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Shibuya Circus

London’s Oxford Circus is one of those Yogi Berri-esque ‘so popular no one goes there anymore’ sorts of urban spaces — I once did a little bit there for the BBC with Scottish-Sikh funnyman Hardeep Singh Kohli on “pedestrian rage” on the overcrowded street. It’s just gotten some relief in the form of a diagonal crossing (i.e., “scramble”), modeled on the crossing at Hachikō Square in Shibuya, Tokyo, a place one can easily lose a few hours just watching the action from a nearby donut shop). The video above describes the dynamics and shows the “before.” The impressive “after” can be viewed here.

Notes the BBC:

In homage to its Far Eastern inspiration, Mr Johnson struck a two-metre high cymbal as Japanese musicians played taiko drums.

A giant X, in the form of 60m (196ft) of red ribbon was also unfurled by devotees of cult Japanese Manga characters dressed in colourful costumes.

As with elsewhere in the city, pedestrian barricades have been removed (“giving shoppers and workers that visit annually around 70% more freedom to move,” notes the BBC).

I don’t know precisely when the first diagonal crossing was unveiled, though its popularity is certainly linked to Henry Barnes, NYC’s former traffic capo, who first unveiled it in Denver (where it earned the name ‘Barnes Dance’; he himself noted it had been tried elsewhere previously).

Here’s Barnes from his memoir, The Man with the Red and Green Eyes:

As things stood now, a downtown shopper needed a four-leaf clover, a voodoo charm, and a St. Christopher’s medal to make it in one piece from one curbstone to the other. As far as I was concerned–a traffic engineer with Methodist leanings–I didn’t think that the Almighty should be bothered with problems which we, ourselves, were capable of solving. Therefore, I was going to aid and abet prayers and benedictions with a practical scheme: Henceforth, the pedestrian–as far as Denver was concerned–was going to be blessed with a complete interval in the traffic signal cycle all his own. First of all, there would be the usual red and green signals for vehicular traffic. Let the cars have their way, moving straight through or making right turns. Then a red light for all vehicles while the pedestrians were given their own signal. In this interim, the street crossers could move directly or diagonally to their objectives, having free access to all four corners while all cars waited for a change of lights.

It’s hardly common, but does pop up in places with extraordinary pedestrian volumes or some other special circumstances, as in the historic-entertainment district of San Diego, where fellow INFORMS attendee Sean Devine snapped the photo below (alas, I didn’t experience the crossing myself, as I was out looking at seals).

Here’s another one, in Toronto, captured in time-lapse glory.

Scramble from Sam Javanrouh on Vimeo.

(thanks James)

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 2nd, 2009 at 8:13 am and is filed under Cities, Pedestrians, Traffic Culture, Traffic Engineering, Traffic safety, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

9 Responses to “Shibuya Circus”

  1. Edd Crawley Says:

    Great. But where are the cycle lanes?

  2. David Hembrow Says:

    Edd: good that you asked. The cycle paths with simultaneous green in all directions are found here in the Netherlands. They look like this.

  3. Allen Says:

    When I moved to Eugene, Oregon in 1960 they had diagonal crossing in the Downtown area (such as it was in 1960). Whey they ever got rid of it I’ll never know.

  4. townmouse Says:

    They have these sorts of crossings in many places in London (and other parts of the UK) where all traffic stops, although normally they don’t have explicit markings to encourage people to cross diagonally. I imagine the main improvement at Oxford Circus will be removing all the street clutter.

    Oxford Street itself ought to be a great road for cycling because private cars are banned, but it’s so clogged with buses and pedestrians that it’s actually a nightmare for bikes. I suspect if they did put bike lanes in, they would be immediately choked with those pedestrians who like to walk faster than an amble, and who suffer from the pavement rage you mentioned…

  5. Brian Ogilvie Says:

    The main downtown intersections in Northampton and Amherst, Massachusetts, have a phase in their cycle which is red for vehicles in every direction and walk for pedestrians. You have to be fairly spry to do a diagonal crossing in the allotted time, but it’s not uncommon.

  6. Peter Smith Says:

    it’s time to get rid of at least some of those 2,000 autos coming through there, and let bikes ride into the area. as currently designed, bikers will not want to be there — too many gargantuan buses and gargantuan bus wheels to get pinned under, and too many speeding cars.

  7. Adam Says:

    Impressive graphics. Saw these crossings in Perth, Australia and wondered why they weren’t more commonplace. But indeed, what about the cycle-friendly infrastructure in the rebuild? What a wasted opportunity.

  8. Elaine Says:

    They added “Scramble” crossings in Old Town Pasadena at some point in the early/mid-90s as part of the gentrification of the neighborhood…I remember coming home from college and being astonished by the change. :)

  9. bikermark Says:

    Hartford CT uses an all red scramble phase for many traffic signals in their downtown. It seemed to work well.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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