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X Marks the Spot: A Pedestrian Scramble Debuts at State and Jackson

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When I visited Tokyo a few years ago, one my favorite aspects of the city was the "pedestrian scramble" intersections I encountered in the bustling Shinjuku and Shibuya neighborhoods. When the all-way walk signals activated, it was a thrill to see all motorized traffic come to a halt while what seemed like thousands of peds flooded the intersection. It seemed to send a message that people on foot are just as important as people in cars.

I got that same feeling of happiness this morning during the launch of an all-way pedestrian crossing pilot downtown at State and Jackson. On a typical weekday, the intersection, the site of DePaul’s Loop campus and John Marshall Law School and an important commuting crossroads, sees 41,600 pedestrians crossings but only 20,500 vehicle crossings, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. It certainly makes sense to reconfigure the junction to prioritize foot traffic.

800px-1_shibuya_crossing_2012

“This new all-way crossing will improve the pedestrian environment and vehicular timing at this very busy downtown intersection,” said CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein. “Chicagoans and visitors will be able to cross on foot more quickly and safely while all vehicular traffic is stopped. This is part of our strategy to eliminate as many conflicts as possible for everyone's safety and enhanced vehicle throughput as well; a win-win."

As part of the project, the intersection received high-visibility, zebra-stripe crosswalks on all four legs, as well as X-shaped diagonal crosswalks, plus diagonal-facing walk signals. To prevent conflicts, all vehicles are prohibited from making turns, at all times. Accordingly, the CTA’s northbound #151 Sheridan and eastbound #130 Museum Campus buses will alter their routes to eliminate turns at this intersection.

During the pedestrian scramble phase, all vehicles, including bicycles, are stopped for 35 seconds. The timing is designed for maximum synchronization with traffic signals at nearby intersections, according to CDOT. To help pedestrians, motorists and cyclists navigate the new configuration, traffic control aides will be stationed at State and Jackson for at least a week, Klein said.

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The commissioner said that if this pilot proves successful, similar treatments might work at many other Chicago intersections. However, while many people have proposed implementing scrambles at bustling, chaotic six-way intersections like North/Damen/Milwaukee in Wicker Park, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. “I’m not sure something like this would work for that, because you have so many incoming lanes of traffic,” he said. “However, reducing the number of turns may be something that we’ll learn from this that we could apply to some of these complicated intersections.”

When he was transportation chief for Washington, D.C., Klein created a popular pedestrian scramble at 7th and H streets in Chinatown. He predicted the new State and Jackson layout will also be a hit. “I think people will come downtown just to [use] it,” he said, adding that the new setup will benefit all road users. “By crossing diagonally, we won’t have people crossing and waiting and crossing and waiting, so the pedestrians will enjoy the increased efficiency, being able to get to their destination faster, and then they won’t be clogging up the cars as much as well.”

It was definitely a hoot to be one of the first Chicagoans to march diagonally across the intersection. Building maintenance worker Howard Reid told me he felt the same. “It made me think I’m somewhere else, like in New York,” he said. “I’ve seen them doing it in Times Square. I’d seen it on the news earlier, and wanted to try it out. So I went to the corner and crossed that way and that way [points to the two diagonal routes]. I crossed three times already, just for the fun of it. It felt really good.”

Update 3:15 p.m. Friday 5/31: Per CDOT, here is the timing for the different cycles:

The all-way pedestrian crossing signal timing at State and Jackson has three cycles with the following movements and times allowed during each cycle:

Cycle 1:

1. North-south traffic on State has the green light. North-south pedestrians can cross Jackson.
Green = 27 sec.
Yellow = 3 sec.
All red = 2 sec.

2. Eastbound traffic on Jackson has the green light. East-west pedestrians cross State.
Green = 30 sec.
Yellow = 3 sec.
All red = 2 sec.

Cycle 2 (same as cycle 1):

1. North-south traffic on State has the green light. North-south pedestrians can cross Jackson.
Green = 23 sec.
Yellow = 3 sec.
All red = 2 sec.

2. Eastbound traffic on Jackson has the green light. East-west pedestrians cross State.
Green = 15 sec.
Yellow = 3 sec.
All red = 2 sec.

Cycle 3:

Pedestrians cross north-south, east-west and diagonally.  Motor vehicles and bikes stop during this cycle.
Pedestrian crossing time = 35 sec.  (walk = 8 sec.,  flashing don't walk = 24 sec., all red = 3 sec.)

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