When I went down to walk around on the Viaduct Saturday, I encountered this extremely short walk signal at Alaskan Way and King St. This intersection connects the old waterfront trail with the newly-opened Alaskan Way Trail, so it is a fairly important signal.
According to my rudimentary measurements using Google Maps, this crosswalk is at least 70 feet long (roughly 80, but we’ll say 70 to account for inexact science). Using current standards, the Walk signal should display for a minimum of 7 seconds (which it does), followed by at least 20 seconds of countdown (3.5 feet per second). Instead, the signal counts down from 11, shaving a full 9 seconds off the recommended walking time.
That means the light is timed for people who walk 6.4 feet per second (4.4 miles per hour). The average person walks about 3 mph, while elderly and young people are often closer to 2 mph (see this Walking in Seattle post for more on pedestrian signal standards).
As you can see in the video, I started walking a good seven seconds before the flashing Don’t Walk countdown began, and I still didn’t make it across before the signal was over. Imagine if I had started walking at the end of the walk signal. Or imagine if I had trouble walking quickly. It would not be hard to imagine someone crossing completely legally and in accordance with the signal and still getting caught in the middle of the road when the cross traffic light turns green.
Clearly, this intersection is a bottleneck during Alaskan Way Viaduct construction. But our city should never sacrifice the safety of people walking in order to move a couple more cars per minute.
Nine seconds does not do much to clear car congestion, but it could be life or death for someone crossing the street on foot. And it hits our most vulnerable members of society the hardest. It also sends a clear message to people walking that they are not the city’s top priority, and it makes walking more stressful and less inviting.
As the city gears up for the first night of the Road Safety Summit (today, October 24, 6 p.m. at City Hall), we need to be thinking about even these small decisions our city makes that put people at undue risk. The safety of people’s lives should always be our top transportation priority, and it currently is not.