Local Street Improvements Make Walking Safer and Easier

Seattle, Washington

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC)


Seattle's southeastern streets lacked curbs, making sidewalks on these streets less pedestrian friendly and safe. Without curbs, cars parked on the sidewalks and planting strips, leaving no barriers to traffic and making landscaping and maintenance impractical. Additionally, cars were not parking on the street and the excessive street width encouraged unsafe driving speeds while discouraging pedestrians.


Between the years 2001 and 2004, the Seattle Department of Transportation undertook a project to implement safer and more walkable neighborhoods in its southeastern quarter, a largely low-income community.


The project committed to taking numerous actions — add curbs, promote on-street parallel parking, install landscaping, calm traffic, and repair sidewalks — in an attempt to support neighborhood revitalization and resident participation. However, the project faced several obstacles. Some local residents could disapprove of the improvements because they would reduce space they were using for parking and vehicle repair. Additionally, new planting strips would require regular maintenance. The renovation could also provoke concerns about gentrification. Due to these concerns, funding limitations, and a requirement to have at least 60 percent resident approval, the project was termed a "demonstration project" to serve as a model for future improvements, and one street segment was carefully chosen.

The street segment chosen was appropriate given it already had drains that would reduce overall costs, the sidewalks were in great need of repair, and through-traffic volumes were high. Following a door-to-door outreach program (including bi-lingual assistance), 95 percent of the 66 affected households approved the project. A staff designer was available to meet with residents to help explain the project and incorporate their needs throughout the design and construction. Extruded curb technology was used rather than formed curbs, which would have required repaving the street to current standards. City landscape crews also worked with residents to plant trees and lay sod.

Funding was obtained through two sources: a Community Development Block Grant and a small neighborhood grant of City funds. The grants — available due to the neighborhood's status as a predominately low-income — covered 2600 feet of frontage at a cost estimate of $228,000. However, the funding source is limited in the long-run; it does not allow more than several thousand linear feet of improvements to be accomplished city-wide in any given year.


The results were widely appreciated. Pedestrians have an unimpeded path beside the road that is now protected by attractive plantings. Residents themselves are appreciative of the improvements and there has been no evidence of gentrification pushing out residents. The improvements are viewed more as public investments to bring adequate standards to a low-income neighborhood. The three speed bumps installed and parallel parked cars helped to slow traffic by an average of 12 mi/h.


Tony Mazzella
Seattle Department of Transportation and Seattle Department of Neighborhoods
700 Fifth Avenue, Room 3900
Seattle WA 98104
(206) 684-0811

Image Source

Institute of Transport Engineers Pedestrian Project Awards Application. Seattle Department of Transportation. http://www.ite.org/awards/pedproject/ppa093.pdf

Filed in: Engineering, Case Studies

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