Why Middle-Aged People Walk into Traffic
The City Lets Construction Sites Close Sidewalks Even in Busy Pedestrian Neighborhoods
I sent city officials, including the mayor and the city council, a photo a couple weeks ago of something you've probably seen before: people walking in traffic around construction sites instead of crossing the street. We know that folks are supposed to cross the street, but they don't. They just don't. I've written about this a lot on Slog (including about the city's own report in 2008 on this problem and how nothing really changed despite that report). But the recent example on 13th Avenue and East Pine Street illustrates the problem well.
The photo shows seven middle-aged people—not a bunch of young scofflaws—who had passed a big "sidewalk closed" sign, navigated around a construction trailer, and were walking up the road headlong into traffic.
For the last several months, there have been three construction sites on Pine between 11th Avenue and 15th Avenue that close down the sidewalks (so, in theory, you would have to cross the street four times within four blocks). By letting them close down the sidewalk, the city is providing a convenience for developers, but it means pedestrians wind up merging with traffic.
Is it too much to expect that when construction is permitted in a pedestrian overlay—parts of the city where the zoning explicitly says development must accommodate pedestrians—developers be required to provide a substitute walking lane, a protected barrier? This is typical in East Coast cities, and it seems a reasonable expectation here, too.
Development is great for Seattle, and it should be encouraged with incentives, streamlining, and what have you. But knowing what we know about human behavior, giving a hand to developers shouldn't put regular citizens in danger.
I got a reply back from Seattle City Council member Sally Clark that began, "If you had been in the same spot a couple of weeks ago in the evening, I would have been one of the middle-aged people in your photo." Another city hall staffer admitted to jaywalking there, too, which proves my point.
But still, I never got a pledge from any elected leaders or city officials to change the rules. I got some general replies and was also forwarded an internal e-mail about the matter.
The upshot of the responses was this: Although the particular construction site I photographed should have had a flagger directing people to cross the street, the current system of developers routinely shutting down sidewalks—failing to provide an alternative path on the same side of the street—is sufficient. But it's not sufficient. If it were working, I wouldn't have seen a man taking his chances between that same construction site and two buses a couple of days later—and city council members wouldn't be jaywalking either.
After I sent my letter and posted about this on Slog, the developer did set up a string of traffic cones to create a pedestrian walkway. Still, a string of cones is not enough, when the sort of protected barriers found in East Coast cities would be far safer.
To be clear, I don't mean to pick on this one developer. The problem is citywide at dozens of sites. As the current development cycle swings into full momentum, particularly favoring infill construction in heavily walked neighborhoods, the burden falls on the mayor and the city council to require pedestrian passageways around construction sites (except in the rare, rare exceptions when they are impossible). At the risk of sounding dramatic—but I think this is actually inevitable—someone is going to get hit and injured or killed unless city leaders act. Who in city hall is going to take the lead on fixing this?