Why Middle-Aged People Walk into Traffic

The City Lets Construction Sites Close Sidewalks Even in Busy Pedestrian Neighborhoods

Why Middle-Aged People Walk into Traffic

CHANCING IT IN THE STREET Pedestrians walk around a construction site on East Pine Street.

  • comments (27)
  • Print

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? recommended


Comments (27) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Posted by madcap on February 27, 2013 at 10:36 AM · Report this
Its fun! Gives me a chance to pretend to be a car! Honk! Honk!
Posted by Bloated Jesus is Bloated on February 27, 2013 at 11:57 AM · Report this
So just to make sure I understand this article - this applies to Middle-aged persons only?
Posted by woofy on February 27, 2013 at 2:23 PM · Report this
If someone gets hit by a car and dies their spirit will go into the new condominium development with ground level retail and protect it. It's a sacrificial ritual.
Posted by MacGruber on February 27, 2013 at 8:03 PM · Report this
At the risk of sounding dramatic, what the hell does it matter to you?

These are adults, choosing to violate a regulatory sign (black and white street signs are the law.)

If they choose to walk in the street and they get killed, it's their own damn fault.

I don't see why anybody, the City or developers, need to pay for anything other than a "sidewalk closed ahead" sign.
Posted by David in Shoreline on February 27, 2013 at 8:14 PM · Report this
@5, but, this is Seattle...there will be blame placed somewhere other than where it belongs, and demands to get paid. Just like bicyclists who ignore street laws, then when they get creamed, it is always the car driver's fault.
Posted by cattycat on February 27, 2013 at 11:02 PM · Report this
@5, the developers need to pay for more than a Sidewalk Closed Ahead sign because the sidewalk isn't theirs. Everything up to the right-of-way line, including the roadway and sidewalk, is city property and is there for common good, not the contractor's convenience. You don't often see lanes or entire streets blocked off for the contractor to set up their mobilization and construction equipment because SDOT would make them justify the closure and street usage permit, probably charge "rent" for its usage, and require adequate detours to be set up. In the same logic, other ROW users (in this case pedestrians) should have the same treatment when their routes are disrupted by someone borrowing City land. Additionally, it is far easier to detour a car one block out of the way than to ask peds to walk blocks out of their way, especially in our liquid sunshine. I find this double standard really frustrating because it does disproportionally impacts peds.
Posted by Shane in Seattle on February 27, 2013 at 11:21 PM · Report this
Excellent question and article. You're spot on.
Posted by Architect's wife on February 28, 2013 at 10:33 AM · Report this
Because this particular site is funded by Bank of America and Merryl Lynch.
Posted by 2Old_Fred3 on March 1, 2013 at 11:03 AM · Report this
Thank you for writing this article. I've been trying to get a response from SDOT about construction projects on 12th ave near Cal Anderson/Pike Pine that have closed sidewalks for a month or two now and still have a long ways to go in their projects--we are also about to have 4 or more additional construction projects within a 4 block stretch. I was told by an SDOT inspector that suggesting that there should be safer solutions for pedestrians than closing the sidewalk was ridiculous and that is is an individual's own fault if they walk along the street on a closed section of sidewalk and get hit. I am all for the projects going in but strongly believe that safer passages need to be created-- especially on busy pedestrian,bike, and car thoroughfares. It would be great if people would cross the street when they come across a closed sidewalk-- but they don't--so permitting needs to take reality (not just liability) into account.
Posted by ELB on March 1, 2013 at 11:12 AM · Report this
Dominic, Don't hold your breath for help and / or results. I asked the Mayor, SPD Chief, City Attorney and City Council members for help when I was being Harassed, Bullied and Threatened by 2 SPD Officers. My requests for help and / or intervention help to them were either not responded to (ignored), passed on (in e-mail paper shuffle responses of no help), or we don't get involved in such matters (in other words get lost-you don't matter-I was elected and / or appointed to represent the City's employees interests and not your's-the citizen)
So think of this the next time you VOTE citizens of Seattle: To Whom are they being elected to represent You or Their best interests?
Posted by Gray Panther on March 1, 2013 at 1:29 PM · Report this
What the hell is going on with The Stranger this week? First the play These Streets is completely bashed...a play about middle aged women...& now a silly story about middle aged people walking down the street? Ageism.
Posted by MamaNora on March 1, 2013 at 1:32 PM · Report this
People in Seattle worry too much. Maybe these people are just smart enough, or independent enough, to get from point A to point B without the assistance of a guided path. The rest of the world jaywalks pretty regularly. You think people in New York or Chicago are waiting for the go ahead to cross an empty street or go around construction? Be more aggressive, Seattle. Blaze a trail and get your ass to point B as you see fit.
Posted by pbr309 on March 1, 2013 at 2:43 PM · Report this
This is an issue because there is SO MUCH development going in the most walkable parts of town that one must cross, cross again, and then cross back just to get a few blocks. I've had to deal with this issue every morning when trying to get through two short blocks to my bus stop. The construction from the Bullit Center had blocked off the East side of 15th at Madison for at least a year. They eventually blocked off both sides, which meant walking all the way around the triangle park. Because they had fenced in the crosswalk button, I had to take my chances and run across Madison (which very well could have resulted in an accident), only to get to the other side and meet another "Sidewalk Closed" sign on the West Side of 15th for the construction of the VOX Aparmtment Building (which I often just walked in the street to get by). Then, I had to do a similar jig every night when I got home. I thought about just walking down to 13th and catching the bus on Pine but that bus stop closed for the construction in the photo above. Finally, they have reopened the East side of 15th next to the Bullit Center in the last week or two but I still strongly believe that the City should be doing more to prevent situations like this. Not only can it be dangerous for pedestrians but this caused me to miss my bus on several occassions, despite trying to leave early to account for the extra walking time. Something must be done about this if development is going to continue at this rapid pace.
Posted by cityped on March 1, 2013 at 2:59 PM · Report this
next week: why youngsters make snarky and glib journalists
Posted by left on March 2, 2013 at 6:55 AM · Report this
Oh it's a huge problem in Baltimore as well. Not all East Coast cities have it on the ball. Mostly I see it as a sign of weak-willed city gov't rolling over and letting developers do pretty much anything they'd like. Here in Baltimore they even have the grand tradition of block off even more space for months on end so that the developers and construction workers have places to park their personal vehicles. God forbid they pay to park like the rest of us have to.
Posted by emjsea on March 2, 2013 at 6:40 PM · Report this
This is a problem in my neighborhood. There is now no safe way to get to my bus stop in the morning thanks to the construction of condos that I could never afford to live in. I have two choices: run in the street along side the construction site for about 20 feet, or attempt to cross at a crosswalk where cars usually will not deign to stop if they even see me when I attempt to enter the crosswalk in front of the massive SUV parked at the corner.
Posted by know-it-all on March 3, 2013 at 3:06 PM · Report this
Thanks for another well-written, informative article, and timely warning, Dominic!!! What's the pedestrian sidewalk / crossing area around the
King Street Station looking like with all its renovations?
It's a good thing I don't drive through the city anymore--geez!

