Steve Wallace: ‘Scramble’ crosswalk a safer alternative

The best traffic planning separates the various modes of transportation for reasons of safety and efficiency. The recent changes for all commuters at Wharf and Government streets in Victoria is a good example of an attempt at both goals.

These types of “scramble” intersections are a way of giving certainty to not only pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic, but also cyclists and other road users.

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It does seem odd to see pedestrians walking every which way at a scramble crosswalk, as other wheeled commuters are waiting to proceed. The different manner of pedestrian travel does look like a scramble in every direction. The fact that other travellers are held back, until the mass of people walking every which way has dissipated, is confusing to those involved for the first time. This is understandable. Motor-vehicle drivers are comfortable with linear travel, and might be surprised by the simultaneous multidirectional paths of the pedestrians.

Motor-vehicle drivers and cyclists appreciate the segmenting of this downtown intersection. They are not held up by pedestrians impeding the right- or left-turn option, since pedestrians are stationary throughout the vehicle cycle. Visitors to Victoria seem to be comfortable with the exercise. How long it will take for locals to get the hang of it is anyone’s guess, but my own brief observations of local behaviour are positive.

Many pedestrians amble along without a care in the world. They walk slowly and can often be distracted by their surroundings. Let’s face it, we live on a most beautiful island, in the most beautiful province in the country.

Elderly pedestrians take longer to cross the street. Drivers should be very aware of seniors being hidden by stopped vehicles, as they attempt to cross a multi-lane road. It is a good idea to watch the feet of pedestrians waiting to cross: They will point in the direction of intended travel. Making eye contact with lethargic pedestrians can help make them feel safer. Motioning to them does give them a sense of comfort in being seen by drivers.

Many pedestrians have no idea when it is improper to cross the street at a signalized intersection. DON’T WALK flashing or otherwise, with a number countdown, means don’t START to walk. It is not an indication of how long one has remaining to cross the intersection. It means STOP! Those already in the act of crossing have enough time to make it. Others should wait for the next cycle. Stop means STOP!

The most unsafe pedestrians ramble along with what seems like a death wish. Their pace and path of travel surprises many behind the wheel, as well as those on a bike. They quickly appear from behind visual obstructions at intersections and are very adept at being hidden in a driver’s (and cyclist’s) over-the-shoulder blind spot.

Ramblers are most often late for an appointment or excited to be on the way to a much-anticipated meeting. By deviating from an anticipated walking speed, they place themselves in danger. Quick actions by anyone in our transportation system can result in disaster. A veteran driving instructor once told me there were only three reasons for a quick action behind the wheel. The driver made a mistake, the driver was reacting to another driver’s mistake or the driver was acting like a jerk. Enough said.

Scramble intersections are like roundabouts: Everything old is new again.

Amble, but don’t ramble, over to this new reality in Victoria and see for yourself.

Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island. He is a former vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a University of Manitoba graduate.

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