Why Middle-Aged People Walk into Traffic


I usually just walk in the street as well, although this winter I almost got pasted walking on Madison by 15th - around the Bullitt building construction. That was the first time I was nervous about walking around the construction, and by the time I realized how dangerous it was, it was safer to keep going than to turn around and have my back to traffic. Part of the problem is that the lights on Madison at 15th and 16th are infrequent, due to the unusual car traffic patterns on both blocks, so it's not that easy to cross the street. After that incident, though, I just turned south on 16th to avoid the mess (sidewalk is open again now).
Oh man. Oh man oh man oh man! This post hits on one of my biggest, most seething pet peeves about this fair city. Seattle is has many areas where you get obstructed by these construction sites and there's no good (legal) spot to cross over to the other side nearby. This is tolerable for a week or two, but having them EVERYWHERE and staying up for MONTHS AND MONTHS blocking sidewalk access totally is maddening. There really needs to be some kind of time limit past which there MUST be some kind of substitute lane. It's ridiculous. If the construction was blocking half the street itself for that long, nobody would stand for it. THIS REALLY CHAPS MY HIDE!

Nothing says "fuck you" to the residents of a city like "PEDESTRIANS CROSS OTHER SIDE" signs.

Remember, pedestrians aren't just inconveniences trying to get someplace in the city; they ARE THE CITY. Pedestrians are traffic too, you know. What your picture shows is not pedestrians fucking over traffic, but traffic routing fucking over pedestrians. By walking in the street, they are merely reclaiming what is already theirs.
There is a similar situation to this on 2nd avenue between Stewart and Virginia, which has been like that for months, maybe a year now. If it's not a busy street/there are no cars coming, I usually just run past construction in the street as well because... lazy. I don't want to cross the street 3 times just to get past one intersection.

Same on 12th across from Republik of Koffee. It's infuriating that construction sites give so little though to putting people in peril. As I walk by each night I now take the cones they have uselessly off to the side and out of site to traffic and spread them out and block off one of the lanes on 12th. Yeah. that's me. A vandal. Trying to prevent some poor old lady from getting mowed down on 12th.
I perceive crossing Pike using a crosswalk as more dangerous than walking along closed sidewalk. On Bellevue Ave right now there are two closed sidewalks a couple blocks away from each other on opposite sides of the street. There is no way to walk down Bellevue Ave without jaywalking.
Seattle is a cluster fuck. Little respect is given to pedestrians yet city government discourages driving. Expecting "obedience' out of pedestrians is not a good urban planning strategy. If that's how city government wants to deal with their lack of respect for pedestrians then they will get the same in return. Sidewalk closed means exactly that. So good for people who go around the closed sidewalk.
The best is when they have "Pedestrians Use the Other Side" and there's no where to walk on the other side of the street.

Not the cars.

They can move.

Now cancel the Deeply Tolled Tunnel and get real before this entire city gridlocks.
@8 see that a lot nowadays. It's like they expect us to teleport.
You know, maybe if Cap Hill pedestrians weren't by and large complete assholes even when given open sidewalks, lights, safe crossing areas AND the right of way, I would give two shits about this.
I suggest supplanting with signs that say "cars use other block -->".
@5: The worst part about the construction on 12th is that, the last time I walked north that way, there's construction on the other side of 12th a few blocks down. Which means pedestrians are encouraged to cross the street twice on a fairly busy street with no crosswalks in sight. I'm shocked that nobody's been killed on those few blocks in the last couple months.

Preach. Construction should = one less car lane not one less sidewalk.
I wonder how much a covered walkway costs to build and then tear down later? Because that's the only cost I can imagine they're saving by just closing the sidewalk instead, and it can't be all that much.
I can't speak for all middle-age folks but I can answer the question in your headline Dom.

It is because that is what we were taught to do back in the day.

When I was a kindergärtner we had "safety town" where we were taught about traffic lights, traffic signs, sidewalks, streets, etc. Complete with peddle cars, bicycles/tricycles, pedestrians. We all spent time being an automobile driver, a bicyclist or a pedestrian. Being taught the rules of the road and how to navigate various situations. Including when the sidewalk is blocked, one is to walk in the street, alertly, against the flow of automobile traffic.

Ya know looking back on it safety town was rather fun. Those steel peddle cars could take a beating.
Wow. I came here to jokingly say that "middle age people are above the law"... but the comments here actually validated that thought.

Is it too hard to cross to the other side via the stoplighted intersection? I guess so.

