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

The new pedestrian scramble at State and Jackson. Photo by John Greenfield.

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.

Pedestrian scramble at Shibuya Station, Tokyo. Photo by Chensiyuan.

“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.

CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein tests out the new Loop ped scramble. Photo by John Greenfield.

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.)


  • Anonymous

    I have only seen them in West Seattle, and they are indeed a joy to use.

    So is this 34 seconds pedestrians, 34 seconds east west cars, 34 seconds north south cars? That means that you would have to wait up to 68 seconds if you time it badly. That may be hard to swallow for notoriously impatient Chicago commuters.

  • The traditional square crossing remains.

  • I’m not sure what the timing is for east- and westbound traffic. I’ll ask and/or go time it myself this afternoon.

  • CL

    Interesting. I will be curious to see if this means less of the situation where cars are trying to turn while the crosswalks are full of pedestrians, since a lot of the pedestrian traffic probably clears during the pedestrian-only period — sometimes drivers get so frustrated they plow through the crowd, or they get mad if you’re crossing after the main crowd even though it still says “walk.”

  • Are pedestrians blocked from crossing with traffic, and limited to ONLY cross during the scramble, or is the scramble in addition to the other standard phases?

  • Anonymous

    Since this is a test, what will define this test as successful? IN PBL you can measure the change in bicclists and the (relative) change in crashes.
    How about here? What are they measuring?

  • Charlie

    I wonder the same thing. If they can only cross during the scramble, it’s actually not much of a win, because it means the wait to cross the street has gotten a lot longer.

  • Randy Neufeld

    crashes and traffic delay

  • Randy Neufeld

    In addition

  • Randy Neufeld

    All car turns prohibited

  • CL

    Oh I thought that was just during the pedestrian-only period. I didn’t realize that now cars can’t turn at that intersection at all.

  • Adam Herstein

    I was just there. Straight crossing is allowed during the car green phase. I also had to wait two full car cycles (EW, NS, EW, NS, then ped) before I could cross diagonally. I’m not sure this is truly a pedestrian scramble because of this.

  • Yep, that’s how it works. I just posted the signal timing, per CDOT.

  • Nope, since turns are prohibited, drivers would get no benefit if pedestrians were prohibiting from crossing with traffic, so they’re not. This is definitely a win for peds.

  • Adam Herstein

    Did CDOT think that having just three phases (NS, EW, ped) was too bold? As it is currently, it would take me less time to just cross with the green instead of waiting for the diagonal crossing.

  • I just saw a young woman in an SUV, with a small dog in the passenger seat, trying to turn east from State onto Jackson, possibly towards Lake Shore Drive. A traffic aide told her she was not allowed to make the turn, so she drove a bit north of him and attempted to make the turn. He sprinted up to her window and scolded her and she finally gave up and headed north on State. Nice work, Mr. Traffic Aide.

  • Scotto

    Hmmm, I wonder if that young woman and her dog would be driving there if there was congestion pricing in place.

  • Erik Swedlund

    It depends on the timing of when you arrive at the intersection as a pedestrian–perhaps you show up just as the scramble begins, in which case it would be faster.

  • Adam Herstein

    Right, but that only happens 20% of the time.

  • Erik Swedlund

    So it’s a 20% better situation for pedestrians! Imagine when we get these all over the place (the whole length of N Michigan Ave, say?).

  • You have more opportunities to cross than you did before. Say you arrive at the SW corner and you want to head to the NE corner. If it’s a scramble when you get there, you just walk directly. If it’s a N/S or eastbound green, you could cross either N or E, and then the next signal, whether it’s a scramble or a green, will allow you to cross to the NE corner. You can’t lose.

  • Adam Herstein

    Fair enough, but wouldn’t it be even better to have the scramble phase every third phase instead of every fifth?

  • Eric, if they’ll just allow me to walk from the Chicago Cultural Center at the SW corner of Michigan/Randolph to Millennium Park, at the SE corner, without crossing the street three times, as is currently the situation, I’ll be a happy man: http://votewithyourfeetchicago.blogspot.com/2008/08/chicagos-dumbest-intersection.html

  • CL

    Interesting — I wonder if this will increase congestion on Monroe and Michigan as people circle back to Jackson.

