Increase funding for adding and repairing sidewalks, as well as redesigning dangerous streets to be safer for pedestrians.
Walking and transit are intertwined, and in order to have a good transportation system, we need to also feel safe and comfortable while walking. The 2018 King County Metro Rider and Non-Rider Survey shows that 18% mostly get places by walking. For Seattle residents using transit, 90% get to and from the bus or light rail stop by walking.
Seattle has a Vision Zero program with a goal of ending all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Seattle has committed to do safer street design, better enforcement of traffic rules, and public engagement. As part of this plan, the City has reduced speed limits to 25 mph on most arterials. In spite of this, traffic deaths have actually increased since 2015, when Vision Zero was first adopted, and pedestrians are among those most impacted. This lack of progress on Vision Zero is the same across both the US and Canada, although Europe has been very successful. However, many more people here drive SUVs, which are more likely to get into accidents than other cars, and we have not made the same level of investments in safer street design as many European countries have done. These could be things such as designing streets for lower speeds, raised crosswalks on arterials, etc.
State of the Sidewalks
Many streets in Seattle do not have sidewalks. These are mostly in the south and in the north ends, in areas that were developed before they became part of the city. The City has a prioritized list of streets that need sidewalks and is addressing the ones that are arterials or are near schools. But the expense is high, and they are only funded for doing a small increments at a time.
Further, even on the streets that do have sidewalks, many of them are not in a good state of repair. Property owners are legally required to mantain their sidewalks and may be cited if the sidewalk is not in a good state of repair, but in practice property owners are almost never cited. When sidewalks are repaired, it is often in areas that are being redeveloped, which means that wealthier areas have better sidewalks than less wealthy areas. Some councilmembers believe that the City should take on this responsibility, and fund it with a new tax of some sort.
In 2015, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of individuals with mobility disabilities against the City for violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. As part of the settlement, the City agreed to fix or repair 22,000 curb ramps over 18 years.
In 2021, the City completed a Sidewalk Audit that quantifies the growing disrepair of our sidewalks and issues recommendations on how to improve them.
The City has 2300 miles of sidewalks, and 46% of them are in fair, poor, or very poor condition. SDOT estimates (conservatively) that repairing these sidewalks would cost about $500 million. SDOT prioritizes fixes and does fixes (some temporary) in the priority order, but it is not clear that they are keeping up: i..e, sidewalks may be deteriorating faster than they are being fixed.
The Audit made recommendations:
Work with the City Attorney and others to seek changes to state and local law that would allow a broader range of enforcement options to insure that property owners do maintanance;
Explore the use of a sidewalk ordinance that would require sidewalk repair at the time a property is sold;
Implement recommendations from the Policy Recommendations for Sidewalk Repair in Seattle report from June 2020.
The recommendations from the earlier report include these:
Implement a 5-year shim/bevel plan to temporarily fix the worst problems.
Increase property owners awareness about sidewalk responsibilities.
Simplify sidewalk repair permitting process.
Institute an income-based cost-sharing program for lower-income property owners.
Implement clearer enforcement methods.
Seek increased and stable funding sources.
Seattle has a Pedestrian Master Plan that covers 2020-2024. Its vision is to make Seattle "the most walkable and accessible city in the nation". Part of this is improving intersections, and adding sidewalks. Some of these projects are also on hold in response to the budget crisis caused by Covid-19. One thing SDOT has done for Covid is to switch most of the city's pedestrian lights to always show the walk light, instead of forcing pedestrians to push the button to get the walk light.
SDOT has established some Stay Healthy streets closed to thru traffic in response to Covid-19, to give people more space to walk and cycle while social distancing. SDOT has gradually enlarged the scope of the program, and plans to keep some of the streets closed permanently.
Seattle has just launched an update to the Seattle Transportation Plan. Part of the plan for the update is to bring together the Pedestrian Master Plan, the Bike Master Plan and the Transit Master Plan into one single plan.