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State of Pedestrian Environment
- Background
- Planning Context
- Existing Conditions
- Conclusions
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Becoming the Most Walkable City
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Existing Conditions

A. Existing Facilities

Table 4: Existing Pedestrian Facilities in SeattleThere is a range of existing pedestrian facilities in Seattle. The presence, quality, and connectivity of the pedestrian network vary greatly throughout the City. This is often a function and result of land use and urban design characteristics highlighted in the “Planning Context” section. This section discusses specific elements of the pedestrian environment in Seattle that impact pedestrian safety and walkability.

Seattle’s transportation system includes almost 4,000 paved line miles, 124 bridges, more than 1,000 signalized intersections, more than 26,000 curb ramps, and more than 6,000 marked crosswalks. The City’s transportation infrastructure is valued at $7.6 billion. The pedestrian environment is shaped by this infrastructure, as well as by things like parks, civic land uses, availability of transit, and private development along roads. Table 4 highlights existing pedestrian-related infrastructure in Seattle according to a recent SDOT inventory. The pedestrian experience can be broken down into two distinct categories. The first is the pedestrian’s experience walking along roadways, and the second is their experience crossing roadways. Selected elements that impact this experience in Seattle are described briefly below; photographs are included in Appendix B of this report.

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B. Along the Roadway

A pedestrian’s experience walking along the roadway in Seattle is influenced by a variety of factors. Land use and urban design frame a pedestrian’s experience and influence their comfort walking along the road. Below is a discussion of various factors that affect pedestrian conditions along roadways in Seattle.

1) Sidewalks Sidewalk image

Sidewalks are the central component of the pedestrian network. Sidewalks and walkways should provide a continuous system of accessible pathways for pedestrians. There are approximately 2,256 miles of sidewalks in Seattle. A detailed sidewalk inventory (e.g., presence and material) was completed in 2007 and will be augmented by a condition assessment for urban villages in 2008.

There are connected sidewalk networks in some areas of Seattle, while in other areas the sidewalk network has significant gaps or does not exist. For example, although there are extensive connected sidewalk networks in the urban core and in many of the urban villages, many residential areas are lacking sidewalks. In fact, there are around 767 miles of potential sidewalk locations in Seattle’s residential zones that do not presently have a sidewalk on one or both sides of the street. This accounts for around 30% of the total sidewalk area in residential zones (assuming sidewalks on both sides of every street).

The condition and quality of existing sidewalks ranges from newly constructed sidewalks that are wide and flat, to standard width sidewalks, to narrow and steep sidewalks. In general, the City’s newest sidewalks—those being built as part of new construction and road improvements—are of high quality. However, there are many sidewalks in the City with significant obstructions, including cars parked in the pedestrian travel way, utility poles, and fire hydrants. Sidewalk construction and reconstruction is directed by numerous documents, such as the Land Use Code, Right-Of-Way Improvements Manual, Standard Specifications and Standard Plans for Road, Bridge and Municipal Construction, Director’s Rule on Street and Sidewalk Pavement Opening and Restoration, and national standards such as the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Policy direction is provided in some of the plans—such as the Comprehensive Plan and the Transportation Strategic Plan—listed in Table 2.

2) Buffers Buffer Example

A pedestrian’s safety and comfort in the roadway environment is significantly impacted by the width and quality of the buffer between the sidewalk and the roadway. Physical buffers such as street trees, curbs, landscaping, bike lanes, on-street parking, and transit-only lanes can enhance the pedestrian experience by separating the road and the sidewalk. In addition to making an area more comfortable, street furnishings and amenities can also serve as buffers for pedestrians. A range of furnishings and amenities can be found in different areas of Seattle. Many urban villages have features such as benches, bus stop shelters, bollards, trash receptacles, public art, informational maps and displays, and bicycle parking.

