Seattle has taken important steps toward being a good pedestrian city. Our strategic plans say the right things, we have some excellent City staff as well as advocacy groups (Ped Board, Feet First), most streets have sidewalks at least in older neighborhoods, and so on. But, oh, could we do better.
To cross Denny Way from Belltown is to know where pedestrians really stand in Seattle – somewhere below getting cars to Ballard. At major intersections pedestrians can cross on one side only, at Queen Anne, First, Fourth, and Fifth. This forces some pedestrians to cross three streets rather than one, and creates a psychological barrier that discourages walking.
Denny has some push-button crossings too, as do other major streets on the edges of Downtown, like Boren. This means you have to get to the intersection well before the light changes. Basically you have to wait every time, unless someone else has pushed the button. This is odd given how many pedestrians cross Denny and Boren. How annoying push-button signals must be to those who don’t ignore them as I do, when there’s a decent gap.
Slippery metal grates and covers are a big problem. Many pedestrians know you walk gingerly on them when they’re wet, but they’re still dangerous. Why aren’t we covering metal with friction coatings, like sprays or tape? These should be required, particularly on hills. And speaking of slippery, how about those yellow mats they’re adding to curb cuts for blind pedestrians? Surely the designers knew that a sloped, bumpy plastic mat would get treacherous when wet.
Utility poles, parking pay stations, and other street infrastructure are often located three feet from the curb, which sometimes means the middle of the walkway. This is apparently to avoid dinging cars and the associated liability. Pedestrians, again, take second place.
Sometimes tree wells are too big, creating choke points and tripping hazards. A compromise used elsewhere is covering some of the well with a walkable mesh that allows the tree to grow without ruining concrete, but can be rearranged every few years as necessary at little cost.