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Pedestrians Learn to Scramble at Yonge & Dundas

Posted by Roger Cullman / August 28, 2008

Pedestrians Scramble at Yonge & Dundas Intersection in TorontoPedestrians in Toronto have a new way to cross the street at Yonge and Dundas. So now you can go from the AMC Movie Theatre to the Toronto Eaton Centre without having to wait at the corner by Forever 21.

The city's new Pedestrian Priority Phase crossing, unveiled this morning, enables people to get across the intersection in all directions, including diagonally. Also known as a Scramble Phase crossing, this method of crossing a busy intersection is already popular in many cities around the world including Tokyo, Japan and Aukland, New Zealand.

"We think it's a great idea because this intersection sees 100,000 pedestrians a day," said councillor Kyle Rae, who was on hand to help launch the initiative this morning, along with councillor Glenn De Baermaeker, who is also the head of the city works department.

"There is so much activity at this intersection," said De Baermaeker. "This will increase effectiveness and give a greater priority to pedestrians. It will make crossing the street faster, more efficient and safer for pedestrians."

How will Toronto pedestrians, cyclists and motorists take to the new signals? Continue reading for more photos and reactions to the new scramble crossing....

Pedestrians Scramble at Yonge & Dundas Intersection in TorontoNoticeably missing in the intersection were lines that indicate crossing is possible in both diagonal directions. It looked like they were going to paint lines right across but stopped about six feet in.

Gary Welsh, general manager of the city's transportation services, said that they will monitor the operation and may still extend lines right across the road. There were traffic assistants on hand to initially provide help to pedestrians crossing through the intersection.

"I've seen this before in Washington, DC 15 to 20 years ago," said Harvey Goldenberg, a pedestrian about to cross the intersection. After crossing he observed, "Crisscrossing diagonally both ways, somebody's got to give way or they'll collide.

Goldenberg also thought this may pose a challenge for cyclists and drivers. "There's too many lights for a driver to look at. There's already too many lights to begin with at this intersection with all the flashing ads."

Katie Switzer, 18, crosses the new scramble intersection at Yonge and Dundas in TorontoKatie Switzer, 18 (pictured above) thinks it's great for pedestrians. "It's crazy, but it's awesome. It reminds me of some parts of Paris or New York, where people are just walking everywhere."

"I think it's good because you don't have to waste your time crossing twice," said Michael Maier, 26, who is visiting Toronto from Munich, Germany.

But not every change of signal allows people the chance to cross this way.

The intersection alternates between regular signals and Pedestrian Priority Phase, or exclusive pedestrian phase. When Pedestrian Priority Phase is in effect, a red light is shown for all vehicles while the walk display is shown in all directions, including diagonally.

So you may have to wait for the light to change once anyway if you want to walk across the intersection diagonally. So much for saving a minute.

Priority Crossing sign at the new scramble pedestrian crossing at Yonge and Dundas in Toronto"What difference will one minute really make in your life," asked Uliana Edelman, 19.

Edelman just crossed the intersection diagonally with a fellow Ryerson University fourth year engineering student, Zo Khan, 21.

"I think it's stupid because it's not busy enough for a crisscross and it's worse for traffic," said Khan. "It's definitely better for pedestrians, but it's not needed. It might save you a minute."

Matthew Blackett sits on the 14-member Toronto Pedestrian Committee, which gave its approval and feedback to the initiative. "This is one of the few unique places in Toronto where pedestrians are number one," said Blackett. "Altough there's also an additional 28 seconds for cars, allowing them 80 seconds instead of 60."

Davis McCarroll, 91, gets ready to cross the new scramble pedestrian crossing at Yonge and Dundas in TorontoPerhaps the biggest challenge was for the visually impaired. I observed an elderly man with a cane, aided by a woman, look around in confusion as people scrambled across the intersection in all directions.

"We waited and crossed the old way because it was easier," said Willa Lee, who helped partially sighted Davis McCarroll, 91 (pictured above) cross the street. "Once you get the rhythm of it, it makes sense, but I didn't want to take the chance."

They probably didn't hear the accessible pedestrian signals' voice say, "Walk sign is on for all crossing. Walk sign is on for all crossing." It's no surprise that it was drowned out by the cacophony of street noise.

Scramble pedestrian crossing at Yonge and Dundas in TorontoI asked P.C. Mig Roberts of traffic services if he thought this new initiative was a success so far. He paused and hesitated before answering. "Any time the city can do something to enhance public or pedestrian safety, it's a step in the right direction."

This type of crossing was once known as a Barnes Dance intersection, named after Henry Barnes, a prominent traffic engineer, who was credited as the first to use this system in the United States in cities such as Kansas City, Denver, Baltimore and New York City.

