SDOT Best of the Month | Making our intersections, bus stops, and sidewalks easier to use!

Crews installing an ADA Curb Ramp in January 2020. Photo: SDOT Flickr

In this SDOT Best of the Month, we’ll highlight some of (non-West Seattle Bridge!) projects that made news – and some that didn’t. 

  • Our Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Program helps ensure that people of all abilities have the same access to Seattle’s pedestrian infrastructure. Your Levy to Move Seattle tax dollars fund accessibility improvements citywide.  
  • The Transportation Operations Division Signal Shop has been working on a three-year program to install Accessible Pedestrian Signals in Seattle.  
  • The Roadway Structures and Urban Forestry teams partnered to improve and make a bus stop more accessible.
  • On the blog: the SDOT ADA Transition Plan Update helps us identify and prioritize ongoing accessibility improvements. 

Our crews work around the clock, around the city, to keep you moving safely. Here are a few big accomplishments that didn’t make it into our blog this month. 

We are working to make our streets and sidewalks accessible to everyone.  

The SDOT Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Program is responsible for planning and implementing improvements that help people of all abilities have the same access to Seattle’s pedestrian infrastructure. Our infrastructure includes elements like sidewalks, parking, transit access, and more. With that in mind, features such as curb ramps, detectable warnings and street crossings are important components of an accessible pedestrian network.  

Individuals living with disabilities or those who directly care for individuals living with disabilities can request these improvements. Every year we build and/or permit at least 1250 new curb ramps, including 150-200 which are funded by the Levy to Move Seattle. This is in addition to the hundreds of other curb ramps that are constructed through other projects. See recent examples here

Want to make an ADA request? Submit it through the City of Seattle Customer Service Bureau, by contacting SDOT by phone toll-free at (833) 414-5871, by email or standard mail, or by using the SDOT ADA Request webpage. Accessible format request forms are also available. 

The Transportation Operations Division Signal Shop has been working on a three-year program to install Accessible Pedestrian Signals in Seattle 

Accessible Pedestrian Signals are tactile push-button systems that make it easier for people with visual impairments to navigate intersections. Each push-button has a “locate tone,” which is activated during installation.  The locate tone is an intermittent sound that coincides with the signal phasing and helps people, especially those with vision disabilities, find the button. When the button is initially pushed, it will say “Wait” to let people know that signal has been activated but not to walk.  If the button is pushed and held for 1 second, it will announce the intersection (ex: “Boren Ave and E Jefferson St”).

Once the walk signal is activated, the signal will announce which road is clear for crossing (“Walk sign is on, crossing Boren Ave”).  When the signal starts clearance time—the countdown portion of the pedestrian signal—there is an additional sound to let people know that the signal is about to change to Don’t Walk. These signals allow individuals with visual impairments to have confidence about when crosswalks are safe to enter. 

Accessible pedestrian signal at Rainier Ave S and S Brandon St. Photo Credit: SDOT. 

When the Signal Shop receives the list of community upgrade requests from the ADA Program, they get to work on installing the signals. The program was temporarily put on hold due to limited crew capacity and uncertain funding as a result of COVID-19, but the budget was restored in late 2020. The Signal Shop has been working hard to catch up! The crews are on track to complete the requested list of signals by the end of 2021.  

We have been investing a minimum of $500,000 each year to build accessible pedestrian signals which vibrate and make a noise to let people with limited vision or hearing know when it is safe to cross the street. In total, we have built accessible pedestrian signals in over 100 locations since 2018, and about 22% of the traffic signals in Seattle now have an accessible push button. We recognize that there is still a lot of work to do and plan to continue making this investment to bring this important accessibility upgrade to more locations each year. 

We recently announced our newest pedestrian-first traffic signal policy update, which includes giving people more time to cross the street and creating automatic walk signals at more intersections. However, push buttons still perform a critical function even at intersections with an automatic walk signal. 

The Roadway Structures and Urban Forestry teams partnered to improve and make a bus stop more accessible. 

When tree roots begin to outgrow their city environment, they can crack and eventually lift up concrete panels on the sidewalk. This happened at the bus stop on SW Dawson St and 35th Ave SW, where a root had raised up sidewalk panels. This can cause challenges for people with disabilities to get where they need to go.  

Maintaining the health of street trees in a constrained urban environment is one of many challenges the Urban Forestry team addresses with care and precision. However, we welcome this challenge and it is well worth the extra effort to come up with solutions that benefit everyone. We place great value on maintaining a vibrant and healthy public environment, and the trees you see outside are one critical aspect of this effort. 

Our Urban Forestry team evaluated the tree roots at this bus stop to see if there was any opportunity to ensure both the tree and the sidewalk could be fully intact. After exploring the tree pit and roots, we realized that the tree would have to be removed at this location to ensure bus stop improvements could be made. However, we do have a commitment through the Levy to Move Seattle to plant two new trees if we have to remove a tree due to disease or safety issues. In fact, in 2020 we planted over 380 new trees across the city. 

The Roadway Structures team then created a larger bus pad – a waiting and deboarding area –  which brought the bus stop up to current City standards. Both City and ADA standards evolve over time, so as we renovate or upgrade locations, we meet these standards. 

The improvements create more space for people to wait for the bus and will help limit crowding when people get off the bus. This additional space is especially important to have during the COVID-19 pandemic, so that people can maintain a safe distance from one another. The new concrete provides a smoother walking and rolling surface so that people with disabilities will have a more predictable and safe area to maneuver to board the bus. 

On the blog this month: your investment through the Levy to Move Seattle is making city programs, services, and activities accessible to people of all abilities.  

Crews installing a curb ramp in the Madison Park neighborhood in November 2020. Curb ramps are just one way we help ensure all people have safe and easy access to our city’s sidewalks. Photo Credit: Lisa Harrison, SDOT.
Crews installing a curb ramp in the Madison Park neighborhood in November 2020. Curb ramps are just one way we help ensure all people have safe and easy access to our city’s sidewalks. Photo Credit: Lisa Harrison, SDOT. 

Accessibility improvements are a critical way that your tax dollars are improving the lives of everyone in our community through the Levy to Move Seattle.    

We recently published an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Transition Plan Update for the Seattle Public Right-of-Way, referred to as the SDOT ADA Transition Plan Update. This is intended to help us identify and prioritize ongoing accessibility improvements. We’re interested in your feedback on the plan, specifically our plan to make structures work better for people with disabilities.   

This ADA Transition Plan Update will be updated every year, not only because it is required by federal law, but because creating an accessible pedestrian network is our top priority. While we have made progress, we still have a long way to go and we will never fully understand the experience of those with disabilities. We will continue to work with you – our community – to help identify and prioritize improvements where they are needed most.