The Bryant neighborhood is getting a lot love as of late from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). Already in the midst of safety improvements to the 39th Ave NE Greenway from the Burke-Gilman Trail to Wedgwood, more safety improvements are in the works for the trail crossing at 40th Ave NE. SDOT plans to roll out new paint, flexible posts, and signs to slow motorists along 40th Ave NE and make the trail crossing easier for people walking and biking. But in a twist, SDOT’s new paint job will also add a bit of pizzaz to the street.

BGT-40th - Full
Redesign plan for the Burke-Gilman Trail crossing at 40th Ave NE. (City of Seattle)

Wild circles will twirl on the pavement near the trail crossing in greens and blues. The circle patterns aren’t entirely uniform. If you look closely at the schematic above, you’ll notice that there are essentially four distinct patterns–one for each quadrant of the crossing. The inspiration for the design comes from the work that community advocates with Seattle Neighborhood Greenways commissioned as part of last year’s Park(ing) Day Plus demonstration.

SDOT is well known for using colorful preformed thermoplatic materials for pedestrian crossings, bike and bus lanes, and pavement parks. But this is one of the first big attempts to go the extra mile with a highly stylized pattern.

Curb extension using paint and flexible posts at 12th Ave E and E Mercer St. (Owen Pickford)
Curb extension using paint and flexible posts at 12th Ave E and E Mercer St. (Owen Pickford)

The paint job will essentially extend the curb by seven feet along 40th Ave NE and tighten up the intersection corner at NE 52nd Pl. The width of the right-of-way is not particularly great. From curb to curb, the roadway surface is approximately 36 feet wide while the sidewalks are each five feet wide with five-foot planter strips. Adding the new paint should reduce the roadway width to approximately 22 feet, which is about 11 feet per lane. Tightening up the radius at NE 52nd Pl should also improve the habits of motorists near the intersection.

As it is today, the safety of crossing the trail is tenuous at best. The trail is somewhat unusual in that it comes to 40th Ave NE at a diagonal angle (southwest to northeast), although the crossing itself is generally perpendicular. Motorists don’t expect crossings like this and it’s not readily apparent that it is there upon approach, despite the fact that SDOT has cleared the planter strips of bushes and trees leading up to the crossing. Perhaps contributing to this is the fact that signage notifying motorists of the crossing is minimal and abrupt, being found only just before the crossing itself. So those factors alone may partially explain why so many motorist seem surprised when they see a person approaching or crossing the trail on bike or foot.

Street view of the intersection. (Google Maps)
Street view of the intersection. (Google Maps)
Aerial view of the intersection. (Google Maps)
Aerial view of the intersection. (Google Maps)

But the context of the roadway also plays a major role in the safety issue. Vehicles are prohibited from parking on the street near the trail crossing. Coupled with the lack of street trees and street furniture, this gives the appearance that lanes are wider than they actually are. And, the eight-block stretch from NE 55th St to Sand Point Way NE has no traffic control devices. The result of this is that many motorists treat the corridor as an opportunity to speed making last-second stops difficult. Perhaps fortunately, injuries reported at the crossing have been almost non-existent. Only one collision with a person riding a bike has been reported in the past five years.

SDOT has been making some welcome improvements to the Burke-Gilman Trail over the past few years. Just a mile west, a raised crossing was installed at the 30th Ave NE crossing, and a half-mile west from there, a pair of foot rests were added 25th Ave NE intersection–both in 2015. While SDOT could have pursued alternative designs like rapid flashing beacons, raised crosswalk design, or full curb extensions here, they would have been far more expensive solutions than the modest $25,000 budgeted.

SDOT is still awaiting delivery of the preformed thermoplastic pieces from their vendor and hopes to begin installation later next month. When they do, crews will torch down the materials to make them adhere to the pavement over the course of a few days and then install 16 flexible posts to keep motorists off of the paint. These materials typically last a few years, but SDOT anticipates that the longevity of the materials here should be even greater since they won’t be driven over.

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26 COMMENTS

  1. Good article. I was about to suggest that curb bulbs would be a better (but more expensive) solution, but there it is, right at the second to the last paragraph.

    In general, I like it. I don’t know 40th well enough to know if cars are always parked there, but my guess is that they are. This means that although the street is too wide, drivers still consider it a two lane road (with the outside lanes for parking), unlike some streets, (like 15th Ave. NE https://goo.gl/maps/ZfDVvMuxpam) which are treated as four lanes (without stripes and around corners no less). This street might not be perfect, but it probably isn’t the most dangerous street in the city. This looks like a fairly cheap way to improve safety. The design and colors look like they will attract attention, and get everyone to slow down. Visibility looks pretty good from a biking/pedestrian standpoint, which is probably the key thing here. Stick your wheel (or foot) into the crosswalk and see if the driver stops. This isn’t ideal from a biking perspective (folks want to just retain their momentum) but bikers are supposed to stop anyway (you can see the stop signs).

