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A big step forward for pedestrian safety

Sometimes it’s the small things that add up to big changes. That’s exactly the case when it comes to leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs), the technical term for re-timing traffic signals to give pedestrians a 3-7 second head start in the crosswalk before people driving get a green light. It’s just a small change, but it’s been proven to have a huge effect at reducing collisions and increasing safety.


LPI at 5th and Marion

People crossing the street at 5th and Marion, where there is an LPI in place.


New policy alert!

If you’ve been paying close attention, you may have already noticed leading pedestrian intervals around town, but you’re about to start seeing a whole lot more of them.

We recently adopted a new policy to evaluate adding a leading pedestrian interval every time we build a new traffic signal or do other signal maintenance work that gives us the opportunity to make this upgrade. We’ll make the change unless there’s a specific reason why it does not make sense in a particular location.

Read the full policy on leading pedestrian intervals here.

We’ve also secured $1.65 million in grants from WSDOT to improve safety with this kind of change at intersections all around Seattle as part of the City’s Vision Zero efforts. We’re in the process of evaluating where this change is needed most based on traffic and collision data. With LPIs in place at 50 intersections around the city, we plan to use this funding to get to at least 150 locations by 2021.


Map of LPIs in Seattle.

This map shows current locations where there are either leading pedestrian intervals or all way walks installed.


This new policy further bakes in and prioritizes pedestrian safety into our day-to-day operations work. It’s policy changes like this that support and complement engineering investments, like when we redesign a road to prioritize safety over speeding. When you put them together, you see safety gains for everyone.


Next step: Increase safety along a 2.5 mile stretch of Rainier Ave this summer.

As part of the Rainier Ave Improvements Project, we’re planning to install these improved crossing signals between S Kenny St and S 57th St. In fact, we’ve already finished making the improvement at S Henderson St and S Fisher Pl.

We’re planning on upgrading intersections all over the city, so keep an eye out for a leading pedestrian interval near you.


A small signal tweak with big safety gains.

Why are we so excited about a few second head start? Leading pedestrian intervals give people walking a head start, which makes them more visible, especially to drivers who are turning.

They are a tried and true measure that improve safety for people walking and reduces crashes overall. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has found that leading pedestrian intervals lead to a 60% reduction in pedestrian-vehicle collisions and the New York City Department of Transportation has found that pedestrian and bike fatalities and severe injuries declined by nearly 40%. This is a huge safety gain for a relatively small signal change.


This video taken last year at 7th and Olive shows a leading pedestrian interval in action. Notice how the WALK signal starts a few seconds before people driving get the green light.


The new policy is part of a larger effort to find a balance for people walking, biking, and driving.

At some intersections, we’ll also be taking this opportunity to give people in cars a few extra seconds of green light after the WALK signal ends. This gives drivers who have been waiting a chance to finish turning before the light turns red.

We’re also balancing the safety needs of people on bikes too, especially where neighborhood greenways or bike lanes cross over a major intersection.

All of these strategies help everyone get where they are going safely by reducing conflicts and giving everyone a predictable time and place to get across and through intersections. Using a combination of small changes, we can improve safety and keep people and goods moving.


LPI at 6th and Spring.

Crosswalk at 6th and Spring, where there is an LPI in place.


Look out for each other

While we’re excited about increasing the number of LPIs across the city, we also want to take a moment to remind everyone that we all have a role to play in improving safety.

As you’re traveling Seattle’s streets, look out for yourself and for each other. Recognize that every intersection is unique, so stay alert. Even if you have the WALK signal, look both ways and over your shoulder to watch for turning vehicles. If you’re driving, pay attention, slow down, and expect people walking and biking (more so as the weather picks up).

With your help, and with changes big and small, we can get closer to our Vision Zero goal of ending traffic deaths and serious injuries on city streets by 2030.