How to get the City of Seattle to install a crosswalk traffic signal on Capitol Hill

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(Images: CHS)

First, you need an organization as dedicated and organized as the good neighbors behind the Melrose Promenade project. Then you need a new, $20 million neighbor to move in.

Construction crews have been hard at work at the intersection of Melrose and Pike this week installing an important set of street and sidewalk improvements — including the coveted pedestrian crosswalk signal that will soon be bringing Pike wheeled-vehicle travel to a halt so that residents, workers, and Starbucks Roastery tourists can safely cross the busy street. In all, it’s a $135,000 investment.

Right now, the crosswalks are painted but the hardware and signal are not yet fully in place making for a slightly harrowing crossing. SDOT says, depending on the weather, the signal light could be up and operational as early as next week. Pedestrians looking to cross Pike at Melrose will get a button to press on each side of the intersection. Once the system determines the proper amount of time has passed for traffic to clear around other signals in the area, the Pike signal will turn red for motor vehicles, bikes, etc. and the walk signal will turn green. For walkers, it’s an amazing change at one of the increasingly active neighborhood’s busiest crossings.

So, how did the project come together when other crossings — say, Pine at Boylston, for example — have not?

Mayor Mcginn braved the crossing -- once

Mayor McGinn braved the crossing — once — before being scolded by his staff on a neighborhood tour

“In terms of how we make these sorts of changes happen, it is through old-fashioned community organizing, developing with our neighbors and partners a conceptual vision for how to improve the quality of life in our city, and engaging in a positive and proactive way with the City,” community member and Melrose Promenade volunteer Mike Kent tells CHS. “No small amount of perseverance is also important, as we have been advocating for pedestrian improvements along Melrose for more than five years.”

Here are the logistics of the project from a community standpoint. The Melrose Promenade group’s advisory committee applied for a grant through Department of Neighborhood’s Neighborhood Park Street Fund and was awarded $90,000.00 “to improve pedestrian safety in the Melrose Promenade vicinity,” according to SDOT. CHS wrote here about the most recent round of Capitol Hill-related applications.

“In coordination with neighbors, the committee produced a list of aesthetic and safety enhancements they would like to see implemented in the area as part of their grant application,” the SDOT spokesperson told CHS.

The Melrose Promenade proposals included some ambitious stuff:

  • Narrowing down the curb line at this intersection to increase the predictability of auto movement
  • Incorporating more pedestrian-oriented lighting to both improve visibility but also to change people’s psychological experience of this space, increasing awareness of the shared nature of the street
  • Distinctive paving materials at the pedestrian crosswalks to improve drivers’ awareness of pedestrians and cyclists, and to encourage more predictable pedestrian traffic patterns
  • Implementing a curbless festival street
  • Signage identifying this area as the gateway to the Melrose Promenade corridor and signifying the unique character of this particular location

SDOT reviewed the enhancements but found the group’s hopes were “well beyond the scale of available NPSF funding or required additional design refinement and community involvement.”

But a pedestrian traffic signal — known as a half-signal for its use in only two directions at an intersection — fit the bill, SDOT determined.
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The walk signal ready to be unveiled

The walk signal ready to be unveiled

“Accelerating the installation of a pedestrian signal across Pike is consistent with any of the future design scenarios and provides the greatest available improvement for pedestrian safety at the intersection,” the SDOT spokesperson told CHS.

According to SDOT, the awarded grant funds were originally scheduled for 2016. The department also was able to add $45,000.00 from the Neighborhood Greenways program for a total of $135,000 putting the project on the road toward 2016 construction.

But “high pedestrian demand” — read: Starbucks and the nearby Melrose Market — pushed SDOT to move up the schedule “using funds made available through construction savings on 2015 projects,” according to the department spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Kent and the Melrose Promenade group also convinced SDOT to pony up for one of the original community enhancements envisioned for the grant — a community crosswalk part of the Pike/Pine rainbow-inspired program being rolled out across the city. The street is also due to get a new streatery parklet in front of Mamnoon.

The SDOT spokesperson says the colorful crosswalk across Melrose will be a community project and will require “design approval by the community council and by the city traffic engineer.” The plan is to install it in the summer of 2016. No, it doesn’t have to be Starbucks green.

As for the coffee giant’s help in all of this, we’ve asked the company about its support of the Melrose Promenade projects but haven’t heard back. But Kent’s past work shows that creating a safe Capitol Hill crossing doesn’t necessarily have to involve a coffee giant.

The success at Pike and Melrose, he says, is very similar to the work that went into creating safer crossings of 12th Ave at Howell and Harrison. Work which neighbors along that street continue to advocate for, Kent points out.

12th Ave neighbors celebrating a crosswalk victory

12th Ave neighbors celebrating a crosswalk victory

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30 thoughts on “How to get the City of Seattle to install a crosswalk traffic signal on Capitol Hill

    • Sounds like you just found an amazing business opportunity creating quality traffic light systems for under $135K, if you can make them.