May Darwinian fitness do its job!
UGH fuck this is happening all down Jackson, too. Really sick of street car construction, and it's especially cute when all the "lane closed ahead" signs are placed squarely in the middle of the very narrow sidewalk. An able-bodied person can barely get past these signs, I have no idea how someone with a walker or wheelchair or slightly less dexterity would do.
Wow, it took all the way to #17 to get some asshole saying rules don't need to account for human nature?
@17 in a lot of places, yeah, it actually is when there is no light or crosswalk anywhere near, which I've definitely seen happen. The other side of it is that these sites will block the sidewalk for ridiculously long amounts of time, people can and will just get sick or it, and rightly so, because I'm unaware of what is so special about Seattle that developers are unable to construct covered walkways (or shut off a lane) just like, uh, OTHER CITIES DO ALL THE TIME.
Oh and don't get even get me started on accordion buses completely blocking the crosswalk at lights (and obscuring the signal from view to boot) and then honking at pedestrians trying to go around them. Fuck that. I'M WORKING UP AN EXTRA FROTHY BATCH OF PEDESTRIAN ROAD RAGE TODAY!!!
I don't understand why the city lets construction companies get away with this. How hard is it to add a narrow pedestrian walkway to the edge of the street? Why the "fuck you" to pedestrians?

There was a pedestrian re-route recently on Broadway near Harborview that required staff and visitors walking to one of the campus buildings to go a full two blocks out of their way (one block to get to the next street crossing and one block back to the building entrance). Almost everyone -- people in casts, physicians, people in wheelchairs, staff rushing to meetings -- crossed in the middle of the block. Dangerous, but understandable.
Walking toward the traffic is safer. You can see the cars. I actually have attempted to obey the law and then have found an obstruction on the other side. The reality is that the construction companies should provide a safe area for the pedestrians to continue along their journey. This is true for SDOT and Metro. In one case of temporary shelter closure, I was not only to walk an extra two or three blocks to the nearest open stop, I was also then suppose to cross the street to get around construction. And, of course, the bus I wanted to catch was coming.
Beautifully done!
@12,14 - I'm all for increasing bicycle and pedestrian access to things, and reducing cars mobility... but seriously: considering how sidewalks abut buildings, and car lanes are further out.. .how do you actually propose to keep the sidewalk open and block the car lane, while maintaining a useable construction area? And if one could actually construct something to enable this scenario, wouldn't that increase the construction costs, and therefore increase the rent charged on the finished building in order to recoup those costs?

I'm not very smart, but it seems like just crossing to the other side (or, you know, taking your life into your hands) is the simplest of solutions.
@16 Holy crap! Safety Town! I remember that.

They did that at a base school when I was a kid (my dad was in the service). And then this one Down Syndrom kid, who was like nine or ten, stole one of the steel pedal cars one morning and went on a rampage all over the base in it. He was way too big for it - stuffed in there like some overinflated happy hippityhop - he wouldn't stop for anything. He was slamming into teachers shins like a crazy torpedo and busted right out of the play ground and on to the roads. MP's had to chase him down.

Ah. Good memories. Haven't thought about that in decades.
@15 It's typically done is using shipping containers with windows cut out on one side. They're stacked end-to-end next to the construction site that usually allows them to use less fencing. It has to be dirt cheap, since they're reusable, storable, and shipable around the world. The only real costs are storage and transportation.
--some asshole.


In all seriousness, I don't have any concern about any of this, I keep a zen mentality about such obstructions and just do whatever is safer for me. So I abstain from voting. You can ignore all my previous comments. I'll let the people who are bothered by this take the lead and take action to address the issue.
@13, the other construction is still there and will be for awhile while they build some more stupid apodments. Though that sidewalk closure is not quite as bad since the fenced area doesn't extend all the way out to the bike lane like the one further south does.

However the good news is that the city just recently put in crosswalks across 12th at Howell so at least there is now a crosswalk in the middle of those sites. The crosswalks being installed is just a coincidence, though, as a citizens group had been trying to get them put in at that spot since before the construction ever arrived.
@22--yeah, the re-routes around Boren and Terrace have been terrible. And they still haven't re-activated the pedestrian-actuated crossing signal there, so it's even more dangerous than it usually is.

I have *literally* gotten into shouting matches with drivers honking at little old ladies and people in wheelchairs trying to cross the street.

And what do we learn from this, that only "middle aged" folks have the balls to challenge the city. Even if they don't know they're doing it.
To deal with the "human nature" aspect of it, it would seriously help to put the barricades and "sidewalk closed" signs AT the nearest crosswalk, rather than right at the construction zone.
They don't cite a law for why we can't use the sidewalk, could an officer give you a ticket for anything but walking in the street? I don't think so.
Go check out Chapter 1510 of the WSDOT Design Manual, especially 1510.17.