  2. This is great. I know those of us who were at the Parking Day event wondered what happened to the suggestion. So, to suddenly see that it is happening and in a much more creative way than we hoped for is fantastic. Agreed that eventually actual concrete would be ideal, but this should have all the functionality we were looking for. Thanks to SDOT for following through on this and thanks for writing it up!

  3. Cars are very rarely parked in the areas being protected here. This was mentioned frequently in our application to do this last year – no loss of legal parking, and really no loss of illegal parking, either. There was no reason at all to let this crossing be so wide.

    I don’t know about reported incidents, but I see close calls at the intersection multiple times a week (I see them walking, riding and driving – I’ve nearly killed someone in my car at this intersection myself), and there was a car-bicycle collision about a month before we did this in 2015 – it was actually the inspiration for doing it.

    • I assume you mean that there aren’t cars parked in the section that is being protected, while there are cars parked along the road itself (up the street and down the street quite a ways). At least, that is what Google Maps shows. This is an important distinction, that I make below. If there are no cars parked along the street, then the street gets treated as four lanes (two each way) and that is a very bad situation. You can easily prevent that with bus bulbs (but, as mentioned, that is expensive). But if there are no cars parked in proximity to the crossing, that is a good thing, as it means that visibility is much better. It sounds to me like this achieves a significant improvement in safety without costing a bunch of money.

      • Right – no cars in the parts that are being protected.

        To the north of the crossing, there’s a road intersection on the west side, so no parking there. On the east side, there is parking, but it doesn’t cut down on visibility much for the southbound drivers.

        To the south of the crossing, it’s quite parked up on both sides. Cars don’t exactly treat this section of 40th as a 4 lane road, but they do get going quite fast, as there’s no traffic control for a long stretch. Cars regularly get over 35-40mph. There is a set of bus bulbs at the crossing at 50th (about 3 blocks south of the BG crossing), built a few years ago by Childrens’ walkability initiative. That has definitely helped some.

        Yes, I think this improvement is significant and very cheap. Great ROI. We were baffled that SDOT didn’t seem more interested at the time, given all that. Now, we know they actually were. 🙂

  4. It would not be a problem if the Bicycles and Pedestrians followed the stop sign they have. Motorists have the right of way and a reasonable expectation to not slam on their breaks.

    • While you are correct that people walking and biking are legally supposed to stop (whatever that means for pedestrians?), you are wrong that motorists have the “right of way.” The yield sign means motorists have to give way to people walking and biking and the stop sign doesn’t change that.

      • Pedestrians are *not* governed by STOP signs — pedestrian compliance with a STOP sign simply doesn’t exist in law. A pedestrian entering a crosswalk must not step off the curb if a car is too close to physically stop, but is otherwise allowed to enter the street.

    • The stop sign tells cyclists that they have to come to a stop before reaching the *sidewalk* along 40th Ave NE (so that, for example, pedestrians on the sidewalk don’t get run over by trail users). It does not change the fact that, once they have come to a stop and have verified that the sidewalk is clear, they may enter the crosswalk. Cars on the roadway need to come to a stop for cyclists (and pedestrians) in the crosswalk; the stop sign controlling the sidewalk does not change the right-of-way in the crosswalk.

      • Supposing that’s true, you have to admit it’s a little crazy to have right-of-way rules that manage to contradict both the design of the roads and the signage. And if it really is true that signs facing the trail are meant to control bikes at sidewalks, and can’t affect right-of-way rules at streets… then what do we make of the yield signs at driveways in LFP, and at a few streets without sidewalks between Fremont and Ballard? Are they all mistakes? Is it really impossible under state law for a city to design a road-trail crossing where trail users are allowed to cross but don’t have the right-of-way, as at a typical intersection with a yield or two-way-stop sign?

        • You don’t need to suppose this is true. It is the law. Drivers must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Pretty simple. http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/pedrcw.htm

          If you want to stop pedestrians from crossing the street, you can outlaw a crossing there. If you want to give cars the right of way, then you can add a walk signal or simply not build a crosswalk. Traffic lights on the Burke Gilman are found all over the place. But if there is a crosswalk, pedestrians have the right of way, even if they just encountered a stop sign.

          • There’s no such thing as “not build a crosswalk” — crosswalks are implicit at every intersection whether they’re marked or not.

            Yes, I’m saying Washington’s crosswalk laws are insane. Legally you have the right-of-way if you step out on Rainier or LCW as long as you’re at an intersection. That’s great for everyone nimble enough to jump back to the curb when drivers disregard the law, but useless for most people. Wouldn’t we be better off giving default priority to the higher-priority arterial, giving pedestrians priority in specific marked crosswalks, and (here’s the key) devoting real effort to making sure marked crosswalks are common and well designed? That would make a lot more sense for everyone than trying to enforce pedestrian right-of-way even where it completely contradicts road design?

