Walking and the pedestrian environment
March 2, 2005
Don't Walk Here (Seattle)

The implicit message of I-5 through downtown Seattle is that movement between places by automobile is more important than the places themselves. We were willing to destroy hundreds - thousands? - of homes and businesses in order to get to those that remained.

This is part of the special feature Freeway Box, showcasing my old life next to freeway viaducts.

Forty years later, people who continue to hang out around the freeway should be complimented for their stamina or chuckled at for their lack of taste. Ironically, since we're almost all car owners anyways, to some degree it's self-inflicted.

When you're pursuing happiness, it's logical that you can catch up to it a lot faster in a car than on foot. So traffic engineers along I-5 in downtown Seattle left nothing to chance. They've printed the message of automobile dominance in high-contrast freeway grade signs wherever plausible.

Don't Walk HereAt 6th and Madison, this walker ventures into an unambiguously prohibited zone. Freeway Park stretches north over I-5 from Seneca between 6th and 7th or 8th. However, for four blocks south of Seneca there are no sidewalks along I-5 on 6th and 7th. Long distance walkers, opportunity crossers, and meandering tourists are actively repulsed from park entrances like the poles of a magnet.

Don't Walk HereAt 6th and Madison, a freeway entrance fragments the intersection. Rather than attempting to find a way for First Hill-bound walkers to safely make the crossing, freeway engineers force them around to the other side of the street.

Don't Walk HereOver at 7th and Spring, the prohibition continues. The street here is more than wide enough for a sidewalk, and I just can't understand why no facilities were provided.

Don't Walk HereAt 7th and Madison, two apparently homeless men huddle along the railing over the freeway. The sign doesn't say that pedestrians are only prohibited beyond that point, so probably police would have a reasonable case for arbitrarily harassing these guys.

Don't Walk HereAgain at 7th and Madison. I love irony! Irony and sarcasm are two of my worst vices. Probably my worst is drunken karaoke (I can't sing), but unfortunately I get few chances to sing A-ha while walking. Anyways, here we have the shoe store "Shoes n Feet" framed behind a "No pedestrians" sign. The owners of this store definitely aren't getting the message! And judging by the quality of their shoes and new facade, there are a whole bunch of clueless walkers in the area despite the difficulties and thanklessness of traversing the freeway.

Don't Walk HereI'm always trying to get well-framed "no bikes/peds" signs. There are two categories. The first, like this one, has an inhospitable environment behind it that makes you go "duh!" The second has a pedestrian or bike facility behind it. I keep looking for the perfect shot along 520's bike path for the second kind, but I haven't quite found it yet. There are certainly some confusing places along that route that make you glad people don't rely on signs to get around. By the way, this is just south of Madison on 7th.

Don't Walk Here7th and Marion. The funny thing is that there is no crosswalk. BTW, that's my required dose of sarcasm.

Don't Walk HereAt about 7th and Columbia, a freeway exit touches down. There's an entrance below it, and the freeway engineers just figured it was too much trouble to mix in pedestrians. After all, why would they ever want to walk on this side anyways? Later city traffic engineers had to come along and put up the big PROHIBITED sign to try and convince those stubborn pedestrians to STAY AWAY. They were thinking logically: there is nothing on this side of the street, so why would they walk over here? Meanwhile pedestrians use a different logic: why wait until the next intersection to cross and have to deal with the light and all of those scary aggressive cars getting onto the freeway - I can just cross at this unsignalized intersection and walk over here.

Don't Walk HereThe apartment owner on the other side of 7th must have gone to school to be a civil engineer or something. Though the signs are on shiny steel with a nicer mixed-case font, the message is the same as the freeways: walkers, STAY AWAY from auto areas. The front entrance, which is next to the garage entrance, has a sign that says "Handicap access" and points to the garage.

Don't Walk HereMany blocks down the street at S Main and 6th S, a snow closure sign rests on the sidewalk just in case the temperature drops 30 or 40 degrees and storm clouds appear from nowhere. The road crew will have to come here anyways to deploy the sign, so why does it need to be stored on the sidewalk for 5 months of the year? Seattle gets maybe 3 or 4 snow events per year. This year there has been none, and looks unlikely to happen. I see an obviously out of place sign like this, forgotten for months, and it makes me wonder if I should really pay attention to any signs. Were they put in for the right reasons? Are those reasons still valid? Where do I draw the line between necessary and silly signs? If I can find a reason not to obey them, I feel comfortable ignoring them.

If there is no sidewalk, why isn't it okay for me to just walk out in the middle of the street and let traffic go at my pace? That's what I did the day I took these pictures.

Posted by Rob Ketcherside at March 2, 2005 9:50 AM
Lost Seattle
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