What is a Pedestrian Scramble?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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A pedestrian scramble is a form of traffic control in which all oncoming traffic is stopped, allowing pedestrians to cross in any direction. Although it not widely used, there are a few in major cities all over the world, and they can prove highly useful. Before implementing a pedestrian scramble, traffic engineers usually consider the decision carefully, to ensure that it is the best choice for the situation.

Some people call a pedestrian scramble an “exclusive pedestrian phase,” a reference to the fact that the intersection is entirely blocked to traffic so that pedestrians exclusively can use it. It is also called a “Barnes Dance,” in a nod to Henry Barnes, a traffic engineer who popularized the concept. Although Barnes has loaned his name to one of the terms for a scramble crossing, he was not the inventor of the concept. He did contribute numerous other things to traffic engineering, however, including coordinated traffic signals to promote the smoother flow of traffic.

The first pedestrian scrambles were put into action in the 1940s, in Vancouver and Kansas City. Other cities saw the potential application of the concept, and picked it up at pedestrian heavy crossings and in areas where accidents involving pedestrians were common. This type of arrangement can greatly increase safety, although it can lead to inefficiency because of the entirely stopped traffic. Engineers try to balance the need for efficient traffic with a desire for safety when considering a pedestrian scramble.


Since pedestrians can cross in all directions at a pedestrian scramble, diagonal crossing is often permitted. This is usually indicated with diagonal crosswalks which are painted in the roadway, and a sign at the crossing may also indicate that diagonal crossing is allowed. Lights warning pedestrians to exit the road may also have slightly longer lead times, allowing pedestrians to get all the way out of a large intersection before traffic begins again. Some pedestrians are aware of this, and they may take a gamble that they can cross the street before the light changes.

Rural areas are well suited to the installation of a pedestrian scramble, since vehicle traffic may be fairly light. In pedestrian-friendly regions of cities, a pedestrian scramble is also appropriate, since it promotes easy walking around the city, and encourages motorists to park and walk to destinations.


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