In the current election, all Seattle City Council candidates elected pledged to “support war on cars”. The Bus has you on tape. We don’t need a war, we need Pedestrian Primacy. Pedestrian Primacy means putting the interests of pedestrians ahead of automobile drivers. The Seattle Pedestrian Master Plan does not seriously address obstacles to increased walking or the primary impediment to improving walk commute times – systematic preferences for automobile traffic. Targets in the plan that identify ‘increase’ or ‘decrease’ are giveaways (there are no numbers that allow anyone to be held accountable) and the plan allows ten years to establish pedestrian education in all schools! Do I detect a lack of urgency? This is not the kind of planning that built the interstate highway system. We need a new pedestrian plan written with gusto and verve and measurable outcomes. Fourteen disparate ideas to consider:
1. Convert Streets to Exclusive Pedestrian & Bicycle Use
Convert a small measurable fraction of residential streets to exclusive pedestrian and bicycle use each year to create a dense network. Provide exceptions for residents. How about a goal of making 5% of our streets auto-free by 2020? Conversions could be, in part, by local election. What homeowner wouldn’t like the street in front of their house reserved to pedestrians, bicycles and their own vehicles? In some cases these streets and paths can be shared with transit. Converting streets without sidewalks to pedestrian and bicylce use would eliminate the need for new sidewalks. Widespread conversion of residential streets to pedestrian and bicycle use will free up space for hundreds of acres of trees and permeable surfaces.
2. Expand Auto-Free Zones
We already have auto-free zones at parks, schools and other property. We should expand these zones by converting adjacent streets to exclusive pedestrian and bicycle use with exceptions for residents. We should increase the number of streets closed to cars for recreational use and very gradually increase the frequency of closures until some of these streets are auto-free. Closing streets adjacent to shorelines should be the number one priority. Identifying the streets to be closed long before the closure is planned will allow people who want to live on closed streets to migrate there and reduce the impact on residents when closures become permanent.
3. Measure Walk & Bicycle Commute Times
Real travel times for walkers and cyclists must be studied, recorded and improved – just like we do for autos. If we are serious about walking, we need to maximize the speed of walkers rather than drivers. We need to measure how fast a normal person can walk from place to place legally. With the current auto-oriented stoplight system, the closer you get to centers of employment the slower you have to walk – unless you jaywalk. It is very likely that the only solution is to make jaywalking legal.
4. Improve Pedestrian & Bicycle Street & Path Quality
Pedestrian and bicycle streets and paths need to be built to a higher standard than streets for cars. Small bumps and holes are much more problematic for pedestrians and bicyclists than for cars and trucks. The idea of not reinforcing sidewalks is an old idea. Nondestructive testing can prevent the sidewalk collapses that prompted the strange policy of building inferior sidewalks whose deterioration makes them a constant hazard. The cracked and warping asphalt bike and pedestrian paths in our parks force runners and cyclists on to the streets.
5. Automate Traffic Signals Singapore-Style
The Seattle area is home to software giants yet our traffic signals seem to be run by punch cards. There is no reason why we can’t have both local intelligence and remotely control our traffic signal system in real time. The savings in pollution alone is enough to justify this investment. The resulting increase in pedestrian, bicycle and even auto commute times will just be a bonus.
6. Designate Pedestrian/Bicycle Streets Vancouver Style
Create designated pedestrian/bicycle streets parallel to arterials with preferential signals for the pedestrians at crossing arterials. In Vancouver, where pedestrian/bicycle streets cross arterials, walk buttons stop auto traffic immediately (unless auto traffic has been recently stopped for pedestrians).
7. Eliminate Walk Buttons at Traffic Signals
Except for buttons that stop traffic immediately, walk buttons at traffic signals should be removed. A walk button that ‘allows’ pedestrians to cross at the next green light is an insulting example of current auto primacy. Why should every pedestrians be required to wait? Where installed, walk signs should operate at every signal change.
8. Use All-Way Walk Signals
All high-pedestrian-traffic intersection should have all-way walk signals. A high-pedestrian-traffic intersection is one that has even a few people waiting for the light in the busiest times of the day. All-way walk signals are especially helpful for five-way and other complicated intersections. Crossing two or three streets at once is a real boon to the pedestrian.
9. Help with the Hills for Walkers and Cyclists
Walkers and cyclists need help getting up steep grades such as First Hill – something faster and more frequent than buses. Think ski lift or funicular – Portland has one and we don’t. If the objective is to get people from downtown to First Hill for instance, it isn’t necessary to build a streetcar through the International District to get there. The streetcar is great – but it is not the most efficient route to get from the Ferry Terminal to Harborview. That would be Yesler or an unused street alignment (see below).
10. Grid Restoration for Walkers and Bikers
We need bridges that provide shortcuts for walkers and cyclists (and not autos) across highways and waterways. Streetcars might also share these shortcuts. There are many available street alignments for non-auto crossings – they just need a bridge. I-5 offers many examples. A pedestrian/bicycle bridge connecting Stone Way with Dexter Avenue would be a minor miracle for many commuters.
11. Prioritize Waterfronts for Pedestrian, Bicycle and Transit Use
All waterfront needs to prioritize transit, pedestrian and bicycle use. Not having to deal with cross-traffic benefits travel times for walkers, cyclists and transit. Some of our waterfront, such as that in Southeast Seattle, is barely served by bus service and that what service is available is typically point-to-point rather than extending along the waterfront. You can’t take a bus from one area of our Lake Washington waterfront to another without first going far inland. This is no doubt a legacy of discrimination. The waterfront should be quiet place so transit should be electric or natural gas powered.
12. Corner Grocery Stores
A city is not walkable if you can’t walk to a corner store for essentials. The fight with NIMBY interests will be legendary but return the corner stores we must. There are ways to do this without upsetting too many people. For instance, the City should set a maximum distance to a corner store and then ‘auction’ the right to change zoning for a store location or two in each un-served area. The application with the most neighborhood support (property owners and residents) would be the winner – and the auctions could be weighted so that the closest residents and property owners would have the greatest impact on which site wins.
13. Walk-Around Business Districts
Many of our business districts were designed as auto-oriented strips. Districts such as Columbia City would benefit from business district zoning two or more blocks deep. People like to walk around blocks – not up and back the same way. In Columbia City it would make sense to extend the business district to the nearby light rail station.
14. Awnings that Keep Pedestrians Dry
New and reconstructed buildings in areas that are designated as pedestrian-intensive should have large awnings that keep people dry. These awnings should extend the entire length of the building and should be glass. The awnings should be required to be maintained for the life of the building.