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Signal changes make it safer to walk to and from Light Rail in Rainier Valley

Most of Seattle is still waiting for our signature regional transportation system, Link Light Rail, to reach their neighborhoods, but residents in Rainier Valley and Beacon Hill have been boarding Link daily since 2009.

Unique among all of the present and planned Link routes, the Link route through Rainier Valley runs at grade in the center of MLK Jr. Way, which severely increases the odds that the trains will be involved in collisions with pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers.

Near the start of 2017, there was a collision between a train and pedestrian, killing the pedestrian. In talking to local folks, I found that many people disliked how the pedestrian crossing signals worked at each of the MLK-based stations.

I decided to start digging around.

I reached out to Sound Transit and received no traction. I went to the Beacon Hill Safe Streets (BHSS) Monthly Meeting and we decided to conduct a survey online, with paid advertising, that linked Sound Transit to dangerous conditions on the MLK corridor. We were contacted fairly quickly following this action by Sound Transit, who setup a meeting with us, the operator of Link (King County Metro) and the signal operator (SDOT).

After multiple meetings, and months of follow up, the determination was made that SDOT would at a minimum re-time the signals with a focus on pedestrians being able to access station and cross the street more frequently and with longer walk times (we also learned that SDOT hadn’t revised signal timing since Link first went online in 2009!)

It took well over a year to work out the new timing, but finally in August 2018 we’ve had success!

SDOT has re-timed the entire corridor where Link operates at grade and was able to increase the “walk” and “don’t wal”k phases to make it easier to cross as well as increase opportunities for pedestrians to cross by 30-50% depending on the intersection.

This means longer walk phases coming up more frequently! While there are many other changes that are still needed this was one of the biggest issues expressed; that people simply haven’t been waiting for the walk phases because they weren’t coming up frequently enough, and were even skipped frequently.

We continue working with Sound Transit and SDOT for more changes.

We’re hoping that signage can be changed to be clear and intuitive and that the “train warning signals” can be more informative as well as something that make sense at first glance, and we hope at some point physical crossing gates can be installed to help improve safety for drivers as well who have also died in collisions with Link.

We’ve learned much about how Link is operated, how crash data is stored, and more through this process that will help us better navigate who’s responsible for what in the future as well.

It may seem like a small win, but we’re hopeful that this small win will have big impacts for residents of Beacon Hill and the Rainier Valley.