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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Slog Poll: To Walk or Not to Walk?

Posted by on Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 2:48 PM

Over on my number #1 news source, Facebook, a new group of residents are lobbying the city to turn every traffic light signal in Seattle into All Way Walk signals to promote pedestrian safety.

The campaign, which has 32 "likes" on Facebook, says that turning every signaled intersection into "all walk" zones would promote safety and result in fewer pedestrians being pancaked by careless drivers. The group wants to start their walker's revolution with the Boren Avenue and Madison Street, and 23rd Avenue and E Yesler Way intersections.

The city already has a few of these all-walk intersections, most notably, on First Avenue and Pike Street and at the West Seattle Junction. But as Walking in Seattle points out, the Seattle Department of Transportation says that all-way walk signals would slow down every mode of traffic significantly, because walkers would basically have to wait through two traffic signals for their chance to cross:

In fact, SDOT studied 70 signals in the downtown retail core and found that pedestrians and motorists would experience a significant delay at these intersections and at other nearby intersections—and that the delay for buses would be even worse.

Then again, who gives a fuck what SDOT thinks? I'm sure you know better than them, wise Hall Monitors of Slog!


Comments (41) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment

What I think is just as effective, is the elimination of right turn on red in all urban and busy suburban and rural intersections.

The hardest thing as a pedestrian or bicyclist is trying to cross while the potential for traffic impact is there.

During a Walk light it has to be fully illegal for any motorized vehicle to enter the open crosswalk...period!
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on October 31, 2012 at 2:52 PM · Report this
Fnarf 2
I have waited seven and a half minutes to cross 50th northbound at the intersection of Stone Way/Green Lake Way before. Three full turns of the light (it's already one of the longest lights in Seattle). Not too much fun in a raging downpour.

But that's bad signal timing. All-ways would be a dumb solution there and in most places.
Posted by Fnarf on October 31, 2012 at 2:57 PM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 3
What @1 said.

I hit a pedestrian last week. It was pouring, I was at a busy intersection, and she was wearing all black. Looking right*, then looking left at the cars streaming by, I found an opening and started to turn right. I just saw her out of the corner of my eye and slammed on the brakes, but too late. She was absolutely fine, and walked off with a wave, but if she was 90 instead of 30 it could have been a much different story.

Like almost any scenario where a car hits a pedestrian, it was completely the driver's fault (mine) and could have been avoided with better, more attentive driving. But that doesn't help the potentially dead pedestrian.

* she must have been behind a bush on the way to the intersection. or I just didn't see her.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on October 31, 2012 at 3:02 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 4
In certain intersections I can see this working, especially the particularly high volume ones. It works damn fine in West Seattle's Junction. There, it works like this:

All-way walk on red, with NO free right.
Free rights are only allowed in a delayed window after everyone going straight gets to go.

So the routine is:

All-way walk
People go straight
People go straight but you can free right
All-way walk

It works well. It seems to work fine for 1st Avenue & Pike as well. I can see this being a good thing for Pike & Pine & 3rd & 4th. Not sure if it's worth it anywhere else downtown. Maybe 4th & University?
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on October 31, 2012 at 3:03 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 5
Turning every single light by default to all-way is stupid though. It should be something that's done case by case, and to make or unmake it should be extremely easy and fluid and cheap in case it turns out to be a dumb idea for a certain spot.
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on October 31, 2012 at 3:09 PM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 7
Another change I wouldn't mind would be shorter light cycles. Yes, that slows down traffic. But we live in a city, and the guy standing out in the rain's time should be valued at least as much as the guy with heated seats listening to the radio.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on October 31, 2012 at 3:09 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 8
Nay, for I am a walker, and it would be better if pressing the walk button forced a Walk light change in 90 seconds instead of the current 3 minute delay, whereas cars get a 90 second red light green light change.

