Everyone who spends any time walking around Seattle knows what it’s like. You’re walking down the sidewalk when you see the familiar dreaded sign in front of one of the many construction projects around town: Sidewalk Closed.
You look for the closest crosswalk. Then you peer around the fence. Hmm, do I waste several minutes backtracking, then waiting for the light, then walking a block or two before waiting for another light so I can cross back? Or do I just dash across the street here even though there’s no crosswalk? Or maybe I can just squeeze along this fence in the traffic lane and hope no cars hit me…
You should never have to make this choice. Instead, any construction project that requires the sidewalk space in order to work should be required to provide a temporary walking route, even if that means closing a parking lane, extra travel lane or — if all other options have been exhausted — bike lane.
The reasoning is obvious: Basic safety trumps all other road needs. You can put up all the “Sidewalk Closed” signs you want, but it won’t change the fact that many people will try to squeeze by anyway. It’s just a fact of the urban environment.
City officials seem to agree, yet sidewalks continue to be closed all across the city. Enough is enough. This should never happen. Instead, construction companies should need to temporarily redesign the remaining road space to maintain basic safe access and mobility for all users. The diagram below shows what should be the order of operations for closing lanes in order to accommodate construction on a sample street:
Parking goes first, as it is the lowest priority use of street space. Nothing annoys me more than seeing a sidewalk get closed while a lane of parking remains open (see photo at top). The safety of people on foot is so much more important than parking a car that it boggles my mind this would ever happen. Closing parking lanes probably gives enough space for temporary bike lanes and walking space for most construction projects.
However, if more space is still needed or if the parking lane provides a vital function (for example, it is the only loading zone for a business), all travel lanes beyond one (or one in each direction for a two-way street) should be next in line. Basic safety and basic mobility should be the top priorities in that order.
Then if still more is needed and all other options have been exhausted, the bike lane could be closed and the remaining single traffic lane slowed to a safe speed.
But the walkway should never be closed. If your project absolutely needs more space, then you should probably just close the whole street or go to a flagger-controlled work area. Because basic safety for people on foot is not an option.
To recap: Here’s what happens too often around construction projects:
Construction crews in Seattle are building extraordinary and high-budget buildings. Redrawing some lines on the street and putting up some temporary barricades can’t be too hard, right? Then why isn’t it happening?