This time-lapse video shows the treacherous conditions for pedestrians trying to navigate Seattle's Mercer Street.
Travel any afternoon on Seattle’s Mercer Street and you see people who must walk between running motor vehicles just to cross the street with the “walk” sign.
Vaclav Novak, who works at Amazon near the corner of Mercer and Ninth Avenue North, posted a time-lapse video Monday that shows the treacherous conditions. Left-turning drivers block the green bike lane and crosswalk.
Police aren’t writing $136 tickets for “blocking the box” on Mercer because doing so would penalize the other drivers with more gridlock, by clogging a traffic lane, said spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. “It’s the equivalent of me as a police officer doing a traffic stop on the Aurora Bridge,” he said. Police did try a crackdown at Mercer for a few days in 2015.
Automated traffic cameras would be a good tool at Mercer and other streets, but to use those to clear intersections would require a change in state law, Whitcomb said.
Seattle’s city government prides itself on having one of the nation’s lowest traffic-death rates, and Mercer won a “Greenroads” award from a nonprofit foundation, not only for street trees and drainage, but also for a mile of bike lanes and 32 blocks of sidewalk improvement.
Nonetheless, activists are questioning the Seattle Department of Transportation about recent changes to enable more vehicles to cross the corridor:
- The Washington State Department of Transportation will add ramp meters this spring to slow the rate in which cars from Mercer enter I-5, on the heels of SDOT installing “adaptive signals” to help drivers on Mercer reach I-5 . The activists say those tactics contradict each other.
- The Urbanist blog questions an SDOT proposal to spend $4 million federal grant and $5.5 million city funds for Mercer-type adaptive signals and other traffic relief in the University District.
- The city closed a crosswalk at Taylor Avenue North across Mercer Street, to reduce conflicts between people and turning cars. But that forces pedestrians to divert to Fifth Avenue North.
“If you build a parking lot, which is basically what it is, you’ll get a parking lot. It’s not working for anybody,” said Mark Ostrow, a member of Queen Anne Greenways. He suggests less car space and more people space. But new options in the form of a light-rail subway aren’t coming until 2035, and there are no plans for a Mercer east-west bus line.
The city’s new signals are benefiting drivers by reducing travel time by seven minutes eastbound toward I-5, and moving an average 7,673 cars in the three-hour peak there, SDOT reports.
For a driver perspective, Jason Rantz of KTTH last fall recorded his 30-minute delay just to reach Mercer from a side street. “You’re put in positions that if you don’t break traffic laws, you will never move,” he wrote.
And it’s easy to forget that before the city’s $245 million Mercer rebuild from 2010-14, there were no sidewalks whatsoever in some places and no walkway under Aurora Avenue North to connect South Lake Union to Uptown. Now there are sidewalks as wide as 20 feet, and a green bike lane.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the intersection where the video was taken.