          • If people are actually crossing the street in situations like you’ve described, it begs the question of why the place is so dangerously designed for pedestrians. Sure your proposal might work but we simply don’t have the political will or money yet to design every place for pedestrians. Until then it makes sense to at least enshrine their right to cross streets in the law.

            This law is one of the few sane things about our streets.

          • Crosswalks are not implicit everywhere. They make a distinction between marked and unmarked crosswalks. There are also plenty of intersections where it not legal to cross, or you have to wait for the light to cross it. I can’t think of any section on Lake City Way, for example, where a pedestrian can cross without a walk signal. In general it is not OK to cross a four lane road, which is why the city has pretty much removed all of those (unless they have a signal or something similar).

            What you are suggesting is exactly what the city does. In this case, for example, the pedestrian crossing (part of the Burke Gilman) is much higher priority than the street (40th Ave. NE).

    • I’ve seen this misconception at the crossing at Blakeley as well. It’s still the pedestrians and cyclists (in that order) before autos who have the right of way, especially at a crosswalk. The stop sign, as Matthew says, is to remind cyclists to stop before the sidewalk. Not to give drivers the right of way.

      • Code citation please. You are suggesting that bicycles don’t have to follow all of the motor vehicle law. Bicycles can command crossing traffic to stop where a motorcycle could not?

        • It is here: https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/walk/Laws.htm RCW 46.61.235

          Stop for pedestrians at intersections – Vehicles shall stop at intersections to allow pedestrians and *bicycles* to cross the road within a marked or unmarked crosswalk (RCW 46.61.235). See Washington’s Crosswalk Law for more information.

          • Wow. Thank you for that. I’m reasonably sure that was not in the traffic code when I learned to drive in WA several decades ago. It explains why so many cyclists don’t stop at the stop bar but pull into the nearby sidewalk (when they stop at all…)

          • Technically, they do still need to stop (although there are differing reasons why they might not if there’s no traffic) before entering the roadway. There’s another law that says pedestrians and cyclists should not enter the road suddenly. If you are already driving through an intersection or across a crosswalk, you should have some security knowing that a pedestrian or cyclist will stop and wait until you’ve passed before proceeding. However, if a driver can see someone ahead at a crossing, marked or unmarked, the driver should stop and allow them to cross.

  5. However, the changes will make it harder for cyclists who enter the trail there, as we’ll now have to get completely in the lane of traffic to do so. But it should be good for all the cyclists who come flying into that crossing with no intention of stopping.

    • No, look again. The initial part of the crosswalk is surrounded by a colorful non-parking area. This is not a lane of traffic. Up the street a ways or down the street a ways it is parking (look at the Google images) but right there, it is simply a blocked off section of street.

      I think people are over analyzing this. It is pretty simple. A pedestrian steps out into the crosswalk, buffered from the street for several feet (next to the colored section). A biker comes to a complete stop and does the same thing. A driver (hopefully driving at a sane speed, which would then not require slamming on the breaks) will see the person in the crosswalk, and either stop, or break the law. If the drivers stops, the pedestrian or biker precedes. If the driver breaks the law and ignores the person in the crosswalk, the person will wait until the road is clear.

      It isn’t that different than it is now, or many other crosswalks. The big difference is visibility. The crosswalk is a lot more visible, and the no parking zone is a lot more visible. The no parking zone makes it easier for pedestrian/bikers to see drivers.

      • Law requires motorists to stop for pedestrians at such crosswalks, but law also says that bicycles are “vehicles” and required to follow motor vehicle rules of the road. Photo shows a stop sign on the trail, presumably for bikers. Stop sign tells bikes to stop and wait for clear passage before crossing. So I am under the impression that motorists are not required to stop for bicycles, unless of course they are being pushed by a pedestrian. Do I have this clear, or is there something else going on?

        • State law requires bicycles traveling along a crosswalk to follow the same rules as pedestrians in entering the crosswalk.

          State law requires motorists to stop for bicycles in crosswalks, the same as pedestrians.

          The stop sign on the trail is before bicycles enter the *sidewalk*, to reduce bike/pedestrian conflicts. By the time a bicycle is entering the crosswalk, it is beyond the control of the stop sign.

  6. Oh great, MORE VISUAL CLUTTER that we have to process as drivers, pedestrians, cyclists. Sorry folks, this is just too much visual stimulation. I think SDOT is smoking some of that stuff we made legal in this state too much. I’m all for beautification and cleaning up our environment but the patterning will make it harder to drive through there and see bicyclists and pedestrians. Is this intended to be a game of spot the cyclist against the background?

    • If you have that much trouble with depth perception (the colorful design is on the street, while pedestrians and bikers are several feet higher) than perhaps you shouldn’t be driving, or you need a new eyeglass prescription. At the very least, if you are confused, you should slow down (which is really the entire point).

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