking along streets or constructing grade-separated railroad crossings can have significant negative effects on the quality of the pedestrian environment. Characteristics of a good pedestrian environment include protection from passing vehicles by a wide sidewalk, a landscape strip or parallel parked vehicles and direct, "minimum energy distance" routes. If the pedestrian environment is unpleasant, people will avoid walking. This can lead to the weakening of neighborhood shopping districts, the loss of locally-owned businesses and increased traffic burdens. In particular, the Board wants to ensure that the needs and interests of pedestrians are not discounted as the City seeks to advance other transportation goals (e.g., freight mobility, transit speed and reliability).
      Desired outcome:
    • Account for impacts on the pedestrian environment when making physical or operational changes in the street right-of-way. This could be done by developing and implementing a pedestrian level of service scheme for use as an evaluation tool in determining the existing quality of pedestrian environment and the effect of prospective changes in the right-of-way. Seattle Comprehensive Plan policy T52 calls for the development of such a level of service scheme.
    • Develop a "toolbox" of mitigation measures to compensate for any adverse effects on the pedestrian environment that may result from changes in the street right-of-way (when warranted). A pedestrian level of service scheme will be helpful in determining thresholds that would trigger mitigation measures.
  3. Active enforcement against blockages and encumbrances on sidewalks.
    Discussion: In Seattle's residential neighborhoods and commercial districts alike, the sidewalks are in practice often not open to convenient pedestrian passage. In some residential areas, it is common to encounter in every block at least one driveway in which a parked vehicle stretches across the sidewalk, blocking passage. In commercial areas, passage along sidewalks is often encumbered by sandwich boards, construction activity, and sidewalk cafe tables spreading beyond their allowed spaces. Such intrusions are an inconvenience to able-bodied citizens; they can be a hazard, even a barrier to handicapped citizens. The City moves swiftly to clear roadways of obstructions. Pedestrian needs deserve similar attention.
      Desired outcome:
    • Active enforcement of laws and regulations concerning parking on sidewalks or across sidewalks. This could be done by Parking Enforcement staff in their normal rounds enforcing time limits on street parking and residential parking zones. It would also be useful to conduct enforcement in any moderate to high-density area of the City, independent of whether parking enforcement is warranted.
    • Active enforcement of regulations regarding the proper placement of signs, tables, newspaper boxes, and other possible obstructions in commercial areas.
  4. Position utility poles and parking meters to lessen pedestrian way interference.
    Discussion: In years past, utility poles and lampposts were placed adjacent to the curb and parking meter posts were set approximately 1.5' to 2' back from the curb. In recent years, the practice has been to position such appurtenances 3' back from the curb in most cases. This is encouraged by State and national engineering conventions and is driven by the potential for errant vehicles to conflict with these fixed objects. However, in setting such posts further from the curb, the effect is to degrade the functional area of the sidewalk. When there is a relatively high pedestrian demand for the available sidewalk space, the effective narrowing of the functional area of the sidewalk can have a noticeable effect on the quality of the walking experience. In some locations, utility poles have been set right in the center of 6' wide sidewalks, not allowing sufficient space on either side for passage of wheelchairs or strollers or people walking side by side.
      Desired outcome:
    • Adopt a more aggressive approach to undergrounding of utilities, focusing in particular on arterial streets and commercial districts. Undergrounding utility services also improves the aesthetic quality of streetscapes.
    • Ensure that utility poles never be placed so as to prevent passage by a wheelchair; a certain minimum sidewalk width should be maintained in all cases. This may require bumping out of a sidewalk around a utility pole, even acquiring easement rights to the necessary property if sufficient right-of-way is not present.
    • Encourage placement of utility poles and parking meters in such a manner that they minimize encroachment on the functional sidewalk area.
    • Develop a formula for determining the appropriate placement of utility poles. The formula should allow for poles to be less than 3' from the curb when certain conditions are present. Considerations might include: width of sidewalk, presence/absence of parallel parked vehicles, traffic speeds and volumes, pedestrian volumes, etc.
  5. Cleaner sidewalks
    Discussion: Seattle's sidewalks often are not clean and attractive. Problems include litter, overgrowth of vegetation, sidewalk condition and aesthetics.
      Desired outcomes:
    • Installation of more litter containers along City streets.
    • Increased attention to maintenance of public rights of way (litter removal, better upkeep of landscapes).
    • Increased enforcement of the obligations of adjacent property owners to maintain the sidewalk along their street frontage.
  6. Public education campaign
    Discussion: There is significant scope to educate the public about the rights and responsibilities of pedestrians and motorists. There is also merit to encouraging more walking for transportation and recreation.
      Educational campaign messages/content could include:
    • Rights and responsibilities of pedestrians
    • Rights and responsibilities of motorists
    • Selected Seattle walking tours and routes
      Media for the educational campaign could include:
    • Signs on buses (outside and inside)
    • Printed brochures
    • Leaflet inserts in utility bills
    • A walking guide map, comparable to the bicycle guide map that the City publishes
    • Inserts or advertisements in community newspapers
    • Editorial content (guest column) in community newspapers
    • Web page
      Desired outcomes:
    • Funding for educational campaign to be sponsored by the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board. Potentially, this could be a joint endeavor with the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board.
    • Addition of a staff position at SDOT dedicated to education regarding matters of importance to pedestrians and bicyclists.
    • Web page on SeaTran website explaining laws relating to pedestrians. The web page should include links to specific sections of City Code or RCW that form the basis of each right or responsibility.