In places like the urban core/center city with many tall buildings, landscaping can create a sense of enclosure (or human scale) while also providing significant aesthetic, environmental, and other benefits. Seattle has more than 30,000 street trees that provide such benefits and serve as buffers. Planter strips that incorporate natural drainage facilities (such as rain gardens, bioswales, and stormwater planters) also provide positive environmental benefits, including stormwater retention and reduction of the heat island effect. Examples include the High Point residential development, South Lake Union, and the “green grid” streets in North Seattle.

3) Traffic Calming traffic calming example

Seattle was an early pioneer in the traffic calming movement, implementing neighborhood traffic calming projects that have since been emulated in cities and towns throughout the U.S. The City has also employed more road diets than any other city in the country, pioneering this strategy for reducing the number of travel lanes on arterial roadways. Road diets improve walking and bicycling conditions by reducing crossing distances for pedestrians at intersections, slowing vehicle speeds, and providing additional space for bike lanes, streetscape improvements, and landscaped medians. The City uses a range of other traffic calming treatments as well, including chicanes, curb extensions, speed cushions and humps, and traffic circles. These improve both pedestrian and motor vehicle safety by reducing travel speeds. Table 4 above outlines the type and quantity of existing traffic calming features throughout the City. Seattle also has an arterial traffic calming program that includes projects such as raised crosswalks, speed cushions, gateway treatments, and a raised intersection. The project team has not observed these types of traffic calming features being used on arterial roads in other U.S. cities.

4) Access to Transit Access To Transit Image

Sidewalk connectivity in the proximity of bus stops provides access to these stops for all riders, including older residents and those with disabilities. King County Metro serves riders who are disabled with accessible fixed route service. All Metro buses have wheelchair lifts and/or ramps. There are a wide range of transit facilities in Seattle, from well-designed, curb-extended bus stops on the far side of intersections (as is preferred if the intersection is uncontrolled) with shelters and benches, to bus stops without a pad for wheelchair access and with few pedestrian accommodations. Seattle’s transportation system also includes streetcars, monorails, and other facilities, all of which have varying levels of pedestrian accessibility. [View maps showing Bus Routes and Stops, Transit, and Transit Classes.]

5) Access to Trails Access to trails image

There are approximately 40 miles of multi-use trails in Seattle, including the Chief Sealth Trail, Mountains to Sound Trail, Duwamish Trail, and the Burke-Gilman Trail. Pedestrian access to trails is predominantly provided via street crossings and at a few trailhead locations. The majority of the street crossings are marked with crosswalks supplemented with trail signs. These access points are largely accessible to people with disabilities.

There are numerous formal and informal trail connections to neighborhood streets and private properties that have varying degrees of accessibility. For example, older trails such as the Burke-Gilman Trail contain numerous informal pedestrian “goat paths” that cut through the vegetation. These are typically dirt, with a few exceptions where two to four feet of asphalt have been applied with no lighting or signage indicating the paths’ existence. Vegetation is typically overgrown (up to the edge of the path), with no clear zone on either side, creating an unwelcoming atmosphere. Newer trails, such as the Mountains to Sound Trail and the Chief Sealth Trail, have formal neighborhood connections that are identified with signs.

6) Staircases Staircase

Seattle’s steep terrain limits street connectivity at many locations throughout the City. Pedestrian connectivity was maintained at these locations with the construction of approximately 500 public staircases. By their very nature, staircases are inaccessible to people who use wheelchairs or who have other ambulatory disabilities. The vast majority of staircases are inconspicuous and do not have directional signs.

Staircases typically connect two dead end streets or one dead end street to a midblock location at the closest parallel street. These staircases are an important component of the pedestrian network in Seattle; however, their quality and condition varies. Some staircases terminate at locations that provide limited opportunities to comfortably walk along the road or at locations that do not provide safe and adequate roadway crossing amenities for pedestrians. Others, such as the Galer Street staircase system in Queen Anne, open an entire corridor to pedestrian travel.