@13: Your idea to "just blaze a trail" could actually create more accidents in Seattle!
Seriously, City Hall really needs to ensure equal safety to pedestrians,
bicyclists, and drivers.
Aren't the New Mercer Mess and Tunnel to Nowhere bad enough
to make taking action a no-brainer?
Posted by auntie grizelda on March 3, 2013 at 10:31 PM · Report this
I bet these people also grew up when people didnt wear seatbelts... heathens. Im surprised theyre not dead yet!
Posted by hypocras on March 4, 2013 at 5:45 PM · Report this
I bet these people also grew up when children rode in vehicles without safety restraints... heathens. Im surprised theyre not dead yet!
Posted by hypocras on March 4, 2013 at 5:46 PM · Report this
@18, continued:.....or is it that the people running Seattle City Council are all profits and no brains?
Posted by auntie grizelda on March 4, 2013 at 11:42 PM · Report this
@19 & @20: Seatbelts have been available every year since I was born, and I have made a conscious effort to wear them whenever driving my own car or riding in someone else's vehicle. And your point is...?
The issue isn't about the failure to use seatbelts---it's about profiteering developers throughout Seattle and elsewhere currently getting away with not providing safe, covered alternate pedestrian pathways if sidewalks aren't accessible in construction zones.
This is indeed, a recipe for disaster and must be stopped.
Dallas currently leads the United States in traffic fatalities. I really don't want to see Seattle become #2 in that statistic.
Posted by auntie grizelda on March 4, 2013 at 11:54 PM · Report this
No idea why this is an issue. This article is making the argument that people are AT RISK of being struck by a car, and we should do something about it.
But apparently, peds are good enough at judging risk to avoid it. The article makes no claim that people ARE BEING hit by cars.If they are being injured left and right, I hope the stranger sounds the alarm.
Right now this sounds annoying, not truly dangerous.
Posted by JonCracolici on March 5, 2013 at 3:55 PM · Report this
@23: Fair enough. I don't live in Seattle, and haven't actually seen any pedestrian related traffic accidents caused by lack of safe crossing areas in construction zones, myself. I'm only citing what Dominic has witnessed and contacted Seattle City Council about.
I basically agree with Dominic, though: isn't using a little common sense and prevention to avoid potential disaster wiser than waiting for a pedestrian-related fatality to really happen before anything changes?
Posted by auntie grizelda on March 5, 2013 at 6:21 PM · Report this
The Wild Sow 25
They're doing it right - single file, facing traffic!
Posted by The Wild Sow on March 6, 2013 at 3:49 AM · Report this
The Wild Sow 26
Anyone my age (middle-aged, here!) certainly remembers the traffic safety jingle we were taught:

♪♫ Single file,
Facing traffic all the while! ♪♫

(Of course, nowadays it's "Native American Style"!
Posted by The Wild Sow on March 6, 2013 at 8:31 PM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 27
(coming in way, way too late)

1. Walking in the street is legal if there's no sidewalk and you're walking toward traffic.

2. "Jaywalking" is actually a term for illegally crossing a road, not walking in a road. Though we should probably come up with a name for that. Slog poll?
Posted by Matt the Engineer on July 18, 2013 at 10:22 AM · Report this

Add a comment