A scramble intersection is a pedestrian crossing at which all motor vehicle (including bicycles) stops and permits pedestrians to cross the intersection in all directions at the same time.
It has been used in the Canada and the U.S. since the late 1940’s.
In the United Kingdom it is referred to as a “X” Crossing. In the U.S. it is referred to as a “Diagonal Crossing”.
It started out in Vancouver’s busiest intersections and has caught on worldwide. Japan has over three hundred (300) of these “Scramble Crossing” intersections, the most famous one found in Shibuya, Tokyo.
In 2008, Toronto finally had the courage to implement a scramble intersection at a very busy intersection at Yonge Street and Dundas Street. The idea spread to intersections located at Bloor Street West and Bay Street and at Bloor and Yonge Streets.
Public works chairman Denzil Minnan-Wong (www.ward34.com) took the first step Wednesday in eliminating Yonge and Dundas scramble intersection.
City Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong ([email protected]) introduced a surprise motion at the public works committee meeting to review the intersection in with a $375,000 consultant’s study of downtown traffic south of Queen St.
Councillors voted 3-2 to give the green light to studying the intersection along with looking for cheap, quick fixes to downtown gridlock.
Minnan-Wong said he drives on Dundas St. through the intersection regularly and feels there is “significant added congestion.”
“The amount of traffic that flows through is cut in half because of the extra cycle that pedestrians receive,” Minnan-Wong told reporters. “Especially during the p.m. rush hour you have cars queuing back all the way to Elizabeth St.
For some pedestrians, the scramble intersection is “liberating.” Most drivers file it under “worst idea ever.”
Of course, it does afford Ken Payne the chance to weigh in on the issue as his SUV crawls along Dundas St. But having the time for an idle chat is one benefit he could live without.
Since the city introduced the scramble intersection at Yonge and Dundas Sts. in 2008, pedestrians have been given an extra chance to cross once a signal cycle, when traffic stops in all directions for about 25 seconds. According to a recent study, average wait time for a green light during for rush hour drivers has nearly tripled since it was introduced. For Payne, that’s approximately four minutes and 8 seconds of very slow driving between Bay and Yonge Sts. on Thursday afternoon.
“It gets worse as the day goes on,” he says.
Until recently, a study co-authored by a city employee deemed the wait acceptable, since 17,000 more pedestrians than vehicles pass through the intersection daily. But earlier this week, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong called for a review, citing the backlog at rush hour.
“Traffic along here is a real challenge. I’m not saying the scramble intersection is the complete problem,” Minnan-Wong says as he walked along Dundas St. on Thursday “Just a moment ago there was Pepsi truck making a drop off, when that happens, you turn a two-lane road into a one-lane. Then you double the time to clear the intersection and it really starts to add up.”
Minnan-Wong says that personally, as a pedestrian, he is used to crossing the street at lights and doesn’t see anything “value added” with the scramble.
“It doesn’t save me a great deal of time, to be able to cross diagonally,” he says.
As he walks toward Bay St., an offer for a free gym membership is shouted in his direction. It is the kind of situation that can be avoided at a scramble intersection, where pedestrians can strategically cross diagonally to avoid the corners where people hand out religious pamphlets, petitions and amazing limited time offers.
In addition to pedestrian safety, the scramble, with its every-which-way walking, also encourages hugs from friends who meet by chance. It is also, as Ryerson student Sunny Nasir noted, more mathematically sound to cross along the hypotenuse.
But with a reputation as one of North America’s worst cities for commuting, policy decisions are not made to increase hug opportunities, decrease awkward exchanges, or use Pythagorean theorem.
While several people spoke of how much fun it was, Minnan-Wong did not comment conclusively on the thrill level of walking diagonally.
“Well, you know, I mean, if, well, I won’t say,” he said before crossing at a normal angle, at a regular intersection, on his way back to city hall.
Steps for pedestrians
Conventional crossing in two parts: 40 steps
The diagonal crossing: 30 steps
Wait times for drivers, 2 p.m.
Driving east along Dundas St.: 4 minutes, 8 seconds from Bay St. to Yonge St.
Driving west along Dundas: 2 minutes, 27 seconds from Victoria St. to Yonge
Driving south along Yonge: 20 seconds, from Gould St. to Dundas
Driving north along Yonge: 1 minute, 25 seconds, from Shuter St. to Dundas.