Oh, and let pedestrians carry limpet mines to attach to car hoods that venture forth into the crosswalk, sirrah.
Posted by Will in Seattle on October 31, 2012 at 3:11 PM · Report this
@4 I go through this intersection every day, and each time pedestrians cross against their DON'T WALK light because they see the my green light. Same thing at 1st and University. The dirty looks you get because they're not following the signals. Crazy.
Posted by Brad in Seattle on October 31, 2012 at 3:15 PM · Report this
originalcinner 10
I moved here ten years ago from England, where there is NEVER a green light for both pedestrians and motorists simultaneously. I think the US system is horrific. I do like being able to right turn on red (not an option in Britain), but not synchronizing cars and walkers safely is insane.
Posted by originalcinner on October 31, 2012 at 3:21 PM · Report this
Cascadian 11
I think this is fine for some intersections, but is shouldn't be the default. However, I am a big believer in making the walk cycles automatic for all intersections, rather than having them triggered by a button pressed by a pedestrian. Get the timing just wrong, and you can miss an entire cycle. Or you can jaywalk because fuck whoever decided to prioritize intersections for drivers instead of pedestrians.
Posted by Cascadian on October 31, 2012 at 3:25 PM · Report this
Cascadian 12
Also, right turn on red should die, or be allowed only as an exception for a few corridors that are prioritized for car traffic. On most streets, pedestrians should be able to cross the street without putting their lives in the hands of the maniacs who are taking a perfectly legal, but absolutely dangerous right turn across pedestrian traffic.
Posted by Cascadian on October 31, 2012 at 3:29 PM · Report this
Sir Vic 13
@9 Sounds like the problem isn't the quantity of pedestrians, but the quality of them. There are very few intersections in Seattle that have so much foot & motor traffic for extended time periods to require such a change.
Reinforcing the existing traffic control devices would probably go a long way.
Or, instead of SPD going off on jaywalkers, how 'bout ticketing some of the crosswalk stopping drivers. These are the folks that destroy confidence in the system for pedestrians.
Posted by Sir Vic on October 31, 2012 at 3:31 PM · Report this
Fnarf 14
@8, so we can add "walk buttons" to the incredibly long list of things you have no idea how they work.
Posted by Fnarf on October 31, 2012 at 3:31 PM · Report this
emor 15

Oh man, I used to live about 30 feet from that shitshow intersection. Absolutely the worst. I lived on the north side of Greenlake, which sucked because every single thing I walked to was south of Greenlake. The choice was either always waiting forever at the light or risking life and limb jaywalking. Along with everyone else in the neighborhood, I always picked the latter. In my year and half living there, no pedestrians were creamed (to my knowledge, at least). I consider that a miracle.

Now I live a few blocks south of Greenlake,and life is much better. Now if we cold erase the atrocity known as Aurora, life would be perfect.
Posted by emor on October 31, 2012 at 3:32 PM · Report this
Agreed on the "no right turn on red", and definitely for eliminating "stingy" walk signals - there are so many times when I race to the button to hit it before the signal change, because if I miss it by a millisecond, no walk for me for two cycles.
Posted by MemeGene on October 31, 2012 at 3:36 PM · Report this
danewood 17
@3 It is also partially the pedestrian's fault. Pedestrians have to be aware of visibility. Wearing all black on a rainy night is a terrible idea.
Posted by danewood on October 31, 2012 at 3:42 PM · Report this
I'll agree with earlier comments... I can see this working in high volume intersections, but every.single.light. is pretty ridiculous. I also like the idea of eliminating the right turn on red. I have been hit in the cross walk with the right-of-way wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket in this situation more than once, and it still wasn't enough to make the drivers see me.

My latest pet peeve though with it getting darker earlier is drivers downtown NOT TURNING ON THEIR DAMN LIGHTS. It makes it difficult for other cars as well as pedestrians to see you if you're coming. I already have the tendency to stop in front of cars in the middle of the crosswalk so I can look around them to make sure some idiot not paying attention isn't approaching too fast.
Posted by erly on October 31, 2012 at 3:45 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 19
On most streets, pedestrians should be able to cross the street without putting their lives in the hands of the maniacs who are taking a perfectly legal, but absolutely dangerous right turn across pedestrian traffic.

