Beacon and Lander pedestrian crossing update

On July 7, Mark Holland and I (representing Beacon BIKES) met with Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and Sound Transit to discuss options for improving the pedestrian crossing in front of the light rail station.  As it currently stands the crossing is not very safe.  The crossing distance is very long, people do not use the crosswalks, traffic moves too fast, and the bus stops complicate the foot and vehicular traffic patterns.  Add to this the surge of people coming from the light rail station and we have an accident waiting to happen.  You can see a previous post about the dangers of the crossing here.

Sound Transit was planning to repave the section of Beacon between McClellan and Lander without improving the pedestrian crossing.  Beacon BIKES got wind of this and arranged a meeting to discuss options for pedestrian improvements as part of the repave.  SDOT was instrumental in setting up the meeting and convincing Sound Transit that this crossing needed to be improved (Thanks Sam Woods!!).  Based on our meeting SDOT came up with the following design.

The SDOT draft plan for Beacon Avenue. Click the image to load a larger, more-readable PDF of the plan.

The major features of the new design are a planted median, widened crosswalks at either end of the block, and narrowed travel lanes.  The narrowed lanes would mean that buses stop in lane.  In lane bus stops are being implemented all over the city as a means of speeding up the bus system.  The median would have a tasteful barrier down the middle so people could not stream across the street at mid block.  Instead, they would be directed to the wide crosswalks at the corners to cross.  With the widened sidewalks the crossing distance would be shortened making for a safer pedestrian experience.

The design that Beacon BIKES put forward did not have in lane bus stops but did include a raised crosswalk at mid-block.  Our logic here was that everyone wants to cross at mid-block to get to the bus, so why not give them an avenue to do that instead of forcing them around (also the raised crosswalk would act as a speed table and slow traffic down).  SDOT did not like the mid-block crossing idea because of the relatively short distance between McClellan and Lander, but we are still hoping they will reconsider.  🙂

As is apparent from the rough nature of the design sheet, the plan is not finalized, so this is your chance to come up with an inspired idea that will make this pedestrian crossing safe and inviting while still accommodating bus, bike, and vehicle traffic.

In the meantime check out Beacon BIKES on Facebook, and come to our next meeting to join the fun. The meeting is on Monday, November 15, at the Beacon Hill Library, 2821 Beacon Avenue South.

24 thoughts on “Beacon and Lander pedestrian crossing update”

  1. I’m so glad someone is looking at this! I moved into the neighborhood a few months ago and had occasion to walk up that way a few weeks ago (I live close to Rainier) to go to a donut shop up there before work and that crossing totally freaked me out. Buses blocking views in all directions, no signal lights, cars going 35-40 mph (and not really stopping for the crosswalk). I waited at least five minutes the first time to cross safely. It’s never been as bad as that since but it’s still a horribly designed intersection for pedestrian use.

  2. I’d recommend lights like the Library crossing for Lander. If you’re not willing to step in front of traffic it can take a while to cross, but the lights really seem to get the attention of drivers who wouldn’t otherwise stop.

  3. I like the idea of the planting strip down the middle of the street, and think it’s a very good idea to force bus transfer people into the crosswalk, rather than give them an opportunity to jaywalk. People dodging into traffic to catch a bus is never a good idea.

    Or, have a planting strip with a third crosswalk mid-block. But definitely a planting strip. We need more greenery up there.

  4. Are you kiddig? This is a TERRIBLE idea. I agree that the pedestrian situation is a problem. And Im sure it’s tough for bikes too. Something should be done, but this would make things so much worse.

    To make that section of Beacon Ave a single lane of traffic that has all the buses stopping to load/unload in the only driving lane would make our hill the biggest traffic jam ever. Those buses take a very long time to load since there are so many riders for this stop. And all the cars on the whole avenue would be stopped behind them, just waiting for them to move. It already is blocked up past the lights in both directions now during busy times. And we’ve got 2 lanes. Nobody would be going anywhere, and I can envision a complete breakdown, where buses further down can’t even get to their stops behind the long line of cars all the way down to the station.