The phrase Barnes Dance came into play after a newspaper article that stated "Barnes made the people so happy they're dancing in the streets." Other U.S. cities have followed suit, including San Francisco, Beverly Hills and Miami.

Here's a look at a scramble crossing in Shibuya, Tokyo:

Toronto has plans to implement this type of pedestrian crossing in intersections at Yonge & Bloor, Bay & Bloor and Bay & Dundas.

What do you think of the new scramble crossing? Does it improve the intersection? Does it confuse you? Do you think it's good for Toronto?

Photos by Roger Cullman.



jack / August 28, 2008 at 08:50 pm
gosh, please don't paint a line there...this is going to make torontonians look like a retard..what is so complicated? Pedestrians are already jay walking everywhere downtown.. this is just like a legal jay walking..please don't paint a line, we are going to be a laughing target
Jerrold / August 28, 2008 at 08:53 pm
I think the paint job should suffice as is:
J-rock / August 28, 2008 at 09:26 pm
I feel zero sympathy for the whining drivers. One day North Americans will get the message that cities are for people first, not cars. This is a good move by Toronto.

That crossing in Shibuya, right outside the Hachiko exit at the station, is one of my favourite places on Earth. I used to go there with friends and a couple beers, just watch people, and have the absolute best time.
guy lafleur / August 28, 2008 at 09:42 pm
traffic issues would be more of a problem on other intersections...yonge & dundas was always molasses for driving, you expect for a loooong wait, whether you're on yonge or dundas, when you come anywhere near this intersection...anyone who drives around the city knows to avoid it, so making the wait a bit longer isnt a huge hit
John Lawrence / August 28, 2008 at 09:57 pm
I would like to see what they have in Las Vegas along the strip. The sidewalks can NOT enter the intersections. They are diverted up along catwalks along the casinos, in this case it would be storefronts. There is ZERO danger to pedestrians from vehicular traffic, and the vehicles emit less carbon (God, I am soooo sick of carbon talk, lol) so it pleases the Suzuki-ites, too. Everyone wins. In the case of disabled persons, there are elevators for the handicapped.
Pasquale / August 28, 2008 at 09:59 pm
There shouldn't be much concern over what the cyclists will do. Many of them have no regard for traffic signals anyway; whizzing past red lights when pedestrians try to cross, ignorant that a collision may occur this way.

This is why I dismiss any complaint cyclists have against cars - they cannot see that they are hypocrites.
Kevin / August 28, 2008 at 10:01 pm
It was actually kind of fun crossing diagonally for the first time. When I first got there though it was kind of confusing trying to find which stoplight I had to watch if I could cross or not though, since theres so many of them now on top of all the other distractions at Yonge and Dundas.
Dave / August 28, 2008 at 10:27 pm
Wouldn't it make sense to start allowing right turns at this intersection now?

Since pedestrians are now crossing during their own part of the cycle, it shouldn't slow down traffic to allow it...
Carsten Nielsen / August 28, 2008 at 10:34 pm
Barrie has had an intersection like this for years at Dunlop & Bayfield.
Jerrold / August 28, 2008 at 10:45 pm
@ Dave

It would make sense to allow right turns, except in this case pedestrians are allowed to cross as usual during vehicle phases.

A better way to do it may be:
- all cars on one road advance (and no pedestrians cross)
- all cars on the other road advance (and no pedestrians cross)
- all pedestrians advance (and no cars move)
- repeat

This is how the Shibuya crossing works (seen in the video above).
Heather / August 29, 2008 at 12:03 am
@Jerrold - that's exactly the way I've seen it done in every other city I've been to with scramble crossing.

These past few months I've been trying to figure out how in the hell people were finding this confusing. Wait, wait, cross.

Now I see. w.t.f.
Chris / August 29, 2008 at 12:58 am
Wow look at that Tokyo intersection, that's crazy. I'd be scared if I saw that many people anywhere in Toronto.
Miguel / August 29, 2008 at 01:10 am
I think this is a great idea! I'm gonna go visit this intersection over the weekend! I lived in New Zealand and remember thinking that the all-way crossing was the best idea in the world! In fact, it was part of my top 10 things to bring back to North America. One down... now if we could only have half flush toilets...
Equalize101 / August 29, 2008 at 03:05 am
This is just a useless novelty that's it--how much money did the city waste on this...to solve a problem that doesn't exist? It was something different for the first 20 seconds to walk across but that's it. Call me when we start implementing ROUNDABOUTS. I feel for drivers because I used to be one too. After I saw the implementation of roundabouts in parts of Europe, Toronto and GTA look like sadistic SOBs (who don't know better) with the way stop signs and stoplights are implemented.
ene / August 29, 2008 at 05:51 am
Finally in Toronto!!!
I used to scramble every day in a small city named Tallinn, Estonia (then part of the Soviet Union)! This - about 30 years ago!!!
mmmmmmmmmmmmm / August 29, 2008 at 05:58 am
This is great great great for Toronto! :)
Feldwebel Wolfenstool / August 29, 2008 at 08:34 am
Those Tokyo Joes remind me of ANTS.
Ryan L. / August 29, 2008 at 09:32 am
""I think it's stupid because it's not busy enough for a crisscross and it's worse for traffic," said Khan. "It's definitely better for pedestrians, but it's not needed. It might save you a minute.""