  • CL

    But it might make it worse for others if people who show up just after the scramble are confused and keep waiting for the scramble, not realizing that they are actually wasting more time by waiting. Most people won’t know the timing in advance like readers of this blog.

  • That would have been great, but motorists are already getting less time to cross now so, from a political standpoint, maybe it doesn’t make sense to twist the knife too hard on this first attempt at a ped scramble. Perhaps after this succeeds and becomes uncontroversial they’ll attempt a bold scramble at the next location. Hmm… The Bold Scramble – sounds like a Denny’s breakfast item.

  • Good point, but I assume that the novelty of the scramble for the totally uninitiated will make up for minute or so of wasted time. For people who are in the Loop about the scramble concept, there shouldn’t be much of a learning curve.

  • CL

    Also, forcing motorists to wait even longer at an intersection that is connected to Lake Shore Drive seems like it could really back things up at rush hour. Maybe the Bold Scramble should be on one of the streets that doesn’t connect to LSD.

  • You may be right about that CL. Since 6-way intersections seem to be off the table, anyone have any ideas for a good location for The Bold Scramble? Putting it at Michigan/Randolph would be poetic justice for all the hassles that peds currently have to endure to get from the Cultural Center to Millennium Park.

  • Glass half full

    Stop nit picking. You should know by now that change takes time and happens in small steps. If this works, and lots of people express approval, then they have a better chance of convincing decision makers to do it every other, and then every cycle.

    But if they went balls out and something about it didn’t work, it wouldn’t get dialed back, it would just get branded an outright failure and ditched completely. Stop focusing on what you didn’t get and focus on what you did.

  • Erik Swedlund

    Well, I’m definitely for advocating for the most bold change, as Adam is, while understanding the political need to go less bold. Glad to see the experiment started, and hoping for even more bold implementations in the near future!

  • Yeah, I appreciate Adam bringing up the fact that this is not The Bold Scramble, but here at Streetsblog Chicago we try to remember the saying “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

  • Adam Herstein

    I am a proponent of not half-assing things. Still, I think it’s a step in the right direction.

  • Glass Half Full

    Well awesome, get out there and try making something whole-assed and see how “easy” it is. Until then, maybe dial back on the petulant armchair quarterbacking and stop being a sore winner.

  • CL

    Michigan would be a good place. There are so many pedestrians that they really do need more time to cross, and a diagonal crossing would be nice since the street is so wide. It might slow down busses, but if there was just one scramble, the delay wouldn’t be too bad. Also maybe up in the Gold Coast shopping area — people zig zag around going to different stores. (Could be sold as keeping tourists safe, which is one of the city’s top priorities judging from the police presence.)

  • Fantastic. LA actually implemented a pedestrian scramble where pedestrians are banned from crossing at all other times! Ends up being something like 3 minutes of no crossing and then 30 seconds of crossing. Its ridiculous.

  • Sounds like a typical “change pain” in Chicago… people are still turning left on red arrows across the Dearborn PBL!
    Anyway I do have a question, can people riding bikes dismount and walk thru the scramble? Would be nice.

  • Logan Square Driver

    How much noise we drivers make. And we will make noise!

  • Payton Chung

    They should be measuring pedestrians, but don’t do that often enough. The usual measure is to use video to measure near-misses (“conflicts”).

  • Anonymous

    Big agreement on this one. I think Michigan is simply too wide and has too much traffic for a scramble to happen, but there are at least a couple intersections like this one where there is a leg cut off and it really shouldn’t be. Randolph and Wacker (N side) immediately come to mind. There are a bunch of those on the N side of Wacker.

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad to see it’s a nice realistic 35 seconds on the walk phase. One of the articles I read yesterday (not yours, but something you linked, probably trib) said 14 seconds and I was kinda wondering how that could possibly work.

  • Ouch!

  • Sure, I did that about a dozen times today for fun. A couple times I needed to turn south on State from Jackson, so I dismounted and walked around the corner.

  • Sorry LSD, I know this is a great loss for you.

  • Yes, it’s a very generous amount of time for an able-bodied person to cross, and probably sufficient for most people with mobility issues.


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