Seattle Study: Pedestrians Linger on Sidewalks, But Rarely Sit Down

Photo:  Seattle DOT
Photo: Seattle DOT

Take a seat — no, really.

A new study from the Seattle Department of Transportation shows that the vast majority of sidewalk users do not take advantage of city-provided seating, preferring standing (61 percent) or simply leaning on walls or using makeshift chairs (11 percent).

“Surveyors found that only one-in-four people who hung out on public sidewalks actually sat in seating provided either for the public or restaurant patrons,” Seattle DOT noted, adding that the agency is not sure whether pedestrians prefer to stand or simply whether there’s just not enough seating available.

That’s just the top line in a curious report that shows pedestrian behavior on sidewalks includes much more than merely getting from Point A to Point B. At least in Seattle, walkers engage in a surprisingly varied range behavior — social, commercial, and resting — on the city’s sidewalks.

Among the other findings:

  • About 10 percent of sidewalk users linger for a relatively long period of time — either to wait for transit or to check their phones. These are the people who are rarely using street furniture.
  • The sidewalk is a great meeting place. Of the people who stopped and lingered, the largest group — 56 percent — were either in a group or one-on-one conversation.
  • About a quarter of the lingerers were participating in commercial activity, like waiting line at a food vendor or dining in an outdoor cafe setting. It’s a reminder to businesses that customers are literally right outside the door, but also a reminder that city DOTs play an important role in stimulating commerce: “This really shows the importance of sidewalks and public spaces that facilitate these types of neighboring businesses,” the agency said. “#ShopLocal.”

The study is the result of volunteers watching people’s behaviors on sidewalks on “108 block faces across 38 Seattle neighborhoods” at all different times of day and week.

Seattle DOT plans to use the information to help make the city’s public spaces engaging and help support local businesses, “possibly leading to more seating, larger spaces to congregate, or working with an adjacent landowner to engage with the street more,” the agency reports.

Or not.

“We can identify areas where public seating is woefully needed, and yes, we can rule out placing additional seating in places where people just aren’t down for relaxing on public seats,” the agency added.

10 thoughts on Seattle Study: Pedestrians Linger on Sidewalks, But Rarely Sit Down

  1. Would this be an argument towards having some parklets to be used only for restaurants? In SF, all parklets must be public, which is great if you order food to go or just want to sit. However, I sometimes want to sit and be served by a waiter… or sip a glass of wine… something that’s not allowed in SF parklets it seems. Contrast that with downtown Mountain View, where restaurants can serve you outside on tables across the sidewalk in the parking area defined roughly by width of their space.

  2. I never understand the reasoning behind bench placement along streets. I assume its spacing, but rarely is context taking into account. Nobody wants to sit on a bench and stare at a storefront that doesn’t have a steady flow of people entering and exiting. People like to people watch. that being said, more benches need to be double-facing. I’d much rather have benches abutting storefronts and face the street so (1) I have more of a subconscious sense of security as nobody can sneak up from behind and (2) I have more to look at: I can look across the street, up and down it, and into the storefronts across the street.

    TLDR: Stop making benches face the sidewalk with their backs to the street.

  3. “Walkers engage in a surprisingly varied range behavior — social, commercial, and resting…” Thanks for raising this point. Our streets should support a wide range of activities.

  4. I am pretty hesitant to use most public sidewalk seating. Sometimes I’ll find something that feels both clean enough and obscured enough so it doesn’t feel like you are on some sort of candid camera sketch. Otherwise, I’d rather stand somewhere. Sitting on a major street leaves me feeling pretty exposed!

  5. Agreed. And for the love if all that is good, stop installing benches on the curb edge that face out on to parked cars & traffic!

  6. Unless your buses come every 5 minutes, a lack of benches at bus stops will discourage transit use. And there are people who find it difficult to stand or walk for a long time without stopping to sit and rest. To them, frequent benches are absolutely essential. Benches are a key part of “Wellness Walkways” in Vancouver, BC. Episode 198

  7. I don’t know about Seattle, but in Minneapolis the public benches along busy corridors are 3 feet away from the curb at most, facing traffic. They are very uncomfortable to use for that reason. Who wants to sit that close to speeding traffic? I’d be more likely to use them if they were farther from traffic, and oriented toward the sidewalk, or, where space allowed, in pairs oriented perpendicular to the street in pairs, facing each other.

  8. You don’t think there should be a balance of public ones and ones where I can sip a glass of wine outside?

  9. I remember the moment when I lost my position several months back from my company in which I have given a lot of time and hardwork. I was at no time into business like get wealthy “overnight” which soon after end up being an online marketing methods where you really should firstly get very interested clients after which sell a product to friends and family or anyone to make sure that they will be in your network. This on-line work has given me liberty to work-from-home and nowadays I am able to spend valuable time with my wife and children and get enough free time to go out on a family holidays. This job has provided me an opportunity to obtain salary almost $19,000-$20,000 each month by doing very easy web job. Go and take a look at the most impressive work opportunity.>>>>>>>>>>>>>

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