“Pedestrian scrambles” surged in popularity half a century ago. Some places are bringing them back.
In a “pedestrian scramble,” vehicle traffic is stopped and pedestrians can cross the street in any direction. You’re on a busy street corner and you need to get to a destination that’s diagonally across the intersection. You know what you need to do: Wait for the signal, cross one street, wait for the signal to change, and then cross the other street.
But does that make sense in a place where the number of pedestrians outnumber the number of vehicles? City officials in Washington, D.C., don’t think so. That’s why the District recently reconfigured an intersection to give pedestrians a chance to cross whichever streets they’d like — even diagonally. The traffic signal cycle at the intersection now includes a period in which all vehicle traffic is stopped and pedestrians can cross in any direction without worrying about getting hit by a car or truck. The catch is that the walkers then must stop the rest of the time, to let vehicles turn more quickly.
This type of intersection, which is actually the second to be implemented in the District in recent years, has been around for decades. It’s known as a “pedestrian scramble” or a “Barnes dance,” in honor of the transportation director, Henry Barnes, who championed the design in the mid-20th century.