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Loop Intersection Gets ‘Barnes Dance’ In Effort To Reduce Congestion

Pedestrians walk diagonally across the intersection of State Street and Jackson Boulevard, where a so-called "pedestrian scramble" or "Barnes Dance" allows them to legally cross diagonally. The concept also allows cars to turn without having to wait for pedestrians to cross when cars have a green light. (Credit: CBS)

Pedestrians walk diagonally across the intersection of State Street and Jackson Boulevard, where a so-called “pedestrian scramble” or “Barnes Dance” allows them to legally cross diagonally. The concept also allows cars to turn without having to wait for pedestrians to cross when cars have a green light. (Credit: CBS)

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Susanna Song serves as a general assignment reporter for CBS 2...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – A busy Loop intersection became home to a new experiment to allow pedestrians to legally cross the street diagonally, while cars will no longer have to worry about pedestrians in the crosswalk while trying to make a turn.

The intersection of State Street and Jackson Boulevard got the city’s first all-way crosswalk, also known as a “pedestrian scramble” or “Barnes Dance,” named after traffic engineer Henry Barnes.

The goal is to reduce conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles as they navigate the often congested intersection.

On a typical weekday, more than twice as many pedestrians (41,600) cross the intersection as vehicles (20,500).

During the all-way crossing phase, all vehicles and bicycles will be stopped for 35 seconds. During that time, pedestrians will be allowed to cross State and Jackson in any direction, including diagonally.

Then, drivers will get their chance to go through the intersection, without having to wait for pedestrians when making turns.

The city sees it as a win-win for drivers and pedestrians at a busy intersection, where patience runs thin, and everyone – drivers and pedestrians – just want to get across.

“It’s crazy at this intersection, because you’ve got the buses, tons foot traffic with all the shopping,” Olivia Heath said.

The biggest issue for drivers is when they have a green light, and are trying to turn, but have to wait for pedestrians in the crosswalk. Sometimes, so many pedestrians cross, only one or two cars can make a right turn while the light is green.

Motorist Terry Hills said it’s frustrating when he can’t make a turn because of all the pedestrians and has to wait for another light cycle.

The Barnes Dance seeks to avoid that kind of frustration. The pilot program – already proven a success in Denver, Baltimore and New York City – lets pedestrians have the whole intersection for 35 seconds, and then gives drivers their chance.

“Almost like a roundabout mix of the crosswalk for pedestrians and traffic. That’s cool,” Heath said.

For pedestrians, the best part is the diagonal shortcut across the intersection for those who need to cross both State and Jackson. Now, they’ll be able to do so in a single light cycle.

“It’ll be fun if I get to take diagonal across. I mean, I’ve done that, but never legally,” John Enright said.

Testing the diagonal crossing at the “pedestrian scramble” at State and Jackson took 15 seconds Friday morning, less than a third of the time it took to get from one corner with a more traditional crossing over State, then Jackson.

Other than saving time, city officials think this pilot program will make the intersection safer for everyone.

Jessica Schmitke said she sometimes feels nervous crossing that intersection.

“You kind of have to always be on edge, and looking around,” she said.

The city will test the new intersection for three months, and if it proves to be a success, it will become permanent.