Providing pedestrian accomodations through construction zones, where existing accomodations existed prior to construction is the law.

Not providing pedestrian accomodations is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, believe it or not.

However, it is extremely difficult to always provide an adequate pedestrian path and be fully in compliance with the law. It is nearly impossible to get pedestrians to actually use the provided path or paths.

See the example above where a commenter notes the 2-block detour near a hospital. Such a detour is perfectly allowable and satisfies compliance with the law. Will pedestrians follow it, or will they decide to walk through the construction site? Often, they opt for the latter. We can design the best temporary pedestrian route but we cannot force the pedestrians to follow it.

Remember, your city has a limited construction budget, and cannot afford to build the perfectest, safest pedestrian solution. For jobs that are contracted out, they go to the lowest bidder, and that contractor also cannot provide the perfectest, safest pedestrian solution. He or she must complete the work within a time and cost budget while still making a profit.

If you do see an unsafe construction site or a deficient pedestrian route, you should speak with the construction field engineer. Most jobs will also have a dedicated certified safety officer that will take your complaint and attempt to rectify it.

But do remember, while a pedestrian route must be provided, nothing says it must be the shortest, most efficient path to your destination. There will be an inconvenience in some way or another, that's just the nature of the work.
Get outta the bike lane, old folks!
#12 is right, block the whole road to traffic and let cars go around.
I think I feel safer walking in the street toward traffic than inside one of those temporary sidewalks they build sometimes that give you no escape from the tweakers, pan handlers or worse the Feed the Children idiots. Also, you can't see a car coming for you when you're trapped in one of those. They should just lower the speed limit in those zones to like 10 or 15 and let us walk in the street.
What really gets my goat is when developers pull this shit, and then the site sits abandoned for weeks or months. If developers need special consideration for blocking the pedestrian right-of-way, then they should have to request special permission from the city, and they should be fined up the ass for every day they go over the time they were allotted.
@37 I like that.

And I should add, they should be fined for going over the allotted time for taking up legal parking spaces too. It also gets my goat (and this always goes hand-in-hand with developers blocking pedestrians), when a construction site sits abandoned for months, and the developer just keeps crossing out the end date on the no parking signs and adding more time.
If those people sat down on a sidewalk, they'd get cited for blocking it.

As other people have noted, other cities manage to do this without serious inconvenience to developers. I can think of exactly zero times I was forced to cross the street or walk in the street due to construction the four years I lived in New York. Although there was the one time that NYU construction tore up the street a little bit, and I lost my balance and toppled over like a felled tree. That was fun.

Another issue with the idiotic rules (or lack thereof) regarding construction in Seattle is, as far as I know, nothing's keeping two developments on both sides of a street cutting off ALL pedestrian access. I've seen that more than once here.
@14 for the Take A Car Lane, Not Ped/Bike, win.

You can easily have bikes on the rest of a lane that is used for pedestrians, because PEOPLE aren't going to walk five blocks just to cross an intersection, and another, and another, all to use the non-existent sidewalk on the other side.
By the way, considering that nearly every existing sidewalk and ADA ramp in Seattle built more than about three years ago is wildly out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, developers are required by law and by City code to construct new frontage (sidewalks and curb ramps) that are fully compliant to the latest guidelines.

As the photo in the article shows, this requires construction up to the street edge, or even into the street. It is just impossible to give pedestrians a place to safely travel when the area they usually travel is the construction zone.

The good news is that since most agencies follow the lead of WSDOT, and WSDOT is stressing the need for better pedestrian accomodations, things will get better.

As Dom asks, it is feasible to provide a barrier-separated pedestrian path using inexpensive plastic barrier wall (filled with water, they are crash-safe). But so far the contractors are not very willing to do so, even if the construction plans explicitly call for it. If that barrier-separated pedestrian path requires that a travel lane be closed for any long length of time the contractor (and the City) can count on a flood of phone calls from angry motorists.

Attitudes are changing, but slowly. Again, you see something you think is unsafe, ask to speak to the project's field engineer.
@44 technically, the project is approved at the time of filing.

