Traffic Signals for People

A group of people crossing the street at a colorful, busy intersection.

7/30/2020 Update

Thanks to advocates like you, the City of Seattle adopted a better traffic signals policy earlier this year — and we’re already seeing improvements for neighborhoods across the city.

The New Policy

When people think about how to make our city more friendly for people to walk and roll, the first things that always come to mind are about allocating more space (i.e., dedicating space for sidewalks). A second dimension is who has privilege to safely and comfortably walk and roll on our streets. The third dimension we need to think about is the dimension of time, which is literally metered out by traffic signals. SDOT has just announced a new policy that will dictate how time is allocated to different people traveling on our streets.

This is the culmination of years of advocacy from pedestrian advocates, aided by a resolution from the City Council, which has resulted in a dramatically improved traffic signals policy. The new signals policy will finally give people walking and rolling enough time to cross the street safely. It will also require all signals inside “urban villages” to automatically give people the walk light so you don’t have to push a button to cross. It also creates limits to how long people will have to wait to cross the street. It isn’t as strong as we were asking for, but it is a big step in the right direction.

The Results So Far

SDOT sent us an update on how implementation is coming along:

  • Enough time to cross: Signals now give more time to cross the street in the Chinatown International District, the University District, Columbia City, Fremont, West Seattle, First Hill, and Green Lake. More are in the works.
  • Wait times: Half of all signals were reduced how long it takes to wait for a walk light during COVID, although disappointingly they say not all may stay as traffic picks back up.
  • Automatic: 67% of signals in Urban Villages now automatically give you the walk light without having to push a button (the goal is 100%).
  • Head start: Signals can be programmed to give people walking a head start before the car light turns green to increase safety. So far 348 signals (about 32% of all signals) give people walking a head start.

What’s Next?

While the new policy is a big step in the right direction it allows a lot of wiggle room when it comes to implementation, so we will be watching closely to make sure it results in better conditions for people walking and rolling. In the future we anticipate the need to strengthen the policy to achieve our city’s goals around safety, climate, health, mobility, and accessibility. Thank you for all your advocacy to make this step in the right direction happen!

All people deserve traffic signals that allow them to walk and roll safely and with dignity.


It’s time to fix traffic signals that…

  1. Don’t give you enough time to cross the street safely
  2. Take forever to give you a walk light to cross
  3. Make you push a button to get a walk light
What signal are we sending people who walk and roll?

What signal are we sending people who walk and roll?