    Maybe none of you have ever ridden that bus route? Frequently some of the bus drivers wait for pedestrians running across the street from the station to get the bus, that won’t happen now. And the bus drivers often wait a moment or two when they see the other route coming (36/60) so that passengers can transfer and not wait another 15 minutes when the second bus is right behind them. This new plan even does a disservice to the bus passengers.

    I think before any of these drastic plans take place, that someone actually comes up here to look at how the traffic happens and watch for an hour or two. Maybe it mean moving the bus stop down to the next corner or next block to make people head over to that corner instead of mid-block. I don’t know the answer. I just know that this one, with a median blocking the second lane of traffic, would be a disaster for all of us who travel around this area, either on foot, on a bike, on the bus, or in a car.

  5. I agree with H.R. In general this sounds like a good idea, something really HAS to be done about the pedestrian crossing situation at the light rail station.

    Only one part really bothers me about this, the part about buses stopping in the middle of the road and stalling traffic on the major North South arterial on Beacon Hill? The goal is to deprive people from time with their families and make them spend that time waiting in cars (burning gas at more polluting speed of “stop and go”)? Why not be upfront about this goal? If that is NOT the goal, how about thinking of a better plan that does NOT degrade quality of life for most of your neighbors?

    There seems to be a lot of planning by people who really don’t seem to realize that “slowing traffic” is NOT a positive in most peoples lives, that most people did NOT ask to spend more time in their cars. Slowing traffic has a direct cost in children waiting longer after school while their parents try to get to them through a slowed and jammed arterial, through increased pollution from cars spending more time in “Stop and go” mode.

    Slowing arterial traffic might sound good to a few people who live within a close distance to the North Beacon hill business district, but it seems to ignore the 80% of the hill that really is not in practicable “biking range”. I moved to a city to get access to all that it offers, not to be restricted to a “village” because I can’t get off the hill to go anywhere else.

    It bothers me that some of these plans for the neighborhood, seem to pretty much dismiss the impact on the actual real life neighbors they live with.

  6. H.R., Paul,

    I can’t tell for sure from the drawing, but I think they aren’t talking about reducing the street to one lane in each direction. The median would replace the existing left turn lane. Buses would stop in-street, but the lane to the left of the bus would still be there, I think. They do say the lanes would be narrowed, though.

    Maybe Dylan can clarify this for us.

  7. The street is already one lane in each direction, but cars can currently get by while the bus stops. Under the new plan, if the bus stops long enough for a wheelchair exit during commuting hours, cars might be backed up the whole length of the business district(won’t THAT make Beacon Hill a pleasant place to live? And all those cars idling will be so great for the air quality as well).

  8. I’m confused about why the crosswalks need to remain slanted there across Beacon. I think most pedestrians expect to cross perpendicular to traffic – it seems to give more visibility to both pedestrians and drivers, which helps safety concerns – and it’s a shorter distance to cross than the slants that are currently there. I know I step outside the bounds of the crosswalk to get across the street faster. Is there some weird guideline that says crosswalks must join corner to corner? Lights like the library crossing are a good idea. I like the idea of the median, but only if there’s a mid-block crosswalk incorporated into it. Not sure about how to interpret the bus stopping in lane. If there is room for traffic to get around while the bus is stopped, that’s fine. If there isn’t, it’ll create an even bigger problem than currently exists. Think 12th Ave at Jackson during rush hour.

  9. Hi neighbors,

    In my post you can note that the widened sidewalks were not our idea. SDOT did this on 45th in Wallingford (which has a higher traffic count than Beacon) and it apparently has worked fine. Check it out here:

    Our idea was to have curb bulbs at the crosswalks (like they just put in at 15th and Lander) and to leave room on the shoulder for the buses to pull off. We disagree with SDOT on this front, but I also respect their professional expertise. They have done traffic counts and observations already and have seen what we see everyday. I for one think the sidewalk widening should be looked at a little closer.

    As for the median reducing a passing lane. That is inaccurate. The center lane is a turning lane and because there is nowhere to turn on that block except at the intersections, the only purpose it serves is for people to illegally pass slow motorists. So I am all for the median.

    What does not show up in the plan is that we are considering moving the bus stop on the west side of the street closer to McClellan, that way buses will be less likely to back traffic up across Lander.