The thing is, it's not just about saving pedestrians time. If that were the only reason behind it, it wouldn't have been built in the first place. It's about congestion at the corners and congestion on the cross across the street.

During busier times, a pedestrian will often end up outside the parallel lines due to the congestion, which, obviously, isn't exactly safe.

The northwest corner seems to be particularly problematic. The sidewalks there aren't designed for the traffic they get and I imagine most of the traffic is people waiting in between their trek to and from the NE and SW corners.
Heather / August 29, 2008 at 09:45 am
@Miguel Yeah! You've made my morning.

Really, it's hard to find people that appreciate (or understand) my enthusiasm for the half flush.
grumpy walker / August 29, 2008 at 10:00 am
people in this city don't know how to walk on sidewalks or cross a street as is, and this will just further confuse people... there's just going to be more people cutting each other off and shouldering one another.
Diane / August 29, 2008 at 10:07 am
I'll reserve judgment until I see how well this works.

If it does work, then I nominate Bay/Front for the next one.
Tracer / August 29, 2008 at 10:11 am
I walk, drive and bike in this city.
The one issue I have with this setup is that regular crossing is still around for green lights. Pedestrians should only be allowed during their turn and then the right turn restriction would be removed. That's the point of this. To allow cars to turn right without waiting for people to cross. That's how it will be at the other intersections.

@Pasquale and
@grumpy walker: thank you for stereotyping
bumdarts / August 29, 2008 at 10:30 am
Yeah honestly Front street needs these around Union just for the rush hours

Also, it's very easy as someone who lives downtown to act like you have no sympathy for drivers, that Toronto 'should be pedestrians first', ect. But hell, what is anyone really doing to offer an alternative to driving? Raising TTC fairs? Taking away parking for their cars? Offering a train that's more late than it is on time? Help the drivers out, give them REAL cost effective and convenient alternatives, and then we might get somewhere. Unfortunately the city just doesn't seem to get that.
Paulo / August 29, 2008 at 10:48 am

It's not a useless novelty.

At times there are so many people bunching up to cross at that intersection that you can get pushed onto the street. It's dangerous, and that's why this was done -- to move more people faster.

I've read that 100,000 people use that intersection everyday...crazy!
janie jones / August 29, 2008 at 11:01 am
I will enjoy not having to wait at the intersection in front of Forever 21 with that fellow who bellows out "Praise Jesus" unpredictably.
jack / August 29, 2008 at 11:17 am
the sad thing about this is Canadians are always followers
jack / August 29, 2008 at 11:19 am
lol@ seeing a lot of people.. you can afford better infrastructure when you see a lot of people.. more people paying tax!
Roger / August 29, 2008 at 11:32 am
It's interesting to hear so many viewpoints on this.

@ Pasquale: "There shouldn't be much concern over what the cyclists will do. Many of them have no regard for traffic signals anyway; whizzing past red lights when pedestrians try to cross, ignorant that a collision may occur this way."

It would be almost suicidal for a cyclist to attempt to whizz through this intersection when the scramble phase is on. Did you see the cyclist attempt to clear the intersection in the Shibuya video?

If I were on my bike, I'd get off and walk it across, for fear of crashing into a pedestrian or three.
BP / August 29, 2008 at 11:36 am
It's great! Hope it stays...
John / August 29, 2008 at 11:50 am
Katie Switzer is beautiful
grumpywalker / August 29, 2008 at 11:51 am

