I’m on the corner of 5th Street and Mill Avenue in Tempe, Ariz. It’s summer. Most of the students from Arizona State University have flocked home, so it’s relatively quiet.
But it’s not so sleepy that’s it’s easy for a car to turn onto Mill. Even with a green light, a steady flow of pedestrians makes it maddening.
This makes me think back to an even busier intersection in Auckland, New Zealand. But planners there figured out a way to get pedestrians and drivers to interact in harmony: Instead of "Walk" signals that correspond to the traffic signals, all vehicle traffic stops for the "Walk" signal. And you can cross on the diagonal to save a step. When the cars stop, it’s a pedestrian free-for-all in any direction. Apparently, this is called a Scramble or Diagonal crossing. See the videos below to watch the dance in action.
And when it’s car time, you don’t have pedestrians horning in. It’s all-clear for the cars.
This is one of many reasons why travel is such a great thing: You see new ideas and interesting solutions to old problems. In retrospect, this is an obvious way to get traffic moving better.
Here’s something funny: Los Angeles once had it (straight from the video) in the 1950s. It pulled the plug a few years later, and has brought a few back. But I’d never heard of it until my visit to Auckland. It’s a great idea, and needs to be in widespread use.