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