New ‘Barnes Dance’ tra∞c sig­nal at busy cor­ner fa­vors pedes­tri­ans

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER - BY PERRY STEIN perry.stein@wash­

City plan­ners will in­stall the Dis­trict’s sec­ond traf­fic sig­nal that al­lows pedes­trian cross­ings in ev­ery di­rec­tion, in­clud­ing di­ag­o­nally, next month in Columbia Heights — a move that pri­or­i­tizes pedes­tri­ans over cars in a dense, mul­ti­modal neigh­bor­hood.

The traf­fic sig­nal known as a “Barnes Dance” or “pedes­trian scram­ble” is mak­ing a resur­gence in ur­ban ar­eas across the coun­try as peo­ple ditch cars in fa­vor of walk­ing and cy­cling.

The Columbia Heights Barnes Dance sig­nal — named for the late traf­fic en­gi­neer, Henry Barnes, who was a pro­po­nent of these pedes­trian sig­nals in many U.S. cities — will be in­stalled at the in­ter­sec­tion of 14th and Irv­ing streets NW near the Metro sta­tion.

Plan­ners at the Dis­trict’s Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion said the in­ter­sec­tion is used by about 3,500 pedes­tri­ans and 1,500 ve­hi­cles dur­ing the busiest hour of the af­ter­noon rush on a typ­i­cal day. Ge­orge Branyan, a pedes­trian co­or­di­na­tor at the city’s trans­porta­tion agency, said the city hopes to avoid en­coun­ters be­tween ve­hi­cles and pedes­tri­ans, par­tic­u­larly where cars turn onto 14th Street from one-way, east­bound Irv­ing Street, which has seen col­li­sions in the past.

Branyan said this type of traf­fic sig­nal is op­ti­mal at in­ter­sec­tions where pedes­tri­ans out­num­ber ve­hi­cles. The na­tion’s cap­i­tal cur­rently has one other such sig­nal, at Sev­enth and H streets NW in Chi­na­town.

it means is that pedes­tri­ans get their own time within a traf­fic sig­nal op­er­a­tion to go wher­ever they want in an in­ter­sec­tion,” Branyan said.

These pedes­trian-friendly traf­fic sig­nals be­came pop­u­lar in the United States in the 1940s but fell out of fa­vor as cars be­came more pop­u­lar and fed­eral dis­abil­ity laws be­came more strin­gent. A side­walk must have a ramp at ev­ery di­rec­tion where a pedes­trian can cross, in­clud­ing the di­ag­o­nal an­gle. And an in­ter­sec­tion with a Barnes Dance sig­nal can’t be so long di­ag­o­nally that it would be dif­fi­cult for some­one with dis­abil­i­ties to cross within the al­lot­ted time.

One of the last of these sig­nals in the Dis­trict was re­moved at 14th and G streets NW in the 1980s, said Kather­ine Young­bluth, a strate­gic plan­ner at DDOT. The Chi­na­town sig­nal was in­stalled in 2010.

Now, she said, they are pro­lif­er­at­ing in cities around the world, in­clud­ing Tokyo and San Fran­cisco.

The new Columbia Heights Barnes Dance is part of the city's moveDC plan — a long-term, mul­ti­modal city trans­porta­tion plan launched in 2014.

Branyan and Young­bluth said the city has con­sid­ered in­stalling a Barnes Dance sig­nal at ad­di­tional lo­ca­tions, although of­fi­cials haven’t found other in­ter­sec­tions that meet the cri­te­ria. For in­stance, at Wis­con­sin Av­enue and M Street NW in Ge­orge­town, they de­ter­mined that the side­walks are too small to con­tain crowds that build while wait­ing for the traf­fic sig­nal. A Barnes Dance sig­nal typi“What cally means a longer wait time be­tween walk sig­nals, so more pedes­tri­ans crowd the side­walk.

They also said they con­sid­ered the sig­nal at the bustling in­ter­sec­tion of 14th and U streets NW but found that the di­ag­o­nal cross­walk could be too long a dis­tance for peo­ple with cer­tain dis­abil­i­ties to cross in time.

In Columbia Heights, the new sig­nal will give pedes­tri­ans about 30 sec­onds to cross 14th and Irv­ing streets in any di­rec­tion while all cars are stopped. Young­bluth said the in­ter­sec­tion will have a dif­fer­ent rhythm than pedes­tri­ans and ve­hi­cles are ac­cus­tomed to.

“We will have traf­fic con­trol of­fi­cers out there at the be­gin­ning to try and make sure that ev­ery­one un­der­stands,” she said.

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