    Good stuff! Keep the constructive comments coming!

  10. I agree with H.R. In general this sounds like a good idea, something really HAS to be done about the pedestrian crossing situation at the light rail station. ….

    Especially problematic for cars coming south bound as traffic is held up by the large traffic light just north of the station (and arrive at the intersection in greater numbers).

    I drive this route every day, I don’t live close enough to benefit from the light rail so for me it is not an alternative and I will choose residential streets to avoid that intersection at rush hour if buses are going to bottle neck that area.

    Still, thank you for making the crossing an issue for the people that can do something to fix it!

  11. Even if the diagram is unclear, if you are familiar with that block, you can understand that the median will be built in the turn lane. That leaves one single lane in each direction for traffic. Yes, there is a marginal curb space that the bus pulls over to, but it’s not a full lane. We obviously do not have 5 lanes of traffic on that street.

    Dylan, if the bus is stopped to off load a wheel chair, there will no longer be enough space for cars to go around the bus to continue on. This will create tremendous bottle-necks. And there is almost never a time during heavy traffic periods in the morning and evening that there aren’t several cars in the turn lane at McClellan turning left. PLUS a couple of cars waiting in the turn lane in front of the bank to turn left at Lander, or right at Lander to go to the bank or Red Apple. So if that turn lane gets turned into a chunk of cement, then all those cars are stopping traffic too. The bus can’t even get to the stop (and hold up the rest of the traffic).

    I just cannot express enough how completely bad this whole idea is. We have enough “slow traffic” all over the city. Why do we want to turn our neighborhood into more of it? We want to attract businesses and new neighbors to our hill, but if we turn our main thoroughfare into this traffic snarl, we are doomed to get any of that.

    Isn’t the Planning Committee supposed to be thinking about all the angles? all the future development? How will this traffic mess affect the future plans for building plans of Centro de la Raza and the rest of the block that the station sits on?

    I would prefer a plan that accommodates MORE people, rather than less. We have to think about pedestrians for sure, but we have to look at the whole picture.

  12. H.R., do you think some people would drive around this stretch if it was slow? When I try to imagine the outcome of this, I wonder if it will lead to increased traffic on 15th, 17th, and College. That may or may not be a bad thing.

    I don’t have a big problem with going down to one lane with buses doing in-lane loads. As Dylan pointed out, that’s being done on 45th in Wallingford and it actually has made traffic flow faster, because buses no longer have to fight to get back in to the lane. Of course, people tend not to believe averages and instead focus on that one time things didn’t work right for them in particular and they had to wait behind a bus for five minutes or whatever.

    On the other hand, I really don’t see having a median in there. I’d rather use that space for parking, wider sidewalks, or anything else with a tangible benefit.

    It seems to me that the biggest traffic problem is at 15th and Beacon with the pointless Walk All Way that doesn’t last long enough to let anyone cross the wide way without jogging. Get rid of that and time the light to cycle faster, and I bet you’d see less clustering in front of Red Apple.

  13. Dylan,

    I’m confused because the link you provided to the example of inlane bus stops in Wallingford clearly shows there’s a turn lane for cars to go around the bus. In the Beacon plan, that lane is going to be removed for the new median.

    I have no doubt that the inlane bus stops “speed up the bus system”. Drivers now who wait for running passengers, or for those coming off the elevator at the light rail, or for the 36/60 to meet and transfer will no longer do so. Mission accomplished. As an everyday rider of the 36, I appreciate the kindness of the drivers and their patience for the riders. Maybe SDOT does not.

    But that’s not our goal or concern. This whole conversation started because of safety for pedestrians and bikes. Let’s keep focused on that. Speeding up the bus system is not our problem. Don’t let SDOT sidetrack our issues and put in a solution that feeds their goals not ours.

  14. Amazing to me that these designs are still being discussed one year AFTER the light rail opening….

  15. Hmm, maybe I was wrong. I thought there were two lanes and a left turn lane (and even looked at Dylan’s earlier video to check) but you are probably right that the lane the bus pulls into now is not a full lane. I know that when driving south on Beacon two lanes merge into one just south of the intersection.