7) Pedestrian Access at Highway Interchanges Ped Highway Access Example Image

Interchanges and other locations with freeway on-ramps and off-ramps, if they are designed for higher speed vehicular movement, can be among the most difficult locations for pedestrians to cross and/or navigate. Seattle has numerous locations where the interchanges with I-5, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, Aurora Avenue, West Seattle Freeway and State Route 520 are designed with long acceleration/deceleration ramps. Generally, the movements to and from the freeway system are controlled with traffic signals, which provide pedestrians with safe crossing opportunities. Freeways that pose the greatest challenge for pedestrians allow for merges directly to the arterial street system, such as from SR-520 to Montlake Boulevard, I-90 west to Rainier Avenue, and I-5 at North 85th Street and Olive Way.

There are arterials throughout Seattle that have been designed with similar freeway principles, such as 15th Avenue at Emerson (South Ballard Bridge), Eastlake Avenue at NE 40th Street, and Montlake Boulevard at NE 45th Street (South of University Village). Another issue at freeway interchanges in Seattle is the pedestrian environment on the street either beneath or above the freeway. Dark underpasses with narrow and/or poorly maintained sidewalks are unpleasant for pedestrians and discourage walking.

Ped Bridge Example

8) Pedestrian Bridges/Underpasses

Pedestrian bridges and underpasses separate pedestrian traffic from motor vehicle traffic, allowing pedestrians to cross busy streets by eliminating potential conflicts.  There are 12 pedestrian bridges in Seattle, such as the pedestrian bridge at 41st and Aurora Avenue. This bridge provides convenient and direct access across a difficult road, but is an older design that no longer meets accessibility guidelines. There are existing underpasses along Aurora Avenue as well.

In general, pedestrian bridges and underpasses are expensive to construct and are a challenge to locate. Pedestrians have a low tolerance for delay or out of the way travel and therefore are more likely to risk crossing at grade, rather than use the facility if it is perceived to add significant time to the trip. Adequate width (for users to pass each other comfortably), lighting, and surveillance should also be provided to increase security of these crossings.

Construction Zone Image

9) Construction Zones

Current construction zones in Seattle range from complete pedestrian closure to full protected access. Recent examples have utilized covered walkways to maintain access, as well as closures that might have been avoidable or resolved differently. Construction zones are regulated in the Seattle Municipal Code, and information regarding construction zone design, planning and permitting can be found in the Traffic Control Manual and the Right-of-Way Improvements Manual. The removal of a pedestrian route, even for a short time, may severely limit or totally preclude pedestrian access to residences, employment centers, schools, commercial establishments, etc. Therefore, uniform design principals should be implemented that help everyone navigate around obstructions, including people with disabilities. Maintenance of pedestrian traffic should be given the same level of attention as maintenance of motor vehicle traffic, with the goal of reducing out-of-direction travel as much as possible. Forcing pedestrians to navigate around construction zone obstructions increases travel time for walking, causing frustration and making it a less convenient mode of transportation.

10) BridgesBridge example

Bridges can serve as both connections and barriers in the pedestrian network. There are 80 bridges in Seattle, of which four are movable bridges owned by SDOT and 33 are partially owned by SDOT. Narrow sidewalks were observed on several older bridges in the City. Recent bridge retrofit projects have improved pedestrian access across bridges and at the approaches to the bridges.

11) Maintenance

Maintenance of sidewalks is a critical issue in some areas. For example, the sidewalks along Aurora Avenue (Highway 99) are heaving and cracking, making them difficult to negotiate in a wheelchair, and creating tripping hazards for walkers. The sidewalk inventory and condition assessment discussed previously will provide important information regarding sidewalk maintenance throughout the City. Many crosswalks are worn, especially in areas with heavy traffic turning volumes. Throughout the City, the maintenance of vegetation is a challenge. Overgrown vegetation narrows the effective width of the pedestrian travelway and obscures trail and stairway connections. The City has an existing sidewalk maintenance program and a stairway rehabilitation and maintenance program to address maintenance issues in Seattle.

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C. Across the Roadway

In addition to continuous sidewalks, safe street crossings are a critical component of an accessible pedestrian system. Important factors in determining a pedestrian’s experience crossing a roadway include intersection geometry and the character of the road. The following is a general synthesis of intersection issues in Seattle.

