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Friday, August 15, 2008

Pedestrians in Peril!

posted by on August 15 at 18:14 PM


To the surprise of nobody, the city auditor’s office announced this week that many construction projects are blocking sidewalks.

Under current rules, most developers only provide signs that say, “Sidewalk Closed,” which is another way of saying, “Jaywalk Here.” And some sites create perilous detour channels into the trajectory of oncoming traffic.

Requested by city councilmember Nick Licata, the report, titled “City Should Take Steps to Enhance Pedestrian and Cyclist Mobility Through and Around Construction Sites,” makes four no-brainer recommendations: “Making pedestrian and cyclist mobility a priority, coordinating multiple projects located in the same area, improving inspection and enforcement, and communicating with the public.”

“If New York is doing this, why cant we?” asks Licata. Good question—and good on ya, Nick, for getting this ball rolling. Almost every construction site in New York City either provides a walkway on the sidewalk that’s covered, or a walkway on the street protected by a wall of barricades. The report (.pdf) advises that we adopt those and other alternatives, using a model from Washington, D.C. If we do, Licata says, “Anyone who wants a permit [to block the sidewalk] has to give a written explanation on why they can’t do one of the alternatives.”

The question, however, is whether the Seattle Department of Transportation will adopt all the recommendations.

“We realize we have room for improvement,” says SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan. But some of these changes seem so obvious, it’s hard to understand why SDOT hasn’t required them before. When pressed for an explanation, he said SDOT “actually does require that pedestrian access be provided on one side of the street.” That’s a little unambitious. Licata says the department may not have been that diligent in the past because it gets money for street-use permits: SDOT issued 19,000 street-use permits last year (though not all were for construction). But SDOT’s Sheridan says, “We are ready to embrace these findings.” His department will make a trip to Washington, D.C. and “see how we can do this job better,” he says.

The city council could pass a law to require the changes. But, Licata says, if SDOT “opposes legislation, the council may decide not to got there.” Uh, is it just me, or is that completely backwards? If SDOT refuses to enact the recommendations—then, hello—the council needs to pass legislation to force the department to capitulate.

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I was shocked to see how that construction of First just south of the Lusty Lady just blocked the whole fucking sidewalk. Any construction of this magnitude should--due to the inherent danger of material falling off the site--have a canopy-covered walkway out into the street. But this would, of course, cut out a lane of traffic, and this town is all about cars ruling the world. If Irony actually did rule, then falling chunks of 2 by 4 or rebar would blow out some windshields.

Posted by Chicago Fan | August 15, 2008 8:07 PM

Um, where have these people been the past five years? All of downtown/Belltown/Denny Triangle has been a construction zone, with many sidewalks completely blocked off. The worst is walking half a block to encounter a "sidewalk is closed" sign mid-block, forcing you to jaywalk or retrace your steps to cross the street - and try arguing with a cop who gives you a jaywalking ticket because you cross the street mid-block instead of walking all the way back to cross at the intersection. You'd think these people had no experience managing a city. But I guess I just answered my own rhetorical question.

Posted by rb | August 15, 2008 8:31 PM

Brilliant reporting! THANK YOU. This has been driving me NUTS about Seattle. No other U.S. city does this! I get so MAD every time I get shunted--it screams "we hate pedestrians."

Posted by Amelia | August 15, 2008 8:53 PM

Yes absolutely they need a trip to Washington, D.C. to figure out this terribly complicated issue.

Posted by PC | August 15, 2008 8:58 PM

Many people don't realize this, but SDOT is not interested in improving pedestrian issues. It is the Seattle Department of Transportation, after all, not the Seattle Department of Nonvehicular Locomotion. In addition, every traffic engineer working at SDOT to a person studied first and foremost how to deal with traffic. They have no pedestrianism or cycling specialists on staff, and no one on staff has much if any expertise in either of these areas.

Also, because SDOT is so highly bureaucratized and because SDOT employees aren't answerable to anyone, what expertise they do have suffers from extreme inertia.

I am not exaggerating when I say that, in fact, SDOT could lay off every single person on staff without there being much notice...

Then, they could hire a few EUROPE-trained traffic/pedestrianism/cycling specialists and a bunch of traffic engineers fresh out of college or their first jobs and do MUCH MUCH better for the City of Seattle in terms of fresh ideas, modern thinking, and better resource allocation.

But I dream.

Posted by Simac | August 15, 2008 9:05 PM

I am very poor and disabled. Blocking sidewalks is really hard on me. Spending the inordinate amount I pay in sales taxes to send these idiots to the other Washington to study very simple changes they could make by fiat is anger-inducing. @4 has it right.

Posted by Silverstar98121 | August 15, 2008 10:13 PM

Sigh. Seattle is hopeless, isn't it?

Posted by elenchos | August 15, 2008 10:14 PM

So maybe we just remember the offenders and repeatedly vandalize their buildings in small ways. Justice sucks when you are just plainly in the wrong, because the truth doesn't go away. It's funny how building managers will scratch their heads about repeated vandalism who's justification is totally obvious to anyone but them.

Sous les pavees la sable.

Posted by kinaidos | August 15, 2008 10:17 PM

Oh come the fuck on. How much IN PERIL are we? Has *ANYONE* been hurt this way? No? Despite the thousands of people who have jaywalked/walked through these areas? More stupid-ass nanny-state pussy liberals trying to find ways to piss away money (or force businesses to piss away money). What a waste. If the sidewalk ahead of you is closed and you can't figure out how to cross the street at a previous intersection to go down the unobstructed sidewalk, you deserve to get run over. God damn people, life has risks. You don't need every plug childproofed.