not stereotyping, just observing from my experience their yesterday... & walking is not really hard a concept, yet many people seem to have trouble getting it down...
lister / August 29, 2008 at 01:00 pm
Figures that the powers that be would screw up something like this too. Wait, wait, cross allowing right turns makes far more sense. Not that I, as an occasional driver (though far more frequently a pedestrian) would ever go near that intersection with my car.
Imelda / August 29, 2008 at 01:15 pm
Great to see Toronto moving forward. Planners forecast an increase in pedestrian traffic, and pedestrians are allowed to roam the streets again. Definitely a right step in increasing the ease and fluidity to walking Toronto's streets! :) And yes, this kind of crosswalk exists *outside of Toronto.... Toronto needs to get off its high horse, we're far behind in many areas like urban greening and increasing urban population density.
Johnny Toronto / August 29, 2008 at 01:33 pm
What a disaster this has been for the 505 Dundas St. streetcar. At the evening rush hour Dundas became a parking lot because of the scramble signaling. Eastbound traffic was backed up from University to Yonge. It took about 5 minutes for the streetcar to make it the length of a short block from Victoria to Yonge St. Whereas you normally have about 20 people waiting to get onto the westbound streetcar you had 3 times as much yesterday. Roads are meant to move all citizens not just pedestrians. Pedestrians have had a minor boost in travel time whereas cars and transit have had a major setback in travel time. On top of this these quicker moving pedestrians are now forced to breath more polluted air from all the idling vehicles. What a stupid idea from a stupid mayor and his idiot councilors. I can't wait until they get rid of this scrambled experiment.
O. Terry / August 29, 2008 at 01:41 pm
I think this is a great idea and a step in the right direction but obviously it might need to be modified as it gets it's first run-through. We shouldn't give up on trying to make make the downtown area more pedestrian friendly.
Jeevan / August 29, 2008 at 02:05 pm
Scramble crossing isn't complicated but if that many people cross then it's scary (Tokyo)
Ryan L. / August 29, 2008 at 02:23 pm
bumdarts, I honestly don't think the city will ever be able to provide something that will get some people out of their cars. It's a convenience that spoils most people. Despite seeing so many people 'claim' that they both drive AND walk, I know this simply isn't the case. 'Drive and walk when driving becomes a nuisance' is more accurate. It won't matter how much we spend on public transit infrastructure, as long as it remains convenient to drive, thats exactly what people will do.

Cost also -never- factors into it. People complain about the rising ticket prices for the TTC while at the same time paying insurance, payments on the vehicle, increasingly more on gas, maitenance, parking, etc. If cost was a factor, then you wouldn't be driving.
lister / August 29, 2008 at 02:35 pm
@ Ryan L.
"Despite seeing so many people 'claim' that they both drive AND walk, I know this simply isn't the case. 'Drive and walk when driving becomes a nuisance' is more accurate."

Can this be rephrased so it's better understood?

Are you saying that people don't both drive and walk downtown? Obviously not at the same time. My primary downtown transportation is walking but I also drive, TTC, bike, rollerblade and unfortunately the odd cab ride. Quite frankly, people that only do one form of transportation have worthless opinions on transportation issues, in my opinion, as they generally will favour their method of transportation and not consider others.
kisa / August 29, 2008 at 06:00 pm
they need to have only one pedestrian crossing period (the scramble) rather than three and it would work fine.. but yes, the backup was awful. i was on my bike so i went through the traffic fine (and yes, i obey red lights! i would be crazy not to there, seeing as there were two police officers per corner!) ;_;
Roger / August 29, 2008 at 06:56 pm
If you want to follow a slightly different discussion, head over to <a href="http://spacing.ca/wire/2008/08/28/ready-set-scramble/"; target="_blank">Spacing Wire</a> to see more coverage and opinion.

And be sure to also check out some <a href="http://spacing.ca/wire/2008/08/29/pedestrian-scramble-time-lapse/#comments";>awesome time-lapse photography</a> by <a href="http://wvs.topleftpixel.com/"; target="_blank">Sam Javanrouh</a>.
Roger / August 29, 2008 at 07:09 pm
Also worthy of note is <a href="http://www.thestar.com/News/article/487045"; target="_blank">The Toronto Star</a> coverage, which includes a short video.
aeiou / August 29, 2008 at 07:53 pm
@ Jeevan

I was in Tokyo for the better part of this month (August) and spent a good deal of time in Shibuya-ku. I made use of Shibuya Crossing several times during my stay and it wasn't scary at all. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Tokyo, the experience in Shibuya-ku is quite amazing.
Kenny / August 29, 2008 at 09:54 pm
I love how in pic #5 you have a visually impaired dude and 2 hotties in tight/short skirts on the scramble crossing... kinda funny is all.

Anyway, people are stupid, drivers are stupid, it'll be confusing and panicky for a while, but hopefully the scramble walk will be permanent and eventually gotten used to.
aurifex / August 31, 2008 at 11:57 am
Toronto City Council obviously missed a golden opportunity here: it's not Dundas + Yonge that needs to be pedestrian friendly, -- it is YONGE STREET that needs to be a pedestrian zone, from Yorkville to the lake. Europe is light years ahead of us!

Funnygirl / September 20, 2008 at 10:47 am
The voice at this scramble crossing sounds like " Walk like a dog for all crossing!" Finally my girlfriends and I have figured it out! "Walk sign is ON for all crossing" :P :P
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