1) Intersection Geometry

Intersection geometry is a critical element affecting accessibility and pedestrian comfort crossing streets in Seattle. The majority of the streets in Seattle are arranged in a grid format that allows for compact intersections with right-angle crossings. This design provides the shortest crossing distance for the pedestrian, which minimizes their exposure to vehicular traffic. The majority of the local streets in Seattle are constructed with small corner curb radii, minimizing the pedestrian crossing distance and slowing turning motorists.

However, there are a number of important arterial roadways such as Rainier Avenue, Fauntleroy Way, Madison Street, Holman Road, and Lake City Way—as well as many short connector streets necessitated by the Seattle terrain—that cut across the grid, creating skewed intersections.

Skewed intersections that result in obtuse angles (larger than 90 degrees) allow motorists to make right turns across the pedestrian travel way at higher speeds. At many locations around the City, these intersections are uncontrolled along the arterial, which makes it difficult for a pedestrian to determine if a motorist is going to turn onto the local street or remain on the arterial. The resulting acute angle on the opposite side can limit sight distance between the pedestrian and motorists. These skewed angles may result in challenging pedestrian crossings, such as the intersection of Olive Way and Bellevue Avenue in Capitol Hill, and the intersection of Pike Street and 9th Avenue near the Convention Center.


2) Crosswalks

According to Section 11.14.135 of the Seattle Municipal Code, the term “crosswalk” means the “portion of the roadway between the intersection area and the prolongation or connection of the farthest sidewalk line, or, in the event there are no constructed sidewalks, then between the intersection area and a line ten feet ( 10’) there from, except as modified by a marked crosswalk.” A crosswalk may be marked or unmarked, and the current procedure for making decisions about marking crosswalks is described in Directors Rule 04-01. Crosswalk markings are used to identify a preferred crossing location for pedestrians and to alert motorists of locations where they should expect pedestrians. There are approximately 6,000 marked crosswalks in Seattle. Most crosswalks are of the “ladder” style using high visibility markings, though some are decorative, such as those found in the Queen Anne neighborhood. Crosswalks are typically marked at signalized intersections. Crosswalks are more likely to be worn at skewed intersections and at locations with high volumes of turning traffic.   The City has a generally conservative approach to marking crosswalks. In other cities such as Washington, D.C. and Tucson, Arizona, the project team has observed more marked crosswalks at unsignalized intersections, especially in downtown commercial-type settings. In Seattle, crosswalks are not marked on non-arterial streets unless it is a designated school crossing. Crosswalks are also typically not marked at uncontrolled locations on arterials, regardless of the number of travel lanes and the presence of parking, including within commercial areas and urban villages. Some crosswalks include additional measures such as overhead pedestrian crossing signs and pedestrian crossing flags. The City will be launching an official pedestrian crossing flag program in summer 2008.

A Curb Ramp

3) Curb Ramps

The Seattle Municipal Code defines a curb ramp as “that portion of the sidewalk area which provides a direct connection between the roadway level and the constructed sidewalk level, for the purpose of allowing persons operating wheeled devices to have convenient access between the roadway and sidewalk.” There are more than 26,000 curb ramps throughout Seattle. Curb ramps are generally present in the urban core and in urban villages, though in many cases the locations are inconsistent and they often do not align with crosswalks. The majority of curb ramps observed are older designs that most likely do not meet current accessibility guidelines and will need to be retrofitted using universal design principals. Curb ramps are not present in many of the older residential neighborhood sidewalk networks. This presents mobility constraints for people with disabilities and is inconvenient for all users. Recently installed curb ramps appear to meet current accessibility guidelines and are well-designed.

