Image via SDOT
Image via SDOT

Southbound Rainier Avenue between Jackson and Dearborn can be quite a little bottleneck, and hurt reliability for buses headed into the Rainier Valley. Additionally, the pedestrian crossing headed to and from Goodwill is not nearly as safe as it could be.

SDOT is reworking the intersection this spring in an effort to improve the situation for pedestrians and riders. We’ll see new curb ramps and a wider sidewalk, among other pedestrian improvements. For buses, SDOT is planning a unique 24/7 bus-only lane in the center of the roadway. The bus stop itself will move north towards King street to make this possible. Left turns onto Dearborn will be banned, which doesn’t really matter since Dearborn isn’t an arterial East of Rainier and SDOT doesn’t want through traffic going that way anyway.

Expect northbound lane closures on Rainier Avenue between Charles Street and King Street. Construction begins in March.

31 Replies to “Improvements Coming to Rainier and Dearborn”

  1. What is the point of “push button” polls? If you have a walk signal you also have a green light. Does having the walk light come on use that much electricity that they figure adding a push to walk saves money? That’s always been a mystery to me for even the “raison d’etre” of push for walk signals.

    1. It isn’t for electricity – remember the walk signal is always lit either “don’t walk” or “walk” so electricity is always consumed.

      Push button activated walk signals in theory allow for low-volume pedestrian intersections to operate more efficiently by eliminating the pedestrian phase of the light cycle when pedestrians are not crossing. Of course, some recent investigations have discovered that many buttons don’t do anything at all.

      1. Of course, some recent investigations have discovered that many buttons don’t do anything at all.

        I could have told them that.

      2. Maybe this applies occasionally, but where I see push to activate walk signals such as Broadway at East Union St it’s a push to activate walk and I just do not see the purpose at all. The length of time each green for each direction is exactly the same so why make a walk signal optional? One block away at Broadway and East Pike St there is no push to activate the walk signal. I just do not understand what is being “efficencied” by not activating the walk signal.

        As for “dummy” push to walk I’ve wondered about some locations such as East Union St @ 13th Avenue. There’s a push to activate walk but I wonder if it actually works since if there’s any traffic at all on 13th avenue the walk signal will activate when the green light happens. I’m not sure whether pushing the push to walk is the only way that a walk signal will happen. I have a feeling it doesn’t matter since I’ve seen the walk light happen with no traffic at all on 13th Ave.

      1. Yes, but study after study reports pedestrians release huge amounts of dopymine ™ after each good whap on the button. This is good for mental health, NO?

      2. Which based on History means that after a generation or two, lazy arrogant inbred idiots, kept alive by the scheming butt-kissers who run their daily business, and the Rasputins and worse who take attend to matters of State.

        Reason for the American Revolution, and the Constitutional amendment forbidding a title of nobility to any US citizen. Also reason that up to days of constitutional monarch, most common way for a king to die was being poisoned by his brother.

        Yeah- does sound pretty much like the automotive world and the development it gave rise to. Based on our history, time to make salmon reefs out of any of them near the Waterfront. Especially the ones that will turn the new one into a pedestrian and bike friendly parking lot.

        How about…The Seattle Oil and Junk Party!


      3. Jaywalking, especially mid-block, is a lot safer, and easier.

        Kirkland is the place to do it.

    2. I think here the particulars of the light cycle make a button necessary. IIRC the major signal phases are:

      – Green for Rainier in both directions, with left-turn-on-green allowed southbound but not northbound, and after this project not at all.
      – Green for NB Rainier, left turns from NB Rainier, and right turns from EB Dearborn.
      – Green for all vehicle movements from EB Dearborn (which are mostly turns onto Rainier), including a green arrow for the massive right-turn pocket.

      All of these conflict with pedestrians crossing Rainier and vehicle movements on WB Dearborn. So there’s an additional phase for that, which is where pedestrians get a green light. Since traffic on WB Dearborn is light at this intersection, this phase could regularly be skipped if no traffic is detected, so pedestrians need a way to make their presence known.

    3. In other cases the push button serves the same purpose as the underground sensors used to detect cars. For example if you are on 90th and Aurora, you have to push the button (or hope car comes along) if you want to cross the street. Otherwise the light will never change.

      As Al said, it really depends on the intersection. On some streets, the walk signal is tied to the traffic lights, and the traffic lights are timed regardless of traffic. In those cases, there is a walk signal, but no button to push.

      1. Well, there are a bunch of intersections where if there are vehicles waiting but nobody has pushed the walk button, the walk signal isn’t shown even though it’s the right signal phase for it. So if you show up a half-second too late you don’t get a walk signal. Literally every person complicit in the installation of such a signal ought to be hung out the window by their toenails.

