VANCOUVER—Call it a tentative step into the future.
At Robson and Hornby Sts. in downtown Vancouver, bright “walking man” symbols lit up not one but two crosswalks at the same time, allowing pedestrians to travel east-west at the same time as pedestrians travelling north-south.
It’s a change for Vancouver, which, before Thursday, had no pedestrian-exclusive crossings in any of its street light cycles.
Revolutionary? Perhaps not. Cities such as Toronto have had the more advanced scramble-walk model for many years. But Vancouverites who used the crosswalk Thursday appreciated the city’s effort to accommodate those on two feet rather than those behind a wheel.
“I like it,” said Landon Lim, who lives downtown and often walks through the intersection. “I’m concerned it could jam it up even more for the cars, but I don’t drive.”
Maros Handzak, who lives in Vancouver but used a scramble crosswalk at Yonge and Dundas Sts. when he lived in Toronto, said the new crosswalk is an “innovative” idea for improving pedestrian safety. “It’s an interesting option, but I don’t know what the statistics would say.”
Here’s how Vancouver’s new pedestrian crosswalk works, what it means for the future of Vancouver intersections, and how it compares to the “scramble” model.
How does the all-walk crossing work?
Normally street lights operate on a cycle, allowing cars and pedestrians to cross the intersection in each direction in succession. They’re designed to give cars and pedestrians enough time to cross without making anyone wait too long. An all-walk simply adds one more step into the cycle: Pedestrians can cross in both directions at the same time, while cars wait.
So is it the same as a scramble walk?
Not quite. A scramble walk allows pedestrians to cross the intersection diagonally. This kind of crosswalk exists in other Canadian cities, including the one near Yonge-Dundas Square, where crowds of basketball fans flooded the intersection in celebration of the Raptors’ first ever NBA Finals win. Pretty cool.
But Vancouver’s all-walk crossing is a bit more orderly. Pedestrians are expected to cross the street within the existing designated crosswalks. To put it in baseball terms: you can walk to first base and second base if you have enough time, but stealing second (crossing diagonally) is not legal.
The city hasn’t ruled out scramble walks in the future, depending on the outcome of the pilot project.
Why is the city changing its crosswalks?
Winston Chou, manager of traffic and data management, said it’s part of a citywide effort to prioritize pedestrian, cycling and transit travel over cars. The idea is that allowing all pedestrians to cross at the same time with no cars going through the intersection is safer and more efficient. The city will be monitoring the intersection over the summer to see whether it improves pedestrian traffic.
Why is the pilot at Hornby and Robson?
It’s a relatively busy intersection, so the city knew there would be enough pedestrian traffic to garner meaningful data about the use of the new crosswalk system.
It’s at the entrance to Robson Square, the pedestrian-only plaza outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, which is being redesigned. If the all-way crosswalk works well, it could become a permanent feature of the revamped city square.
When will Vancouver be getting more all-walk crosswalks?
There are no definitive plans to add more just yet. If the all-walk at Robson and Hornby works well, the city will add another one on the other side of Robson Square, at Robson and Howe Sts.
Can cyclists go at the same time as the pedestrians?
Not for the all-walk part of the cycle. Just like cars, cyclists will have to wait before crossing the intersection. But the city is aware that cyclists, as well as pedestrians, are likely to cross anyway when they see a gap in traffic, so this is something they will monitor.
Won’t this make congestion worse?
It will mean more delay for cars. Chou said the city’s modelling showed the delay will not be too severe, but the impact of the all-walk on vehicle traffic is one of the things the city will monitor during the pilot stage.
Alex McKeen is a Vancouver-based reporter covering transportation and labour. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_mckeen