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Pedestrian Master Plan shines a light on lighting

Note how the street lights iluminate the roadway for motorists, but the sidewalks remain in the shadows.


Seattle wants to become the most walkable city in the nation. With that goal in mind, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is taking a data-driven approach to it and has developed the Pedestrian Master Plan (PMP) which spells out the keys to enhancing the walking experience.  One very important element is lighting.  Pedestrian lighting serves many purposes including helping pedestrians to safely navigate sidewalks and pathways; providing for visibility and security at all hours; extending the hours that a business district is active; encouraging walking as part of an active lifestyle; and improving access to transit and other services.

In the PMP, pedestrian lighting is defined as “any lighting source that provides lighting for public pathways and gathering areas.  This might include handrail lights, bollards, wall mounted or pole mounted lights, display lighting and many other lighting design types, including overhead streetlights.”

SDOT learned from a Walking Preference Survey, that pedestrians in the neighborhoods along Rainier Avenue and in the University District and Belltown/Downtown, felt “pedestrian safety, unpleasant people, and LOW LIGHTING were . . . issues that discourage people from walking, especially after dark.”

Up until now there has been a mixed approach to pedestrian lighting as it was not addressed by one department, but by several – SDOT, Seattle City Light, even the Parks Department.  Furthermore, Seattle has no citywide pedestrian lighting requirements. The PMP encourages better coordination and collaboration between departments in order to provide a clear vision for pedestrian lighting in the future.  The plan focuses on the public right-of-way like sidewalks and trails and city-owned and operated structures such as bridges and stairs.

While lighting for pedestrians is typically 20’ or less (18’ on non arterials) above the surface to be lit, arterials are generally lit with 25’ or higher overhead street lights that basically place the light source over the roadway.  This provides motorists and others using the streets with sufficient lighting, but is insufficient for the pedestrians.  It is interesting to note that because pedestrians move slower than vehicles, they can react more readily to stationary obstacles.  Thus, while a motorist is focused on avoiding obstacles, a pedestrian is more concerned with deciphering details about the walking surface and texture to avoid slippery or uneven conditions that could be hazardous.

Because the PMP lighting section, alone, cannot be addressed in just this one blog, watch for a second blog with more in depth information on this fascinating topic.  In the interim, you can learn more on our PMP website

If you are a walker and would like to contribute to the planning process, the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board is taking applications for new members now. The City of Seattle is committed to promoting diversity in the city’s boards and commissions. Women, young persons, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, sexual and gender minorities, persons of color, and immigrants are encouraged to apply. You should submit a resume and cover letter explaining you interest via email by 5 p.m., December 17, 2012 to: Howard Wu at