        If you know the intersection it’s usually clear when you can go, but in Seattle a lot of the intersections are irregular or very wide and it’s not always clear who has the right-of-way or how much time you have to get across. Sometimes on hills (another thing we have a lot of) the pedestrian caution phase can give climbing cyclists an idea how much time there is to get across, too. At Fremont/39th NB, for example, it’s really easy to enter the intersection while the light is green and not clear it by the time it’s red; the pedestrian caution phase gives you more information, but if nobody’s pressed the button you’re left guessing.

      2. Here in Vancouver they’re improving the beg button operation as quickly as they visit intersections for re-programming. Now, at least at the revamped intersections, if a pedestrian comes to the intersection, bangs the beg button to cross in the direction of an existing green, and there is enough time left on the cycle to run the Walk cycle in parallel, the Walk light will come on.

        That is a huge improvement over the old system when if you pushed it a half second late you were compelled to wait through an entire cycle, including a “green” in your direction. Obviously, if there are only a few seconds left, it doesn’t give you a Walk, but it’s a nice improvement.

      3. @Anandakos. Do you have a link for the Vancouver ped crossing improvements? In Kirkland, we have the type where getting to the intersection a half-second late will cause you to have to wait another whole cycle. I’d love to be able to send the right people a link to explain how it is being done better elsewhere.

        (In reality, the Kirkland-style ped crossing displaces most pedestrian crossings from signalled intersections to the unsignalled intersections where they can just use the crosswalk. But that has its own safety issues).

      4. Why not just show it whenever the corresponding signal phase is active? I think this earns the Vancouver planners the privilege of being hung by their fingernails instead of their toenails, but that’s about it.

        I know this matters to me a lot more than most people because as a long-distance runner I cross far more streets as a pedestrian than most people… but I can’t think of a good reason to ever not show the walk signal.

      5. Al Dimond, for some intersections, the green phase could be shortened if there are no pedestrians waiting. This could be helpful when there is high traffic arterial intersecting a low traffic side street (like this intersection).

        With loop detectors, the signal can figure out when the intersection has been cleared and turn the signal red immediately, before a pedestrian had time to cross.

      6. aw: That’s a reason but it’s far from a good reason. Anyone that would trade so much pedestrian inconvenience for such a small improvement in vehicle throughput should definitely be hung out the window by toenails.

        I’m aware this is common at newer Seattle intersections and it sucks. Why is a city that claims to care about walking and biking to get around, and that can’t possibly jam more cars into many parts of town, emulating the worst exurban nonsense? Because exurbs dominate new street construction and thus define best practices? That’s lazy and stupid and is unjustifiable here.

      7. The pedestrian push button as RossB states acts very similarly to the loop detectors or video detectors for vehicles. Thing is, unless the signal is fully timed (like in the CBD of downtown Seattle) the signal controller has no idea that a pedestrian is intending to cross a given intersection. So…that being said, the activation of the ped call will extend the concurrent green of the parallel vehicular movement for the duration of the pedestrian walk/flashing don’t walk. This is calculated based on MUTCD standards. Last time I heard it is 3 or 4 ft/sec.

        The pedestrian signal call only automatically triggers the signal when it is operating in full-actuation. During peak-periods, when the intersection is trying to balance the needs of cars, transit and pedestrians it is in a timed or semi-actuated function. The activation of the ped call during semi-actuated functionality will provide crossing for the pedestrian and added clearance time for the associated crossing movement (think 85th St and Aurora Ave N).

        If ped calls automatically triggered signals, traffic and transit would be in perpetual gridlock.

      8. A push-button for a walk signal is not inherently a bad thing. Similar to intersections where a car must trigger a sensor to get a green light. Some of the newer push-buttons even have a red light attached to the button that gets lit if a walk phase is pending, due to someone else having already pushed the button. (Thereby, letting you know whether or not it is necessary to push it yourself).

        The problem is that too many signals out there are governed by software that fails to treat people walking and people driving as equals. The standard software allows a walk sign only for the first few seconds after the light in your direction turns green, and if you haven’t pushed the button a few seconds before the green, you have to wait a full cycle of 2 minutes or more. It is even quite to common to see intersections out there where multiple signal phases actually provide a protected path across the street, yet the walk sign is only allowed to come on during one of them.

        In practice, what ends up happening is people who pass through the same intersection regularly learn the signal timings and when it is safe to cross, they will go ahead and cross, regardless of the red hand.

      9. Al,

        When one presses the beg button, it usually extends the cycle. I know that with our wide streets it’s a necessary element of the crossing. At many BIG STREET-little street intersections without the button push there would not be sufficient time to make the crossing, so it would never come on.

        Yes, it’s insulting to “legacy” users of the system (e.g. “walkers”), but that’s the way it is.


