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There’s more to SDOT’s Stairways than meets the eye!


Due to the steep and sloping nature of Seattle’s landscape, many of Seattle’s dead-end streets are connected by pedestrian stairways. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) owns over 500 stairways, totaling over six miles. The stairways provide pedestrians short access between streets often creating shortcuts to parks, playgrounds and bus stops. Some stairways have bike runnels to help bicyclists move their bikes up or down the stairs. And with today’s focus on healthy habits, it’s not unusual that people are now using public stairways for their open air work outs.

The SDOT has allocated funding dedicated strictly to the repair and maintain stairways over the last few years. The annual Stairway Rehabilitation Program provides funding to rehabilitate existing stairways that have significant condition and safety defects. Of the 509 stairways that are the department’s responsibility the repairs primarily involve broken and deteriorated sections. Recycling in Seattle is often thought of as a fairly recent occurrence. However, already in the 1930s, following the replacement of the street car system for a more modern bus system, Seattle used the old steel rails and concrete pavement panels to build stairways throughout the City. Although, the concrete panels served well as steps and the sections of the steel rails worked as posts for hand rails, these stairs are seeing the effects of their age. About 120 of 509 SDOT- owned stairways are of this type. The stairway maintenance program was initially developed to rehabilitate these “slab and rail” stairways.

SDOT’s Roadway Structures Division conducts a periodic inspection program to develop a list of stairways for repairs. Repairs range from replacing the handrail to removing and replacing the landings, treads, or concrete slabs. The list is prioritized and the work is scheduled accordingly. Element level ratings are given to the different parts of a stairway. This information is used to develop a numerical condition rating. From the list’s numerical condition ranking, additional rating criteria are applied to rank projects for consideration in the annual work plan such as safety, use of the stairway, location of the stairway relative to the Seattle Pedestrian Master Plan and cost.

The 2013 budget for stairway maintenance and replacement was approximately $1,039,000. This funded the repair of 32 stairways and the rehabilitation and replacement of 12 stairways.

If you’d like to become familiar – up close and personal – with some of these SDOT stairways, this Saturday, February 8, from 10 a.m. to 12 Noon, you can join the Feet First organization for its second Annual Stairway Walks Day. The event features eighteen guided neighborhood walks in Seattle, Bellevue, Burien. You’ll gain a new appreciation for the stairways as you enjoy connections to greenspaces and spectacular views and learn interesting information about history, art and architecture. The walks in the city will include stairways located in Ravenna, Fremont, Maple Leaf, the University District, Madrona, Eastlake, Queen Anne, Magnolia, Capitol Hill, Downtown, West Seattle, Mount Baker, Rainier Beach, and Seward Park. Space is limited to 25 people per walk, so please RSVP now at or For more information about the event, please contact Drew DeVitis by emailing or calling 206-652-2310, ext. 5.