Diagonal Crossing? Tempe Tests All-Pedestrian Crosswalk

Diagonal Crossing? Tempe Tests All-Pedestrian Crosswalk

A “cross in any direction” sign is displayed at a crosswalk in downtown Phoenix at Taylor and First streets. Photo taken on March 29, 2023. (Izabella Hernandez/Cronkite News)

By Conor McGill

April 26, 2023

Tempe is not the only city in the country testing or implementing this method of crossing—downtown Phoenix has two of these intersections.

Imagine coming up to an intersection you could cross in any direction.

Tempe could bring a permanent all-pedestrian crosswalk—or scramble—to the busy intersection of Mill Avenue and Fifth Street.

The city wrapped up a four-week pilot program at the end of March, which tested the way pedestrians and vehicles use the intersection. In an all-pedestrian crosswalk, people can cross in any direction – even diagonally – when traffic is stopped. If the all-pedestrian crossing is adopted at the intersection, vehicles would have to stop in all directions, with left and right turns not permitted on a red light.

The pilot is part of Downtown Tempe Refresh, a program aimed at making the city more attractive and welcoming.

Diagonal Crossing? Tempe Tests All-Pedestrian Crosswalk
People cross in multiple directions in the temporary all-pedestrian crosswalk at Mill Avenue and Fifth Street in Tempe. The city is evaluating the pilot project to determine if the scramble-style crossing pattern will become permanent. Photo taken on March 29, 2023. (Izabella Hernandez/Cronkite News)

“The real reason is to improve the pedestrian experience in downtown,” said Cathy Hollow, a Tempe traffic engineer. “We just think it will give people options; they can cross any which way they want when the pedestrian signal’s on.”

Phoenix resident David Wagley was out with his family visiting downtown Tempe and using the crosswalk during the pilot.

“It’s kind of cool because it’s more efficient,” Wagley said. “You don’t have to go from one side to the other and wait and go to the other. You can just go diagonally, which I thought was kind of unique.”

Destiny Herrera, who works in Tempe, had mixed feelings.

“It’s a cool concept,” Herrera said. “However, I do think there will be issues with traffic and potential accidents because people drive crazy around here. But it’s definitely interesting and cool.”

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Tempe is not the only city in the country testing or implementing this method of crossing. Downtown Phoenix has two: one at Taylor and First streets and the other at Taylor and Third streets.

The city of Riverside, California, has had the crossings for six years. According to the city, they’re working.

“Those particular types of crossings have worked out well,” Riverside Deputy Public Works Director Nathan Mustafa said. “They’re very clearly marked, and they really put the pedestrian at the center of the intersection so they’re visible.”

Riverside has three all-pedestrian crosswalks, with plans to add three more in the coming years.

Though the crosswalks are working well in Riverside, officials in Denver decided to eliminate diagonal pedestrian crossings in 2011 due to transportation and signal changes. Traffic engineer Henry Barnes is credited with first implementing the crossing method in Denver in 1951, and the method is sometimes referred to as the “Barnes Dance.”

According to initial survey results from the city of Tempe, 71.8% of people said they liked using the all-pedestrian crosswalk while 17.9% said they didn’t. The survey collected 39 responses.

In addition, 43.6% of drivers said they liked the way it works while 25.6% said they didn’t like it.

The city of Tempe is working to determine whether to make the all-pedestrian crosswalk permanent.

During the pilot, temporary signage guided pedestrians and drivers. If made permanent, the crosswalk would have painted markings and signage.

As part of its continuing downtown refresh, the city expects new murals, right-of-way landscaping and raised planters.

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