I agree with you in principle on the point of getting rid of the right turn on red, but, that said, you're wrong about those drivers making a "perfectly legal" turn. It's only legal to turn on red when everything is free and clear. Most drivers in this city do not look for pedestrians before making a right turn on red; many don't even stop before making the turn.

What's even more charming is when I'm waiting to turn right and some asshole behind me honks because I'm actually waiting until it's *legal* for me to go, i.e. when there are no pedestrians or other vehicles in or near the intersection.

And making right on red illegal is going to have to be backed up by major police enforcement, since I've yet to see even one driver who's not me wait to turn at a bike box (where it's illegal to turn on red).
Posted by keshmeshi on October 31, 2012 at 3:56 PM · Report this
Pedestrians also get hit by cars during the green phase when there is also a walk signal - the only solution in high pedestrian areas is to protect everyone so that there's never cars and pedestrians crossing an intersection at the same time.

Having nothing but one-way streets in the downtown core would be awesome too - or at least prohibit left turns off of two-way streets (unless there's a dedicated left-turn lane with left-turn signal). Make 1st Ave northbound only, keep 3rd Ave two-way but only for transit and freight, keep existing one-way NB and SB streets (2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th Avenues) as they are.
Posted by SuperSteve on October 31, 2012 at 4:14 PM · Report this
@17: Ideally pedestrians would be lit, just like cars and bicycles have to be. I carry a flashlight when I know I'll be crossing busy intersections at night.

The worst is when there's oncoming traffic, because the headlight glare makes it nearly impossible to see pedestrians walking in the road.
Posted by Orv on October 31, 2012 at 4:19 PM · Report this
@19: "What's even more charming is when I'm waiting to turn right and some asshole behind me honks because I'm actually waiting until it's *legal* for me to go, i.e. when there are no pedestrians or other vehicles in or near the intersection."

That's when I activate my middle finger.
Posted by Orv on October 31, 2012 at 4:21 PM · Report this
dwightmoodyforgetsthings 23
I don't let the government tell me when and where I can cross the fucking street.
Posted by dwightmoodyforgetsthings on October 31, 2012 at 4:48 PM · Report this
Part of the problem with free rights on reds, is that pedestrians don't obey the signals either. A pedestrian is not to step into the crosswalk once the Don't Walk signal begins to flash. This is the point at which pedestrians in the intersection should clear it, allowing cars trying to turn right on red a chance to complete the turn before the traffic signal changes and pedestrians move into the other crosswalk.
How often do pedestrians approaching an intersection, seeing the light begin to flash, then dart into the crosswalk? How many actually pay attention?
It's not one or the other (cars or pedestrians). We all want "them" to make way for "us."
Posted by TJ on October 31, 2012 at 4:50 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 25
@13 actually, I timed those. Got them to change from a 5 minute force red on a cross light to a 3 minute after showing them video of 2/3 of the pedestrians just walking across a red with no walk signal.

Different intersections have different programming for wait times. Only one push in most walk circuits counts, but if it's in the red change it does not set the walk white, it is ignored. The red light green light switch overrides the circuit program and resets the count.

But you'd know that if you ever thought about what you said.
Posted by Will in Seattle on October 31, 2012 at 5:01 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 26
Walking is the new Black.
Posted by Will in Seattle on October 31, 2012 at 5:02 PM · Report this
There is already one of these All Way Walk signals on Beacon Hill, and I HATE it. You have to wait sooooo loooong before it turns to "walk" that I generally just try to avoid that intersection.
Posted by LikeItIs on October 31, 2012 at 5:16 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 28
@14 for the Insightful Life Saving win of the day.
Posted by Will in Seattle on October 31, 2012 at 5:30 PM · Report this
DickDave 29
It would eliminate some of the gridlock downtown. Echoing @24, the flashing orange hand is ignored by most, making it nearly impossible for drivers to turn right at either the red or the green.
Posted by DickDave on October 31, 2012 at 5:43 PM · Report this
@Will in Seattle

A lot of ped-buttons are relics and are not actually connected to the controller box for the intersection. Many intersections, especially on busy corridors where efforts have been made to synchronize multiple signals in a row, are purely programmed on timing and do not consider whether the ped-button has been activated. For those intersections, the buttons are left because they do no harm, and people are less likely to get impatient and jaywalk if they feel like they have made their waiting known to the intersection.