  16. MM, actually if you look at the street view of that location in Wallingford, you’ll see there is a little median there, apparently just to keep cars from using the turn lane to go around buses.

    Dylan certainly knows more, but what I’ve heard is that this arrangement has been shown not to speed up just buses, but to speed up all traffic flow. It makes intuitive sense to me, the same way I understand that the thing that slows down merges on the freeway is people in a hurry not letting others in, although I’d be interested in knowing what the hard numbers look like.

  17. H.R.

    Actually if the sidewalks are not widened there will be enough room for cars to pass buses that are pulled to the shoulder. We verified this before we proposed our plan to SDOT. Cars will still be able to pass, they will just move slower as they pass the buses because of the visual friction.

    Something we asked SDOT to look into was dwell times at the bus stops. I have noticed that buses tend to dwell at the stops in front of the station in order to avoid getting ahead of schedule, this also has the added benefit of increasing the likelihood of a bus waiting for you when you get of the elevator. The in-lane stops will NOT work if buses dwell at these stops and we want them to dwell there so we can more easily make connections.

    Just to reiterate, the Beacon BIKES goal is to make our streets safe for ALL users. The past 50 years of traffic engineering has focused on moving cars as fast as possible without considering transit, bikers, and pedestrians. This is now changing and DOTs across the nation are implementing projects like this one. If it is done right, all users will benefit. Our goal is to implement and encourage projects that benefit all who use our roadways.

  18. SDOT should seriously look into closing this awkward crosswalk unless safety improvements are made such as a crosswalk signal for pedestrians and a signal light for drivers.

    For the driver, it’s always a split second decision on whether to do a complete stop or not while looking for pedestrians darting across with heavy traffic following behind. For the pedestrian, it’s always cross at your own risk.

  19. I am looking at the Wallingford crossing at the links above and don’t see that it is at all very similar to ours. Theirs don’t have a large traffic junction nearby! It might be true they have more traffic over a day through there but we have the green lights at a double lane junction turning to one lane and choking traffic situation….

    Still very grateful for Beacon BIKES efforts to bring up the pedestrian situation. It’s not your responsibility to make it perfect. Thanks :).

  20. I appreciate the efforts to improve the pedestrian crossings at this intersection.
    I do believe it will have negative effects on traffic but I think that is good. The planted median and narrower roadway will hopefully help calm traffic and slow speeds. I cannot tell you how many times I have had cars continue at full speed while I was crossing, even with my 3 and 6 year old kids.

    Also, if the traffic gets slower at the Beacon and Lander intersection it could decrease the number of cars that tear up 16th from College to avoid the light at 15th and Beacon. A difficult left turn onto Beacon would discourage that. 16th between College and Bayview is long block, 2 blocks really, and cars get going really fast by the time they get to my house.

    I fully support your plan, thank you Dylan.

  21. I too think the in-lane bus stops and widened sidewalks are a great idea as long as there is no significant dwelling by the buses. I still have my doubts that the planted median is a real obstruction to jaywalking. Unless it is super dense with plantings, it could just be a mid-street refuge for jaywalkers that encourages them even more. But maybe it’s the best we can get for now without a total rethink of the bus routes.

    The new neighborhood plan does NOT have as one of it’s goals increasing car throughput in the urban village. As a fellow driver I understand the frustration people have with buses, but the street directly in front of a mass transit station should not be designed around cars and maximizing their speed.

    Thanks for getting SDOT’s attention on this, Dylan.

  22. I do not want to have to wait for everyone to get on and off the 36. Oh, this will suck for anyone in a car, which I guess is the point, giving drivers a spanking. I guess I understand that, but, oh how it will suck to be in a car. My butt hurts already.

  23. For people concerned about traffic backups, I look at it this way: even in the worst case, we might be backed up by a bus that comes, what, every 10 minutes, max? Slowing down traffic when people are loading and unloading buses and are about to venture out in the neighborhood sounds like a good thing. Especially if it means the buses move in and out of the area more quickly. So 1 out of every 10 trips you take through here might get extended by some seconds out of the interest of people on foot. Are we really in that much of a hurry that we can’t stand some additional seconds in our commutes if it means a safer environment for everybody?

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