Posted by fucking pussies | August 15, 2008 10:56 PM


And jaywalking across Denny is such a fucking picnic. Although in terms of busy arterials, like Denny, I don't see providing walkways being feasible. SDOT could require developers to put "Sidewalk Closed" signs at all the nearest crosswalks, however, sparing pedestrians at least some headaches.


But walking and bicycling are forms of transportation, just modes of transportation that SDOT doesn't give a shit about. It really should be called SDOMVT (Seattle Department of Motorized Vehicle Transportation).

Posted by keshmeshi | August 15, 2008 10:58 PM


You forgot, GO live in France pussy you faggots!!!!

Posted by elenchos | August 15, 2008 11:19 PM

If you can't figure out to navigate minor obstructions, please stay out of my city.

Posted by Giffy | August 16, 2008 12:45 AM

They ought to just close the street to cars and let everybody else use it.

Posted by Chris | August 16, 2008 2:22 AM


No, the worst is when you're walking down the street, and construction on one block forces you to cross over (probably by jaywalking), only to have to do it again a half block later, due to some numbnuts condo project on the other side of the street.

This town is run by a bunch of fucking hicks....

Posted by A Non Imus | August 16, 2008 3:02 AM

@14, I totally know, huh? It's the WORST! Like, this one time, I had to cross the street THREE times to avoid construction blocking MY sidewalk!?!! Like, OH EMM GEE - Can't they figure out how to not do construction that blocks the sidewalk!!11! Don't they KNOW who we ARE???//??? I mean, if I can't have my hand held when walking across the street, HOW am I supposed to cross?!?!?!? And don't they KNOW how much of my time they're wasting!??!11!??//??!

I have an idea though -- we should start a PETITION to let people know how entitled we are! Or a CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT! Or a ... get ready for this!!! ... INITIATIVE! Or - OH MY GOD - all three!! Aren't we the bestest?!?! Looking out for all those people who can't cross the street! It sure is a good thing WE are here to PROTECT everyone, huh? Who would have thought of the CHILDREN if not for us?!

Hey, did you hear that all our social services are having their budgets slashed? But now at least all those people who rely on social service can walk along a protected barricaded street instead of being inconvenienced by crossing the street first! I mean, they can thank me later -- I know they really appreciate the $10,000 spent on that barrier and walkway instead of food for their table! WE ARE SUCH HIP LIBERALS!!! O

Posted by whining liberal | August 16, 2008 7:27 AM

It makes absolutely no sense for the Council to not legislate this if the department will not. Does or does not the Seattle Department of Transportation answer to the Council?

Posted by Joe | August 16, 2008 8:18 AM

I've been to both Chicago and New York this summer and have encountered similar "sidewalk closed" construction obstructions. Seattle is fucked on this issue, but to say that other cities get it right is a bit of an overstatement.

Posted by DOUG. | August 16, 2008 8:54 AM

BFD. If I had to pick the priorities for SDOT, it would be building sidewalks in North Seattle and South Seattle, putting in bike-only ROW on the sidewalks (Munich style), replacing old and unreliable utilities, and maybe starting on THE MOTHERFUCKING SEAWALL. You know, more important stuff.

But sure, make a rule change. It's a good idea, but like I said, BFD.

Posted by Greg | August 16, 2008 9:12 AM

Seattle pedestrians, like Seattle hipsters, are a bunch of pathetic idiots.

I hope all of them get creamed in the crosswalk one day, preferably while ther're drinking PBR tallboys and listening to Vampire Weekend on their iPods, thereby ignoring the flow of traffic around them. Dead Seattle hipster pedestrian! 50 points!

That is all, Seattle hipsters, until my next eruption of Trollette's Syndrome.

Posted by Pedestrian Hating Internet Slog Hater | August 16, 2008 11:52 AM

They should put a big "Fuck You Handicapped" on all King County sidewalks. More than half the time I have to go out into the street because there is a telephone pole smack dab in the middle of a sidewalk, or some tree has grown so big it has broken the sidewalk all to hell.

Sorry ECB, but I will be using your bikelanes for my wheelchair when necessary.

Posted by elswinger | August 16, 2008 12:05 PM

@3, it's always screamed "we love developers!" more to me.

It's amazing how wimpy the Council is, though. It's their job to pass, like, um, laws and stuff. Mind you, I'm not dinging Licata so much as the five of his gutless colleagues who he is implicitly stating won't stand up to SDOT (and DPD, which happens to be funded by permit applications) and pass what ought to be a no-brainer over their objections.

@18 - this wouldn't cost SDOT or taxpayers one thin dime, and has absolutely no bearing on whether or not the projects you cite are funded.

Posted by Mr. X | August 16, 2008 2:03 PM

It's not just a good's the law!

Yes, despite the builders opinion to the contrary, anyone who disturbs or blocks an access way must provide an alternative.

Look it's in the WA state lawbooks.

However, I tried repeatedly to find who I could complain to to get justice on places where sidewalks were removed, blocked by "Construction" signs and other similar situations only to end up with a lot of unanswered emails.

Posted by John Bailo | August 16, 2008 7:53 PM

@9/12/14/19: The point is, the public OWNS the right of way to use the sidewalks. So why should a private developer be permitted to evict the public, when they could instead simply build a covered passageway, as is common in other cities. If I blocked the entrance to your house/apartment, how would you feel if I called you a pussy whiner for not just figuring out another way to get into your house/apartment?

I echo what Amelia @3 said. This has driven me crazy for years. WTF, City Council? Why surrender what is OURS?

Posted by kk | August 17, 2008 11:15 PM

I think we need to go back to letting those that the roads were built for in the first place rule them.

And, historically, that's pedestrians, bicycles, and horses.

Cars came much much later.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 18, 2008 10:28 AM

and, as kk says, Amelia @3 for the win.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 18, 2008 10:36 AM

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