Some of the buildings and sidewalks are based on the time of first permit filing, which may be back during the dot-com days.
@ 27, so it's dirt cheap, but still somehow more than what most construction companies want to have to do. Interesting.
And don't get me started on how many times my route home (15th-15thNW) has had construction closing sidewalks on both sides of the street for several blocks along the stretch where there aren't even parallel streets (thanks to the steep slope of the hill) to take as an alternate...
As a resident of one of those east coast cities that requires protected walking lanes in construction zones, I strongly endorse them. However, it is only fair to report that in order to address the concerns of @37 and some others, the builders/developers are often required to supply lighting and 24-hr security cameras. So that would seem to raise the cost (@15, @27). Still, pedestrians must be the first priority, and their actual behavior must be the point of departure, surely, as so many have already commented.
It's not a zoning issue, it's not an ADA issue. It's street use permitting and DPD. The contractor just does what the city demands of them, depending on factors such as pedestrian volume, traffic, and ease of crossing or alternate walk paths. I'd hate to ask the DPD to make things more expensive for development here (and it is expensive, @15, 27). The DPD is constantly having to make these insane demands of contractors that have lead to projects costing ten times what they would otherwise cost, right up to prohibitive. Walking around is not that dangerous, and the pedestrians are obviously doing it with some sense of caution. Amazingly enough, by the way, people still walk around the "tunnels".
I agree with the person who couldn't be bothered to get a login @48. Create a solution around what people are actually doing instead of trying to train them to do something new. If this isn't viable for you, perhaps you're not as ready for your construction project as you think you are.

Say that to my face the next time a developer closes off a block of sidewalk on Denny where the closest protected crossing is three blocks behind me.
Amen. This is a big peeve of mine. Let's keep pushing.
@50: Ok, not to be too cranky toward you but let's play: Pretend I am a pedestrian and you are a contractor. You are required as part of your project to construct a new sidewalk.

You underbid the project to get the winning bid. You of course, subcontract out the demolition and reconstruction of the sidewalk to a concrete finisher. You are busy managing the larger building project, so the concrete sub gets little to no oversight from you, other than orders to be in and out of your hair in under a week.

His rate for laborers is $50/hour with overhead. Any time his crew is doing anything but pouring mud is money lost to him. A half-hour in the morning setting up some signs is all he budgeted for in his bid to you.

And you underbid the larger project too, so that you'd get a job (and there aren't many around in this economy). You dont have any extra money to waste on barricades (and labor to put them up) or cranes to drop shipping containers (and the labor to run the cranes and spot the containers) or any other extra expenses.

So- lets hear your plan to 'deal with what people actually do'.
@49, people walk around the tunnels because there's a guy pooping in there.
I would walk a couple miles home from high school. There was one place where the "sidewalk" was just a painted line that flooded ankle-deep in the rain. It was either 1. walk on private property 2. walk in traffic or 3. walk the rest of the way with soaking feet. (I'm not from the South, either; it gets cold!)

Of course there was a sidewalk on the other side of the street. However, getting to it meant, again, walking in traffic. And that sidewalk was only there for about a block. I had to be on my original side of the street to cross a dangerous bridge before this section and the rest of downtown after it.
If you live in a neighborhood without sidewalks you're doing this every day.

Dear Thelonious Punk,



Dominic, thanks for this post!! As one of those middle aged pedestrians, I usually do walk in the street,alongside the construction fences. This is, hands down, one of the most maddening thing about Seattle! Almost as annoying as Tim Eyman!
@49, I know, it's such an insane demand of developers to act like decent human beings. You're right, developers should be given free reign to screw w/ anyone & everyone.

On second thought... No. Fuck you. Fuck you & your corrupt evil BIAW cronies.
@44 has it with how we do it here in DC (when it's done right...*sometimes* it's not). Plastic barriers and a couple pieces of plywood for ramps on and off the curb. Since the barriers are re-usable, it should cost a construction company next-to-nothing. If the street is only one lane each direction with no parking (that is VERY rare), then I can see making people cross. It's unlikely there's much traffic on a street like that anyway, the distance across the street is minimal, and temporary stop signs can be installed on the corners before and after the site if those corners don't already have stop signs. Where there are multiple lanes or a parking lane, the rightmost lane should be, and usually is, used. Since the "sidewalk" doesn't require the whole lane, a bike lane can also be accommodated, if the street has a bike lane that will be impacted.
Thanks, Dominick. Again with the refreshing, pro-pedestrian angle. It really is not reasonable to just cut off the fucking sidewalks (for months!) as if they are optional! I do not understand why this is standard practice, and it really needs a solution. What. the. fuck.
@53: How about we start by shutting down contractors who purposely underbid on their own projects? How about they take ten seconds to realize that no matter what they want to force pedestrians to do in order to fit their bottom line, history has already shown that folks are going to do the opposite?

They're just going to have to deal with taking a loss to construct foot paths or safe crossings for pedestrians instead of just hoping that people will decide to go three blocks out of their way to avoid a sidewalk that they had no idea would be closed until they were already there. All it takes is a few minutes of extra planning. Don't be lazy and cheap.
@53: The part where you said I had no extra money for barricades is the part where my project would have been shut down. Don't have the money to consider all the facets of running your little project? Then you don't have the money for your project. Period.