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Bad Design 101: Seattle Paths

14 December 2011 No Comment

There’s a path that goes all the way around Green Lake in Seattle. Here’s one section of it.

When I first started my walk counter-clockwise around the lake I had no idea that I was walking in the wrong lane. I just walked in my right lane because that’s the American way. Here’s how you’re actually supposed to use the Green Lake path:

I was mistakenly walking in the bike lane. But even if I knew that the lane closest to the lake was for foot traffic, I would have walked on the right side of it, which is wrong. The signs (clearly?) show that I’m supposed to stay on the left side of the inside lane. An unfortunate consequence of these rules is that bikes are only allowed to go counter-clockwise around the lake (I’m sure the clockwise view would be a nice change of pace). None of these rules were intuitive, and seeing the sign again didn’t help. Whenever I left the path to look at the surrounding areas I habitually returned to walking in my right lane when I got back on the path. Furthermore, nobody else seemed to care what the signs said. I saw people walking counter-clockwise in the outside lane and people biking clockwise in the inside lane. In other words, people ignored the rules and did what made sense.

In Wallingford, I saw this path: two lanes (one for pedestrians and one for bikes) but traffic flowed in both directions in each lane.

As I walked along this path towards the University of Washington the lanes split into two separate paths. Here’s a picture of someone running on the bike path.

And here’s a picture of someone biking on the footpath aka sidewalk.

A little bit later the paths merged into a single path again but without any lane markers or signs. Did this path suddenly descend into chaos? Nope. Without any cues people naturally stayed to the right in the direction they were traveling.

The next time I visit Seattle, I’m going to ride a bike clockwise around Green Lake just to see if anybody complains. Who wants to join me?

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