A group exercise in pedestrian rights

It wasn't a large scale protest. There were no shouts about the evils of globalization or cries protesting heavy-handed police tactics. Dubbed a "Pedestrian Crosswalk Action," more than 15 people took part in an hour of street crossing. Carrying signs with a variety of pedestrian-friendly messages, the group crossed a variety of unmarked intersections along Pine and Pike streets west of Broadway in an effort to draw attention to pedestrian safety issues.

In many cases they did so with the encouragement of other pedestrians and, in some cases, even drivers.

"This street is just the worst," said one pedestrian as she noticed the group crossing East Pike Street at Harvard Avenue. "Cars just zoom past us without even looking."

"The intent of the crosswalk action is to legally assert our right to cross the street," said David Levinger of Feet First, a community-based nonprofit organization founded in 1996 to promote pedestrian issues. "Actions like these are meant to educated drivers."

The action took place under the Pedestrian Summer campaign initiated in May by Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin. Pedestrian Summer "hopes to foster more respect and civility between pedestrians and motorists and to improve driver behavior by increasing awareness about pedestrian safety. The long-term goal is to get people more excited about walking by creating a safer and more pedestrian-friendly cityscape," according to Conlin's announcement.

The campaign, which focuses heavily on education, has led to creating pedestrian safety brochures which highlight pedestrian laws (for instance, many people may not know that all intersections are crosswalks, even if they are not marked). Billboards will be put up, and a television campaign will soon be underway.

Along Pine and Pike streets, pedestrian safety is a growing, if not sexy, concern. Most of the cross streets lack marked crosswalks. Additionally, the speed of traffic flowing both to and from downtown, traffic often using those streets as major arterials, is typically far higher than optimal. Add to the mix the Northwest School, several car dealerships and senior housing and there is a recipe for a fairly unsafe pedestrian environment. Most residents agree that there is a great need to get cars to slow down.

According to Jill Janow, chair of the Pike-Pine Urban Neighborhood Council, Pike-Pine's pedestrian issues are somewhat unique in the city. The varied uses of the traffic corridor, she feels, deserves special city attention. She had been talking with Feet First for a long time about staging an action in Pike-Pine. When Conlin launched the Pedestrian Summer, Janow felt the time was right. The councilmember's participation in last week's pedestrian action was fairly easily achieved - Janow said Conlin was more than willing to take part.

"I have long hoped for what is happening with Conlin's initiative," she said. "I think there will be some TV spots and the power of his office behind us to distribute the brochures to places, like car dealers, car repair places, maybe licensing places."

For Janow, it's also about education - both for pedestrians and drivers. And its about how people relate to each other in a dense, urban environment. One somewhat self-evident step, painting crosswalks on intersections that don't have them, seems straightforward and fairly inexpensive. But the Seattle Department of Transportation is unwilling to paint crosswalks by themselves without also taking other measures, such as providing better signage or lighting, at the same time.

"SDOT found that painted crosswalks alone don't work," said Conlin. "The advantage is that once steps are taken they are more effective. The disadvantage is that it takes longer."

Janow intends to speak at the City Council's Wednesday, July 9, Transportation Committee meeting, which Conlin chairs. She plans on making her case for having painted crosswalks put down on Pike-Pine intersections first while other steps are considered.

"There are no marked crosswalks in the offing for us. But I think the Pike Pine corridor is unique and should have crosswalks at every intersection. I think pedestrians should have the advantage in Pike-Pine," she said. Conlin will devote time at the meeting to discuss pedestrian issues in Pike-Pine. Conlin said that Seattle actually has a better pedestrian environment than most other major cities. He boiled his initiative down to four elements, which he dubbed the "Four E's." The Pedestrian Summer works towards establishing better police enforcement of existing laws; education to increase awareness; engineering, in the form of building new curb bulbs and taking advantage of new crosswalk technologies; and encouragement, meaning promoting ways to get more people out walking.

"It's about finding a way to bring an attitude of mutual respect. This is a summer initiation, but I don't intend for it to stop then. A safe place for pedestrians is one of the things a city should be, and I'm determined to make it happen," said Conlin.

Editor Doug Schwartz can be reached at editor@capitolhilltimes.com.[[In-content Ad]]