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Traffic signals timing
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Pedestrians getting extra time at Seattle traffic signals during shutdown

Pedestrians in downtown Seattle. (SDOT, Flickr Creative Commons)

If you have been driving around Seattle, you might have noticed some changes to timing at traffic signals.

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The City of Seattle has made some changes because there are roughly 60% fewer cars on the streets. To match that lower demand, the city has made some changes to the signal timing.

“Our real focus is making sure that what we’re doing fits the current circumstances,” Seattle Department of Transportation’s Ethan Bergerson said.

What that means for drivers is a little longer wait at some signals because the city wants to give pedestrians less time to wait at the curb, with the goal being to increase social distancing.

“We wanted to make sure that people who were on foot were not grouping up waiting for the green light to come,” Bergerson said. “We didn’t want to create those groups of people who were clumped together at the signal, especially when it wasn’t necessary because there are fewer cars out there.”

Some adaptive traffic signals might actually trigger faster for cars too, since there is less cross-traffic.

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Another thing the city is doing to promote options for walking and biking during the stay-at-home order is to block vehicles from using a small handful of streets. This has happened on two streets in West Seattle and in the Central District, totaling roughly 2.5 miles.

“We don’t have people driving their cars through these streets, so people can get out and stay healthy on a bike or walking or rolling,” Bergerson said. “Of course, the businesses and people who are on that street itself are able to get to their driveways.”

Bergerson said city planners tried to find spots where losing car traffic wouldn’t have a huge impact, and wouldn’t create unnecessary congestion somewhere else. If this project is successful, the city might consider this option long term, even after the stay-at-home order is lifted.

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