A “Barnes Dance” is not a “barn dance.” The latter is an old-fashioned dance involving traditional or folk music with traditional dancing that was once held in a barn, but probably is held in almost any kind of place these days.  But a Barnes Dance  The Barnes Dance (or Shuffle or Scramble) is a street-crossing system that stops all traffic and allows pedestrians to cross intersections in every direction at the same time.

This system was first used in Kansas City and Vancouver in the late 1940s and was then adopted in other cities such as Denver, Colorado, New York, San Diego, Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.

I regularly see news stories, like this one in New York magazine, about traffic and pedestrian safety.  That article says that NYC has only one remaining Barnes Dance intersection (where Broadway meets Battery Place and State Street), so it is an idea that has fallen out of favor it seems.

At one of these intersections, the car traffic halts for a bit so pedestrians can cross in all directions — including diagonally. Take a look at the one shown here in the Shibuya part of Tokyo.  It looks quite chaotic, but it works – as long as all the vehicles stop and all the pedestrians make it across in time.

Shibuya Crossing

Click image for video of the intersection in action

In some places, this type of  intersection is called an “X Crossing,” diagonal crossing or exclusive pedestrian interval.

First used in Canada and the United States in the late 1940s, it seems to have fallen out of favor partially because it was seen as prioritizing flow of pedestrians over flow of car traffic.That seems to me to be a plus rather than a negative, but I guess traffic engineers are more interested in vehicles.

Who is Barnes? It is Henry A. Barnes, who was an American traffic engineer and commissioner who served in many cities, including Flint, Michigan; Denver, Colorado; Baltimore, Maryland; and New York City. Barnes came up with a bunch of innovations in traffic engineering, including coordinated traffic signals, actuated traffic signals that are set off by the presence of an automobile or a pedestrian pushing a button, and the introduction of bus lanes.

Barnes actually said that he did not “invent” the concept of the Barnes dance but he did promote its use. The phrase originated with a reporter, John Buchanan, who wrote, “Barnes has made people so happy, they’re dancing in the street.”  I don’t recommend dancing in intersections of any type.

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