4) Pedestrian Crossing Islands

In locations with longer crossing distances (e.g., more than two lanes) and/or higher vehicle speeds, pedestrian crossing islands are beneficial. In particular, pedestrian crossing islands have been shown to increase safety for pedestrians crossing multi-lane roadways at unsignalized crossings (Zegeer et al., February 2002). There are good examples of pedestrian crossing islands as part of newer development in the City, such as near the intersection of Virginia Street and 7th Avenue along the South Lake Union line of the Seattle Streetcar. However, there are very few pedestrian crossing islands along arterial roads in areas outside of the urban core, such as along Lake City Way, Broadway Avenue, and Rainier Avenue South. Given the traffic volumes, speeds, and width of these roads, pedestrian crossing islands could improve the pedestrian experience significantly, especially for older residents that may be traveling at a slower pace. The project team has observed the use of pedestrian crossing islands on arterial roads in other parts of the country, including many cities such as Washington, DC.

5) Curb Extensions

Curb extensions (or curb bulbs) increase the visibility of pedestrians to motorists and shorten the distance pedestrians must cross. By narrowing the curb-to-curb width of a roadway, curb extensions help reduce motor vehicle speeds and improve pedestrian safety. They also improve the overall pedestrian experience by creating more space for street furnishings and amenities, bus stops, caf seating, and planter strips. Curb extensions may be complemented by in-roadway pedestrian crossing signs, high-visibility pedestrian warning signs, and improved lighting. There are more than 90 curb bulbs located throughout Seattle in both commercial and residential neighborhoods.

Traffic Signal Image

6) Traffic Signals

Traffic signal design has a significant impact on a pedestrian’s experience crossing the roadway. There are 1,020 traffic signals in Seattle, of which 92 are half signals. [View a map of Traffic Signals in Seattle.] At traffic signals, pedestrians must wait for an indication that their path of travel has the right-of-way before entering the roadway. This may be indicated by the parallel roadway signal or, at most locations, by a pedestrian signal head. Throughout the City there are a growing number of pedestrian signal heads that provide countdown timing information as well.

The distance between traffic signals is an important factor in determining whether a pedestrian will choose to cross at a signalized intersection, a non-signalized intersection, or midblock. Since pedestrian travel speeds are much slower than other modes of transportation, pedestrians have a particularly strong desire to travel the shortest possible distance between two points. For example, when faced with the option to cross an 80-foot wide road at a midblock location versus walking 600 feet to the nearest intersection, crossing at the crosswalk, and walking 600 feet back down the street, the majority of pedestrians cross midblock. Assuming a walking speed of 4 feet per second, the midblock crossing in this example requires 20 seconds to complete, while the alternative route requires more than 5 minutes.

The City has developed a pedestrian traffic signal (half signal) to assist pedestrians in crossing high volume arterial roadways. This signal is activated by a pedestrian push button which stops vehicular traffic on the arterial with a standard traffic signal indicating red. The pedestrian must wait for the pedestrian signal to indicate that it is safe to walk. Vehicles on the minor approaches are controlled by a stop sign and may enter the roadway after stopping, but motorists must stop for pedestrians within the crosswalk. The City’s practice of using pedestrian-activated traffic signals is unique. The project team has not observed this signal being used in most other cities in the United States.

Throughout the City, the average distance between traffic signals on primary roads is approximately .25 miles. The average distance between signals on minor arterials is .35 miles, and for collector arterials it is .14 miles. (Note: These averages do not account for the half signals discussed above.)

Traffic signals may be supplemented with audible or other tonal messages to make crossing information accessible for all pedestrians, including those with vision impairments. The City currently has approximately 50 audible signals and 80 additional signals will be installed by early 2009.

Signal Timing

7) Signal Timing

It is essential to provide signals that are phased and timed to allow pedestrians of all abilities to cross the roadway, including those who are typically slower (e.g. children, senior citizens, people with limited mobility). Within business districts, main streets, and other areas with substantial pedestrian volumes, a pedestrian signal phase should be automatic. In areas with fewer pedestrians, push buttons may be used to provide the necessary crossing time which is typically more than would be required for a phased and timed signal to accommodate vehicular traffic. In Seattle, nearly 60% of the traffic signals (1,132 full signals) have pedestrian push buttons. In urban villages, approximately 55% of traffic signals have push buttons. For example, push buttons were observed in the Columbia City urban village; unfortunately, the button did not call a pedestrian phase in a timely manner, which encourages jaywalking.

