Walk, Don’t Walk, Scramble?

Grafton and Queen Intersection

CHARLOTTETOWN – The macabre dance of pedestrians and automobiles is a time honoured tradition.  Ever since Bridget Driscol was killed by a car in 1896, the deadly duo of auto and intersection has struck fear into the hearts of traffic planners and pedestrians everywhere.  The reality is, of course, that traffic planning is as much art as it is science, which is why Charlottetown is revisiting the idea of a pedestrian scramble.

The intersection of Grafton and Queen street, bordered by the Confederation Centre of the Arts and Confederation Court Mall, and down the street from both city hall and the provincial legislature, is stirring up controversy with the possible return of its pedestrian scramble.  Also known as a Barnes’ Dance, a scramble was introduced in Toronto last year at the corner of Yonge and Dundas.  Beautifully documented in a time-lapse sequence by photoblogger Sam Javanrouh on Spacing Atlantic’s sister site, Spacing Toronto, the scramble belays its more common title and suggests a more graceful choreography.  Henry A. Barnes, often incorrectly credited with inventing the scramble, even to the extent of it bearing his name, said, at a September 1951 conference, “…a downtown shopper needed a four-leaf clover, a voodoo charm, and a St. Christopher’s medal to make it in one piece from one curbstone to the other.”

Thus the conundrum facing Rob Lantz, Charlottetown city councillor for ward 3 and chair of the Police and Bylaw Enforcement Committee.  Though Charlottetown is the provincial capital it is generally devoid of the traffic problems that face other capital cities.  In spite of furor around the suggestion that Grafton and Queen could be primed for another scramble, Lantz suggests that “we approach the ‘scramble’ idea very cautiously” examining both the benefits and drawbacks to this 60s flashback.  Though Lantz did not know why the scramble at this corner was discontinued some time in the late 60s, his caution is justified.  The Economic Development Committee, working with an advisory group, brought the suggestion forward as part of a collection of ideas to improve traffic flow at this comparatively busy intersection.  Lantz, responding to the criticism of some area residents, remained open to having the suggestion reviewed by traffic management professionals, but cautioned that it was “traffic professionals that recommended a roundabout at Allen and Mt. Edward”, a suggestion that is still the source of bitter controversy for many.

The problem is obvious, Charlottetown businesses want to promote the most efficient, or more correctly, the greatest volume, traffic flow to city centre businesses.  Mitigating the conflicts between pedestrians and automobiles, especially those attempting a turn off Queen onto Grafton, is paramount in this discussion.  What needs to be understood is that, for businesses, pedestrians are gold.  Flying in the face of auto-dominated logic, pedestrian and cyclist traffic is actually one of the best indicators of economic vitality to a business district. Promoting the efficient flow of non-motorized traffic in the Charlottetown core is crucial to stemming the sprawl tide that is lapping at the edges of the city.

Instead of focusing on how to move traffic more efficiently, the EDC and city council should be trying to figure out how to entice shoppers out of their cars and into the downtown merchants.  Implementing a pedestrian scramble is an open invitation for orchestrated chaos at this low volume intersection.  Council’s time and effort would be better spent developing a comprehensive traffic calming policy that would permit the peaceful co-habitation of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers in all sections of Charlottetown.  If nothing else, the scramble has re-kindled the traffic debate and, while Rob Lantz and committee are only focusing on Grafton and Queen for now, he is “hopeful we will find innovative ways to improve the downtown experience for both drivers and pedestrians”, and that’s a good place to start.

Photo by John Bentley

3 comments

  1. Great post. Glad to see C-town is thinking about this. Another point is safety — if people don’t feel safe crossing this part of town, they may take their shopping dollars elsewhere.

    Another positive to consider is that the intersection can become a destination, not just an regular run-of-the-mill crossroads. Not only is a scramble intersection a traffic management tool, it can also be a placemaking tool that can bring with it numerous urban design benefits (more planters and benches, public art, new light poles, etc).

  2. I believe Rob Lantz was quoted in The Guardian as saying that if there is a Yonge & Bloor in Charlottetown, its Queen & Grafton.

    I have to note for you that like Queen & Grafton, Yonge & Bloor, Yonge & Dundas, have no left hand turns.

    On intersections such as these, you can’t have both the crisscross and a left turn. (Although there are examples in Calgary’s Eau Claire district that allow allow both, those intersections have more high pedestrian traffic and light vehicle traffic, so there is no comparison.)

    One commentator on a Calgary Web site wondered why bother with this crisscross anyhow?

    The answer lies in defining the problem. The problem is that a string of traffic is gridlocked by one motorist at the front of the line who is trying to make a right hand turn. This is usually a problem at any intersection where a motorist is making a left hand turn, but it occurs where there is a high pedestrian presence and motorists are making a right hand turn.

    The crisscross alleviates the gridlock by restricting pedestrian crossing to a dedicated interval. If you introduce left hand turns it sort of defeats the purpose, because you are back at square one. Many motorists left behind waiting in line while the dummy up front is looking for a break to make the left turn. Only two of the corners at this intersection have room for dedicated lanes.

    Introducing left-turn arrows or advanced/delayed green lights to accommodate the introduction of left turns here is not an option. That’s because the dedicated intervals with a crisscross system would mean exaggerated delays, upon exaggerated delays, until each direction and pedestrians gets their turn. There’d be no improvement.

    If a motorist wants to head east on Grafton Street you can implement signage at Euston Street and at Kent Street along Queen St. southbound to direct them. Otherwise, they can do the Montreal thing and drive one block further south and go around the block. This would be more convenient for the majority even it it is an individual inconvenience. People just need to learn to avoid left hand turns in this city and plan ahead so they are making right hand turns. Brain dead the lot of them.

    The crisscross at this corner worked very well at this intersection when it was the rule. It is long over due to bring it back. Contrary to Mr. Bentley’s perspective, the entire centre-ville of Charlottetown is congested – like that of most Maritime cities. This corner just happens to have a volume of vehicle traffic combined with a volume of pedestrian traffic.

  3. Agreed. Halifax would do well to look into getting a scramble put in at a number of intersections: Dresden/Spring Garden, South Park/Spring Garden, Grafton/Blowers or Barrington/Sackville all have enough pedestrian traffic to be possible scramble sites.

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