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Chicago Opens Up for Diagonal Pedestrian Crossings

Gabe Klein, commissioner of CDOT, leads the parade of the first "pedestrian scramble" across the intersection of State and Jackson streets.


Several dozen Chicagoans gathered in the heart of the Loop to celebrate an exciting event: the opening of the city's first legal diagonal crossing.

At the intersection of Jackson and State streets, just in front of the DePaul Campus Center, the new crossing has been clearly painted onto the street. Zebra stripes, previously reserved for parallel crosswalks, now extend across the center of the street in a large "X." As a result, pedestrians will now be able to cross from one corner to another more quickly during a dedicated traffic phase where all cars have red lights. People will still be able to cross parallel to traffic as with normal intersections. It's a big pedestrian improvement for an intersection where walkers now outnumber drivers two to one.

The Chicago Dept. of Transportation (CDOT), whose commissioner Gabe Klein has been discussing such a project since 2011, expects the new crossing to improve conditions for pedestrians by increasing walk time. In addition, CDOT has eliminated turning traffic at the intersection, improving safety for walkers all around. In a similar intervention in Washington, D.C., at the intersection of 7th and H streets Northwest, pedestrian collisions declined by about 65 percent, according to Commissioner Klein. Traffic engineers predict that this will improve the conditions for automobiles as well. The Jackson and State intersection redesign is a pilot, so CDOT will study project outcomes to determine whether similar diagonal crossings should be added elsewhere.

The diagonal crossing, also known as the "X Crossing" in the United Kingdom and the "Barnes Dance" or "pedestrian scramble" in other U.S. cities, was first developed in the 1940s. Denver, Baltimore and New York City traffic commissioner Henry Barnes popularized the idea (though he did not invent it). Cities from Denver to Auckland, New Zealand, have removed them, however, in order to speed trains or automobiles through intersections. In places with heavy pedestrian traffic like Chicago's Loop, though, diagonal crossings might be just the right touch.