Traffic Lab fielded dozens of reader responses about the crossing system that allows pedestrians at all corners to cross simultaneously, including diagonally. Some people don’t like the design, citing timing problems and delays.
David Grixoni’s connection to The Junction in West Seattle is rooted in nostalgia. As a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier decades ago, he delivered mail to the area’s businesses and homes, frequently using the all-way walk intersection that stops vehicle traffic in all directions at once.
“I always loved the idea that we had one of the few (all-way walk) intersections in the Seattle area,” wrote Grixoni, 65, who is now retired and living in Tacoma. The historic crossing at California Avenue Southwest and Southwest Alaska Street was converted to an all-way walk in 1952.
Over the past week, Traffic Lab fielded more than 100 emails, phone calls and social media comments from readers like Grixoni about all-way walk intersections, which allow pedestrians at all corners to cross simultaneously, including diagonally.
The intersection at First Avenue and Pike Street, next to the historic Pike Place Market, is another example of the crossing system.
Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.
The responses varied from “every downtown Seattle intersection should be one” to nowhere in the city should engineers reprogram traffic lights for all-way walk because drivers and pedestrians alike are delayed. The majority offered suggestions for where they would like to see them locally.
“I hate the all-walk intersection in West Seattle,” wrote Clare Cornell, 58, who lives in the neighborhood. “When I am driving, I go out of my way to avoid these intersections, therefore burning more gas and polluting the air more.”
Another person called The Junction “the safest busy intersection around.”
Crossing systems around the city vary by location, and engineers with Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) consider a variety of criteria, such as the amount of traffic, when determining what system to install.
Side streets and locations with lots of pedestrians function best with shorter light cycles so that people on foot have more chances to cross the street, SDOT said in a recent blog post.
The department did not say where or if engineers are considering any new all-way walk intersections. Besides The Junction and next to the Market, existing intersections with the crossing system are located elsewhere on First Avenue, in the University District and in North Beacon Hill.
In its blog, SDOT pointed to a case study on signal timing near the Capitol Hill light-rail station, comparing Broadway’s intersections at Olive and Denny.
At Denny and Broadway, pedestrians at all corners can walk straight across at the same time, but not diagonally, a variation called an all-walk. But the study found that type of signal timing, or a cycle also allowing pedestrians to cross diagonally, would muck up traffic and cause pedestrian delays if used at Olive, the department said.
Tom Oldham, a longtime Seattleite, shared stories of visiting cities known for these kinds of intersections around the country and the globe.
“I can still remember as a child visiting Denver with my parents in the early 1950s and seeing these strange all-walk intersections,” wrote Oldham, 74.
The traffic engineer Henry Barnes popularized the signaling system in the 1950s and 1960s while serving as street commissioner for cities that included Denver and New York. City planners worldwide copied the idea, calling it “The Barnes Dance.”
The signaling system, though, has had mixed results over the decades. Some cities have given up on the idea because of growing traffic congestion and changing pedestrian habits, according to The Atlantic’s City Lab.
Grixoni, the retired Postal Service worker, recalled a trip to Tacoma’s Proctor District with his wife in 2015 that reminded them of The Junction’s charm decades ago. Those sentimental feelings played a role in their decision to move to Tacoma, he wrote.
He suggested an all-way walk intersection for North 26th Street and North Proctor Street — the highly trafficked center of the Proctor District — because he said it is similar to the West Seattle Junction.
For more all-way walks, the most popular suggestions among readers included the crossings of Denny Way and Westlake Avenue; Ballard’s busy Market Street, Leary Way and 22nd Avenue; and the Industrial District’s Airport Way South and Holgate Street.
And several people pointed to Broadway and Olive, which SDOT already decided is not a good fit for an all-way walk or all-walk because of how much time they give pedestrians to cross. Both systems run on 70-second light cycles.
Those types of intersections would create “multiple blocks of gridlock in all directions because buses, bikes and cars would all be vying for the last 35 to 45 seconds of the signal cycle,” the blog says. Also, pedestrians arriving near the end of the light cycle, or those trying to go diagonally opposite, would face long wait times.
Engineers instead reprogrammed Broadway and Olive’s crossing system to give pedestrians a few seconds to cross before cars going the same way get a green light, SDOT said.
Broadway and Denny “is much less complex since half of Denny is a one-way,” which is why engineers opted for an all-walk there, the agency said.
Locals identifying as pedestrian-safety activists have advocated for all-way walk intersections for years. Roughly 250 people subscribe to a Facebook group called “Seattle Campaign for Pedestrian-Safe All-Cross/Walk Intersections,” aimed at putting pressure on transportation officials to convert all busy crossings to all-walks.
With the system’s longer wait times to cross in any direction, Barnet Wagman, 65, of Seattle’s Madison Valley, said all-way walks make traveling by foot slower.
Most walk signs in downtown and other dense areas activate on a timed schedule, while others require pedestrians to tap a push-to-walk button. The signs’ flashing red hand means people on the sidewalk should remain put, and others in the middle of crossing should continue.
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