In a unique attempt to bring order to chaos, a small private group made a change to improve pedestrian safety in Seattle.
What happened in Seattle was fairly simple. After a privately-owned hardware store sustained damage in a fire, the Seattle Fire Department posted an emergency notice and fenced in the property, blocking the sidewalk. Because the Seattle Department of Transportation does not bear responsibility for emergency sidewalk closures, pedestrians (mainly students walking to and from school) had to walk in the street for days, endangering their safety.
A group of concerned citizens, calling themselves the “Seattle Department of Transformation,” took matters into its own hands and moved the orange bollards out from the curb into the street and put up makeshift walk signs, creating a 5-foot walkway. Now the pedestrians can walk inside a fenced-in area.
Responses to the Move
While many civilians appear to be applauding the work of the "Transformation Department", others are concerned.
- Those supporting the action seem to view it as a citizen's right and obligation when facing problems in their neighborhood to try to take action.
- Others view it as a vigilante effort and feel these types of issues should be left to the officials.
- Officials have stated that interfering with or in any way modifying traffic controls or street signs is illegal.
In Seattle, pedestrians must use "due care" to ensure their own safety. This includes walking on the sidewalks. However, sometimes sidewalks are unavailable, or in this case, blocked, and pedestrians must walk in the street.
This can be dangerous in and of itself, but when the pedestrians are children or teenagers, especially on busy roads, some believe that promoting and ensuring a safe environment trumps the law's demands and the practical needs of the Department of Transportation to limit its level of responsibility.
Who is responsible?
In this particular instance, the law is clear that the owner of the property abutting the sidewalk is responsible for maintaining the sidewalk. However, in this particular instance, the owner has already demonstrated a lack of commitment to property maintenance. In the event that someone had suffered harm walking in the street because of the closure, that property owner might have been liable for damages in a claim or lawsuit.