-Someone who used to work for the signals department
Posted by ourkind on October 31, 2012 at 5:57 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 32
@25 that gibberish you wrote almost sort of makes sense. 'Circuit program'! COSTCO CHICKEN MEME!

For everyone else, so-called 'pedestrian scramble' phases are horribly inefficient, and are a traffic engineer's last resort for an unusual situation.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on October 31, 2012 at 7:25 PM · Report this
emor 33
Also, for some reason I feel like the all-ped intersection signal is called a "Barnes Dance." And indeed it is, after the engineer who first employed the scramble.
Posted by emor on October 31, 2012 at 8:36 PM · Report this
JonnoN 34
what @24, @29 said. Try turning right from Pine to 4th, 1 car per cycle gets through because of the jaywalkers. Walk all ways would fix this.
Posted by JonnoN on October 31, 2012 at 8:50 PM · Report this
marymc 35
It won't impact the cycling community at all because they will blow through all-walk signals just like they do the one-direction signals we have now.
Posted by marymc on October 31, 2012 at 10:01 PM · Report this
No more walk buttons. All the walk signs should turn automatically, regardless of whether or not a button is pushed. I argued with the head of the DOT for quite a while about this, and while he was genial enough, he failed to come up with a reasonable argument for why I should have to push a button. It pisses me off to get to a corner in time to see the traffic light turn green but too late to get the goddamn walk sign.
Posted by stating the obvious on October 31, 2012 at 11:40 PM · Report this
@29, so true, especially downtown. Pedestrians need to obey the signals.

@36, that makes no sense. Why have cars sitting there waiting to turn if there are no pedestrians? That is not an efficient way to move traffic through a busy metro area.
Posted by Compass Rose on October 31, 2012 at 11:58 PM · Report this
@36, down here in Portland, there's an intersection by my house, 54th and Sandy. There's a crosswalk there with a pedestrian pushbutton. There's not a lot of pedestrian traffic there, and Sandy is a busy street. It would be ridiculous for traffic to stop every two minutes regardless of whether there's a pedestrian waiting to cross.
Posted by clashfan on November 1, 2012 at 7:00 AM · Report this
There is no option for "I am a walker and I find the folks who would cross diagonally regardless of the law to be retarded."
Posted by suddenlyorcas on November 1, 2012 at 9:15 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 40
@39 sure there is. We call them Republicans.
Posted by Will in Seattle on November 1, 2012 at 11:55 AM · Report this
very bad homo 41
First and Pike is one of the most dangerous places to cross, as a pedestrian. Nobody ever seems to know what the hell to do.
Posted by very bad homo on November 1, 2012 at 12:49 PM · Report this
seandr 42
@2: The problem is that's an intersection of 5 highly used arterial streets. I don't know how you could engineer your way out of that mess. And believe me, it's not just the pedestrians who are waiting.
Posted by seandr on November 1, 2012 at 3:51 PM · Report this
@33 beat me to it. The Barnes Dance is an excellent solution for intersections where ped traffic is heavy, but is best also coupled with no turns on red or NO TURNS AT ALL at only the right intersections. We have one of these fine intersections here in DC, and it's great, because you don't have to wait through the whole will get a walk to cross each street when the light is with you (no turns at this particular intersection, not that the prohibition stops everyone), PLUS the Barnes Dance. We also had one in the college town where I went to school, at the intersection of 2 one-way streets (again, making it easier to control traffic). I don't think they're a good idea for every intersection, but are very useful when carefully deployed.
Posted by Ms. D on November 2, 2012 at 4:55 PM · Report this

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