Friday, October 4, 2013

Intersections: Inconsistent on Twelfth Avenue East

Preschoolers crossing the street at 12th and Olive
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) recently updated several intersections along 12th Avenue East to make it easier and safer for people to cross this busy street.  Today I rode my bike over to 12th to take a closer look at these improvements.

I looked at the unsignalized intersections at Howell, Denny, Thomas, Harrison, Republican, Mercer, Roy and Aloha (construction disrupted the intersection at Olive, so I left that one out except to snap the photo above of a bunch of preschoolers crossing the street).

The safety features I saw included curb bulbs to narrow the crossing distance, improved wheelchair ramps, freshly painted striped crosswalks, set back stop lines for people driving cars, bright yellow warning signs, flashing yellow lights, median refuge islands for people walking, and parking prohibition near intersections.

These features were scattered among the eight intersections.  Some had no improvements; some had three or four.  No intersections used all of these features.

As I rode north on 12th, here's what I observed.

At 12th and Howell, the stop line for people driving cars is set back about 50 feet from the crosswalk at the intersection.  There's a sign pointing out the correct place to stop, and at the corner there's a big yellow warning sign with a picture of a person walking.

12th and Howell, looking South on 12th
The truck in this picture had stopped for someone crossing the street - as you can see, well past the indicated stop line.  The bright yellow warning sign is just barely visible through the trees at the corner.  You will also notice that there is a painted crosswalk, but no curb bulb to narrow the crossing distance.

I haven't seen stop lines positioned this far from an intersection anywhere else in Seattle; none of the other intersections along 12th have this feature.  While it might be a good idea to leave this much space between moving cars and people walking, unless this feature is used consistently, it seems unlikely to me that people who drive cars will be willing to wait this far back from intersections while people cross the street.

Next comes 12th and Denny.

12th Ave. East and East Denny Way, looking south
The bright yellow warning sign is clearly visible, not obscured by trees.  There's a striped crosswalk with a painted refuge island in the middle of the road.  There are curb cuts, but no curb bulb on this side of the intersection.

Oddly though, there are curb bulbs on the southern side of the intersection, where there's no painted crosswalk.

12th and Denny, looking north
This person crossed between the curb bulbs; that's perfectly legal even though only the north leg of the intersection has the painted crosswalk, the warning sign and the refuge island.

I skipped the signalized intersection at East John and went on to 12th and Thomas.

12th and Thomas curb bulb and parking restriction looking north
Here there are generous curb bulbs at all four corners, with an extended parking restricted area on the southeast corner.

However, there are no painted crosswalks and no warning signs here.

12th and Thomas curb bulb planting
Next we come to 12th and Harrison.

12th and Harrison looking north
Here we have curb bulbs with good curb cuts, a bright, visible warning sign and a painted crosswalk all on the south side of Harrison.  There are no safety features on the north side.

Here's 12th and Republican.  There are no crossing improvements of any kind at this intersection.

12th and Republican, looking southeast
At Mercer there's a school crossing for Lowell Elementary School, although you wouldn't know it from this approach.  You can see there's a yellow flashing light above the street.  Parking is restricted on all four corners. There's a painted crosswalk, but only on the north side of Mercer.

12th and Mercer, looking north
If you look closely, you can just make out the yellow warning sign hidden behind the trees.
Yellow warning sign at 12th and Mercer
Next is Roy, a very narrow street with no crosswalks.  It does have a red curb and a no parking sign at the southeast corner, but I was surprised to note that the parking restricted area was only about two bike-lengths, or eight feet, not the thirty feet standard at intersections.

12th and Roy with eight-foot parking restriction
This intersection, by the way, is one block from Lowell Elementary School and is in a school zone.  Here's the same intersection looking south.

School zone sign at 12th and Roy looking south
At Aloha, 12th Avenue becomes one way heading south.  This four-way stop has a flashing red light and crosswalks painted on all four legs.  It is one of very few places in Seattle with a traffic diverter to prevent people from driving the wrong way.  By reducing turns and cross traffic, this feature also protects people walking here.  (This would also be an opportunity to allow people on bikes to ride against traffic on this very low-traffic, slow speed street, but that belongs in another post.)

12th and Aloha with one-way diverter
After taking all these pictures, I turned around and headed back south on 12th.  This sign reminded me of the biggest danger to people trying to cross the street:

Speed limit on 12th is 30 mph
In summary, 12th Avenue between Howell and Aloha provides a smorgasbord sampling of features that can improve safety at intersections and make it easier to cross the street.  If all of these features were applied consistently, 12th Avenue could be a pleasant and welcoming street for walking, and it would be a nicer place to ride a bike as well.  Is that too much to ask of a city that aspires to be a world-class place for walking and biking?