        Well, I can give you a link to the Clark County traffic planners. There was no big announcement about it that I know of. It just started happening about two years ago and has spread widely. It seems that most intersections that receive some sort of rebuild get a new signal chest if the existing installation is not new enough to be fully programmable, so the standard is expanding throughout the urban parts of the county. It’s happening in the City of Vancouver, too, but more slowly since they’re not doing as many intersection rebuilds.

        P.S. The link doesn’t really have anything that talks about it either. I think there must be a person in the County DOT who walks a lot, read some technical article describing the necessary changes and then convinced the other people in the department that it was worth doing. Given who runs the county, it’s a surprise that it’s happening, but it’s too many places now to be an accident.

      10. @Anandakos/Dan–

        The beg button “walk” reset also exists in DT Bellevue, at least at some intersections (several along NE 10th come to mind). This is definitely a boon to the four of us who walk in downtown Bellevue and I’ve taken advantage of it many times! I often wonder what the drivers think as we usually use the flashing orange hand as an indicator that the light is about to change…then WHAM! the white walkie guy comes on! Then I realize that when I’m driving through the same intersections I don’t even realize when it happens. Win-win.

        There are several intersections in Seattle that would benefit from this sort of pedestrian time extension. I like the red activation lights at the buttons as well; not sure if this is a requirement of the revised ADA or not and am too lazy to look it up at the moment.

      11. Right, I’m saying every phase that can host a walk signal should always be long enough to allow someone to walk across because that allows the walk signal to be shown. If a pedestrian hit the button and nobody tripped the car sensor until the light had already changed cars would still get a green light in almost every case. Pedestrians should be extended the same courtesy, and shortening signal phases as much as possible is not a good reason to do otherwise.

        You just arrived at an intersection and the light just changed and you didn’t get a walk signal — better look around for some randomly-placed beg button. Maybe it’s behind you. Maybe it’s to the side. Maybe it’s on the other side of the bike lane if you’re on a bus island. And then maybe if you get to it fast enough you’ll get your walk signal, and enough time to cross the street safely. This isn’t a Candid Camera scenario, it’s a real city where real people live! Dedicated to the highest ideal: maxiumum traffic throughput!

        These aren’t actually the ideals of our city — we have stated policies that say otherwise! So how do we get these sorts of things here? Because people don’t ask, “Is this actually in line with our larger goals and policies?” We can’t lose sight of what we’re actually building here. We aren’t building a road fronted entirely by parking lots and giant unusable lawns with fountains in them (see Butterfield Road, Oakbrook Terrace, IL). We’re building and rebuilding a city, a place where people come together.

  2. … and the new ‘No Left Turn’s at Dearborn from Rainier NB help the situation at South Jackson how? Seems like more traffic, along with center running trams and buses will get worse before it gets better with all the hordes switching over to FHSC..

    1. No left turns from southbound Rainier, not northbound. East of Rainier, Dearborn ends in a small residential neighborhood, so there’d be hardly any traffic taking that turn anyway. (What residential traffic there is can turn at Lane, Weller, or Jackson to the north, or Charles to the south.)

  3. So it looks like bus drivers will want to approach this intersection in the left lane, then move to the queue jump only if they’re going to hit a red light. If a bus gets into the queue jump lane, then the light turns green before it’s detected, that’s not so great — the bus has to immediately merge back in since there’s no place to go on the other side of the intersection. This is a common enough situation at queue jumps, and bus drivers have a hard time finding a place to merge back in even on slower streets than Rainier. Regular drivers on the route should get a good enough idea of the light cycle to figure out when to use the lane and when not to.

    Generally this seems pretty reasonable by itself. It raises a few questions, though. There was a Rainier transit improvement project just a couple years ago. Does this idea have any relationship to that work? Was it proposed but dropped for some reason? Was it conceived after evaluating transit performance in the aftermath of that work? And we’re supposed to get bike improvements on Dearborn this year according to the BMP Implementation Plan. Is there any coordination between this project and that effort?

  4. It’s a long circuitous walk from King Street to Dearborn to Goodwill. Does Goodwill have a back entrance from Weller Street?

  5. This seems to make good sense… as long as both SB lanes of Rainier are not regularly backed-up to King St. during peak times. If that is the case, then we’re dealing with the awkward process of getting the bus from the right lane (bus stop) into the new center dedicated lane. At some point, during heavy volumes, cars in lane-2 will have to recognize and yield to the “left turn signal” coming from the bus as it tries to make its way from lane-1 to lane-3 (which is more akin to a CBD situation where busses often have to pull into a lane of standing traffic). And then I’m assuming there will be a separate SB light cycle (quick one) that jumps a bus from the dedicated lane back into the 2 regular SB lanes on Rainier (south of Dearborn). Kind of like the light at Pacific EB to Montlake SB by the UW Hospital. I live in the area… and I completely avoid the SB stretch of Rainier Ave roadway from Jackson to Dearborn.

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