They are two of the worst words you encounter every day in the city: “Sidewalk Closed.”
You face a conundrum. Do I wait for the walk signal, cross the street, walk a block, wait for another walk signal, then cross back? Or do I just try to squeeze along the construction barrier?
A lot of people choose the latter. And they probably regret the choice halfway down the block when people in cars start whizzing by, but then it’s too late.
The most frustrating part of this extremely common problem is that it is entirely avoidable. Temporary and protected walking spaces are easy to create.
So often on Seattle streets, multiple vehicle lanes remain open, often including on-street car parking. Yet so many construction mitigation plans can’t possibly find any space for basic accommodations for people walking (and definitely not for people biking). That’s not acceptable.
The good news is that SDOT agrees. That’s why they released a new rule proposal today that would require temporary walkways for most construction projects. The rules also specify the use of stronger barriers, providing better lighting and adhering to basic accessibility standards.
The new rules do not specifically outline how to manage bike lane closures, but they are one big step in the right direction. The rules do give SDOT the right to evaluate bike traffic impacts, but they don’t go as far as mandating and specifying temporary bike lanes in construction zones.
In a previous story, we suggested this order of lane removal to meet the needs of construction work:
On-street parking goes first. Then extra general purpose travel lanes. Then the bike lane if — and only if — there is only room for one shared lane on the street. There should be almost no case where either walkway is removed.
In cities with well-developed protected bike lane networks, those bike lanes are consistently maintained during construction. They are important transportation facilities, and the protected nature of them are vital for people to know they can depend on a safe route to wherever they are going. Bike lanes can’t simply disappear if we want people to put their faith in them as a way to get around.
Requests for construction-related closures of Seattle sidewalks will soon come under more stringent city review in an effort to make it easier and safer for people to walk here. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is proposing a revised Director’s Rule for Pedestrian Mobility in and Around Work Zones (SDOT DR 10-2015). The expanded rule emphasizes sidewalk closures as a last resort, when there is no other reasonable solution to keep a public walkway open.
The newly updated rule establishes standards for meeting Seattle Municipal Code requirements, including materials, their placement, and steps to ensure American Disability Act (ADA) compliance. These include calling for water-filled barriers to protect pedestrians around construction sites, and eliminating the orange tube delineators known as candlesticks as an option on arterials. This change alone could be life-saving, as the barriers were September 8, 2015 when a car crashed into them near a very busy bike lane along 2nd Avenue, near Pike Street. The driver was arrested for speeding but no one was hurt; the barriers worked as designed.
In the past, if contractors kept pedestrian access on the same side of the street as construction they could get a mobility credit; now that pedestrian routing approach is the proposed standard. The updated rule is supported by a new progressive enforcement procedure that focuses on providing clear direction to reduce infractions, and heightened attention on those with cumulative violations.
The complete DR 10-2015 is posted online at www.seattle.gov/transportation/drules.htm. Comment is being accepted now through October 29, 2015. To provide comment, contact LeAnne Nelson in the SDOT Street Use Division at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-684-3897. You may also drop off a written comment to the Street Use offices located on the 23rd floor of the Seattle Municipal Tower, at 700 5th Avenue downtown