    • See, thats part of the issue. No one seems to question the costs and assumes the city does their due diligence. Its our money, I’d like to see the vetting that was done. But apparently there are a bunch of crosswalk pricing experts on here (myself included lol).

    • “It costs the taxpayer $250,000 to $500,000 to purchase and install a traffic signal. Electric bills and routine maintenance amount to about $8,000 a year. Drivers also have increased costs for fuel, time delay, and accidents.”

      This from a simple google search.

    • Decided to some research. The 11 rainbow crosswalks cost 66k. That was for multicolor thermoplastic paint which is significantly more than plain white due to limited production runs of the colors. Add a LED strobe caution system and activators from 10 – 20k. Then throw in reflective crosswalk signage $150 each minus posts and installation. Factor in permits, labor and misc parts, I still don’t see why these cost as much as they do.

    • You might just want to try my best friend, Google.

      There are many explanations on the Internet of why traffic lights cost as much as they do.

      Needless to say, they are way more complex than a bunch of LEDs on a stick.

    • Yes, I looked online and saw prices from many cities on their installations. I just don’t like to be passive on how the city spends our money. Of course these systems are complex (thanks for being snarky, hope you feel better).

  1. It should be prohibited to make a right on red to go west on Pine Street. Too many times I have come down E Pine St from Capitol Hill to be almost taken out by vehicles that do not even bother to stop before turning and without seeing if there is any oncoming traffic.

  2. maybe starbucks can spring for some parking too, because the neighborhood to the south is full of tourists taking up street parking, making it even harder for residents. that’s why they had to build the crosswalk in the 1st place.

    • If you are a resident in this part of the neighborhood with a car and you expect or want to have readily available street parking, all I can say is LOL

    • Yea, who cares if you’ve lived here for 15 years, before it became so densely developed. who cares if you are disabled and need the car in order to get around. People are idiots for thinking that the city should account for rapid increase of people who own cars and the lack of reliable mass transit with some addition parking.

    • If you are disabled and need to drive you have a decent amount of leeway when it comes to parking: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/parking/disabledparking.htm

      You can even ask the city to designate a spot for you. It’s not guaranteed, but that combined with the rest of the leeway you have available seems like pretty reasonable accommodation. Fewer spaces for private SOVs and more loading zones and a few more options for disabled parking seems like a good idea.

      However, I suspect most people who bring up the disabled issue have very few mobility issues and like to trot that out as an excuse to oppose what are almost always good safety improvements.

    • You live in the 2nd-densest neighborhood in the city, well-served by public transit and supremely walkable. Parking is a luxury, not a necessity, on First Hill.

      (source: I lived on First Hill for 6 years and paid for parking during 1 of them before realizing that I didn’t need a car)

    • What a privileged life you lead to want to force your lifestyle and choices upon others.

      What if it was an amazon employee making the same sort of demands? Like, say, “living in Capitol Hill is a luxury, not a necessity. Quit complaining about high rent.”

    • There is a reason that many tourists are now parking in that area….and it is that hotel valet/garage parking for 24 hours has become ridiculously expensive. Blame the greedy garage owners.

  3. How about a couple of crosswalks on Bellevue Ave E? As it is now, there’s not one north of Denny and people drive way, way too fast down Bellevue. I know that every intersection is a legal crosswalk, but I’m not going to risk my life to assert my right to cross.

    • I agree with you that every street needs it, but I am confident that Republican Street, which is planned to be one of Capitol Hill’s north-south Greenways, should become a great place to cross with the passage of Move Seattle.

    • People drive WAY too fast down the north end of Bellevue! I have always wondered why the city doesnt install some sort of feature to slow driver down, like a round about or crosswalk. But I think it probably has to do with emergency vehicles using it as a quick passage way?

    • In my experience walking along Bellevue several times a week, the street doesn’t really get that much traffic. It’s not that difficult to cross safely if you just follow mom’s advice: “look both ways.”

      A roundabout/traffic island requires that the adjacent neighbors organize and make a request to the city. I don’t believe the city installs them without citizen involvement.

  4. Been begging the city for 2 weeks to get them to turn on the street lights on E Pike at Boylston & Belmont. & this is after being assaulted on that block, still no luck! I guess you have to be Starbucks to get the time of day from the city!

    • If the lights are out report that using the Find It Fix It app I have always had good results reporting street lights issues, potholes, graffiti and other stuff using the app.

  5. I have had drivers call me rude names and make rude gestures at me for crossing legally at this intersection for years so this signal is welcome but its sad that residents of the neighborhood apparently were not worth anything to the city but when Starbuck’s opened its fancy roastery and brought traffic that backs up at all hours to the neighborhood the city could not have moved faster in getting a light for the crosswalk installed. Money talks and if your just a regular joe no one cares about your safety.

    What we need is for SPD to start writting tickets for drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians the city could make a fortune just up the street at Summit and Pine where your typical “Seattle Nice” pedestrian has to stand there at the crosswalk as driver after driver keep going not obeying the law and stopping so the person can cross. I have learned to just be an assertive pedestrian myself because I don’t have all day and I am outside not in a warm car like all the law breaking drivers.