British Columbia

Why Vancouver still doesn't have a 'scramble' intersection for pedestrians

Vancouver city officials, who prefer the name "all walk," are now finally planning to bring them to two downtown intersections this summer: at Robson and Howe, and Robson and Hornby.

8 years after they were first considered, 2 of the crossings are planned for downtown this summer

Pedestrians cross Cambie Street at Broadway. In 2011, Vancouver city officials said the intersection was one of a dozen being considered for a pedestrian scramble — but it never materialized. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

They're in use in major cities all over the world. Edmonton installed two last year.

But eight years after officials in Vancouver said they were planning to test "pedestrian scrambles" in the city, those on foot still have to cross the road the old-fashioned way.

Pedestrian scrambles — also known as diagonal crossings, exclusive pedestrian intervals or a Barnes dance — are intersections where all vehicle traffic is stopped so pedestrians can cross in any direction at the same time.

Vancouver city officials, who prefer the name "all walk," are now finally planning to bring them to two downtown intersections this summer: at Robson and Howe, and Robson and Hornby.

Pedestrians use the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, Japan. (Sean Pavone/Shutterstock)

According to Winston Chou, manager of traffic and data management at the City of Vancouver, there are several reasons why it has taken so long to bring the scramble to Vancouver:

1. Longer wait for pedestrians

In 2011, one of the intersections that was being considered for a scramble was Main and Hastings. It's the heart of the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, and has been a dangerous area for pedestrians.

But Chou said one of the reasons the scramble hasn't been used there is the fact that it would take longer to get across the street on foot.

"Yes, it does reduce the conflicts when the pedestrians are moving, but they also need to wait longer to cross the street, because they have to wait for the entire cycle," he said.

"That actually adds some inconvenience for pedestrians."

Winston Chou, manager of traffic and data management at the City of Vancouver, says two pedestrian scrambles are coming to downtown Vancouver this summer. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

2. Impact on busy transit routes

Hastings Street serves as a major public transit route — a big consideration in the city's decision-making process — but it pales in comparison to Broadway and the ever-popular No. 99 B-Line bus route.

In 2011, Broadway and Cambie was another intersection being considered for a scramble, but according to Chou, it would have too great an impact on public transit.

He said after the planned SkyTrain subway project underneath Broadway is complete, a number of changes along the busy thoroughfare would be reconsidered, and the scramble could be back on the table for some intersections.

3. Not suitable for arterial routes

"It's really more of a pedestrian safety improvement ... giving them that that phase in the signal cycle where there aren't any other conflicts," said Chou, adding that, in principle, the scramble doesn't usually make the entire traffic cycle at an intersection quicker.

"It comes at a tradeoff," he said.

Chou said slowing things down can improve an area's livability, as well as road safety, but when you're dealing with an arterial route with heavy public transit and trucking traffic, it's not seen as desirable.

Robson and Hornby is one of two intersections where Vancouver city planners will create a scramble crossing, expected sometime this summer. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

4. Focus on other pedestrian safety issues

Chou isn't willing to chalk up the eight-year delay to bureaucratic gears grinding slowly.

He said transportation planners have been busy working on other pedestrian safety measures around the city and the scramble has been a tool that just hasn't been required yet.

For example, Chou said at Main and Hastings, improvements have been made.

"We've made changes to that intersection — adding in additional walk time for pedestrians [and] left-turn phasing to reduce the conflicts and clear left-turning vehicles," he said.

5. Finding suitable intersections 

Chou said many Vancouver intersections have been considered for scrambles, but they've been ruled out — some for the above reasons. But now the time is right to try a couple out.

He said with city council deciding to keep a block of Robson Street car-free, there's an opportunity to extend the pedestrian zone with two "all walks."

Both selected intersections are T-shaped with a one-way street. They're in a pedestrian-heavy part of the city, and they have few signal phases.

Chou said pedestrians can expect to give the scrambles a try as soon as July.


Is there more to this story? Email rafferty.baker@cbc.ca

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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker

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