The vast majority of traffic signals are timed for concurrent pedestrian phasing, meaning the pedestrian has the walk signal while parallel traffic has a green light. There are a few traffic signals in the City that provide a Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) to allow the pedestrian to have a two to four second head start before vehicles are allowed to move. In comparison, cities such as Cambridge, MA have policies in place to regularly install LPIs at intersections. Seattle also has a few locations that utilize “All Walk” signal phasing where all traffic is stopped while pedestrians cross in all directions.


8) Lighting

Pedestrians can be adversely affected by low-light conditions. In fact, two-thirds of pedestrian fatalities occur between dusk and dawn. Lighting is important at intersections and mid-block crossings, particularly in locations near transit stops. In pedestrian-oriented development projects, it is important to provide high-quality pedestrian lighting, particularly along sidewalks and walkways with greater volumes of night-time pedestrian activity, such as in commercial pedestrian districts, in high density residential areas, and near colleges and universities. Preferred pedestrian-scale lighting is characterized by shorter light poles (e.g., 15-foot tall posts), lower levels of illumination (except at crossings), shorter spacing between lamp posts, and high pressure sodium vapor or metal halide lamps. Light fixtures should be a full cut-off design in order to prevent light trespass. In Seattle, lighting varies by land use and location. Pedestrian-scale lighting was observed in some areas, such as the High Point residential development, Queen Anne, and the International District.

Signage and Striping

9) Signage and Striping

Seattle uses a range of regulatory, warning, and directional/guide signs throughout the City, typically following the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) guidelines. There are more than 150,000 permanent/fixed signs in the City. In addition, the City employs dynamic message signs and radar speed signs in select locations.

The City utilizes traditional pedestrian-related signage, such as the pedestrian warning sign (W11-2), at uncontrolled crossings and is experimenting with innovative signs such as the “Stop for Pedestrians When Turning” signs at signal-controlled intersections and the “Stop for Me – It’s the Law” signs along arterial roadways. The City minimizes the use of pavement markings for pedestrian travel other than crosswalks. Stop lines are typically not utilized at intersections with marked crosswalks. There were no locations observed on multi-lane arterials where advanced stop lines (e.g., stop line 30 feet prior to the crosswalk) were installed. Seattle is unique in having so few stop lines at intersections. In most other cities—for example Arlington, VA—stop lines are a standard part of signalized intersection design. It should be noted however, that Seattle plans to begin installing stop bars in summer 2008. Additionally, there were no locations observed where “word” markings were utilized to indicate school zones or speed limits.

Driveway Example

10) Driveways

New and reconstructed driveways throughout the City appear to be well-designed and accessible. New developments are installing driveways that provide a higher quality walking environment for the pedestrian by providing a level walking surface, smaller driveway opening, and fewer motor vehicle encroachment points.

However, Seattle has a wide range of driveway designs—older neighborhoods and areas of the City that were developed for automobile-oriented land uses have frequent driveway cuts across the sidewalk. The majority of these driveways were designed for easy vehicle access and do not provide a comfortable walking environment. Pedestrians change elevations frequently and are subjected to vehicles turning at higher speeds. People with disabilities are also adversely impacted by the change of elevation between the sidewalk and the driveway, as it makes it difficult to travel along the sidewalk.

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D. Crashes

Seattle consistently ranks among the safest cities of its size for pedestrian travel. However, pedestrian/vehicle crashes remain a serious problem citywide. There were 1,433 reported pedestrian crashes in the three-year period between 2005 and 2007. Of these, nearly 70% occurred at intersections, while around 30% occurred at mid-block locations. One hundred twenty-six crashes occurred within 500 feet of a school (approximately two blocks); of these, 49 were at mid-block locations, while 77 occurred at intersections. [View a map of Pedestrian Collisions in Seattle from 2002-2006.] Additional information is needed to fully evaluate these crashes, such as the age of those involved and the time of the incident (night or day). When analyzing crashes, it is also important to consider the volume of pedestrians at high crash locations.

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