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Listening to All Users Helps Us Design Sidewalks for All

At SDOT we’re striving to make it easier for as many folks as possible to use the streets, sidewalks, bike system, buses and trains in Seattle.  Understanding the perspectives of various users of the transportation system is key to making a system that works well for everyone, so we listen to many groups– community councils, neighborhood district councils and advocacy organizations such as Feet First, just to name a few.

SDOT’s Liz Ellis (left), Brian Dougherty (right) and Lighthouse for the Blind’s Action Team

Last fall the Lighthouse for the Blind Action Team met with city staff Ed Pottharst of the Department of Neighborhoods (DON), Liz Ellis from SDOT’s Sidewalk Safety and Repair Program and Brian Dougherty of SDOT’s ADA Spot Improvement ProgramLighthouse for the Blind provides jobs, training, housing support, Braille instruction and more for blind adults at their facility in southeast Seattle, just a few blocks south of the I-90 lid.

During a walking tour of the neighborhood, city staff gained a greater awareness of specific challenges visually impaired community members face each day.  The group identified opportunities to make it easier to get around such as narrowing street crossings with a wider sidewalk or bulb outs, eliminating areas where rainwater collects, addressing uneven sidewalk surfaces and adding cues you can see and feel to inform walkers of their surroundings. 

Examining an alternative sidewalk design during the walking tour

Next, the city created a list of potential projects with cost estimates.  The city’s needs for sidewalk improvements are great, yet funding is finite, so when city staff shared this list with Lighthouse for the Blind, they encouraged them to apply to various funding sources, including the Neighborhood Project Fund (NPF) and the Bridging the Gap Large Project Fund to pay for their top priorities.  Ed Pottharst from DON and various SDOT staff will  be their contacts as they prepare the funding applications.  

This type of exchange helps the City design our transportation system to serve the most people, regardless of their physical challenges.  Universal design makes our community more accessible for everyone at various stages of life.  

While today many folks might not notice how the walking environment affects how easily someone using a wheelchair or a white cane can get around, it’s likely that in the future many of us will take our turn benefitting from universal design when age or fate change our physical capacities.

Listening = broader perspective = better design for all.