Vancouver cancels pedestrian scramble intersections

Dec 19 2017, 6:57 am

In an highly unusual move, the City of Vancouver has decided to cancel its long-planned “scramble” pedestrian crossings citing the multidirectional crossings at intersections may be confusing and dangerous for the blind.

Pedestrian scrambles can be found in many cities around the world, they are mostly utilized at intersections that see high pedestrian traffic. “Scrambles” are a pedestrian crossing system that halts all vehicular traffic at an intersection and allows pedestrians to cross in every direction, including diagonally, at the same time. They are proven to improve pedestrian access and encourage foot traffic.

However, local advocates for the blind have argued that these pedestrian scrambles are hazardous for the visually impaired given that they depend on vehicular traffic sounds to tell when it would be safe to cross. Critics also claimed that such multidirectional crossings could also confuse guide dogs, thereby putting their owners at harms way.

With all that said, is this a valid reason to cancel the scramble project? A solution to their concerns could have easily been implemented by designing “cuckoo” and “chirp” auditory signals for the crossings. In other words, different tones can be heard for different corners of an intersection and this has been implemented in other cities as well (like Sydney, Australia) to address these same concerns. Furthermore, the reasoning behind cancelling the project simply because it is a “hazard” could also stretch to the many other hazards that could be found on the street, yet these are not “cancelled” or removed.

Above all, these scramble crossings have been installed around the world and have proven to work and be highly beneficial. What makes the City of Vancouver so different that it seems to find itself as the outlier time and time again?

The project would have begun as merely a pilot project at an intersection on Robson (likely either on Granville or Burrard), but the taxpayer funds that went into the extensive studies did not even get the scramble to the testing stage. Currently, Richmond is the only city in British Columbia to have a scramble intersection. Its only pedestrian scramble is located at Steveston Village at the intersection of Moncton Street and No. 1 Road, and has been a pilot project for only the past year. Elsewhere in Canada, pedestrian scrambles can also be found at some of Toronto and Calgary’s busiest pedestrian intersections.

The world’s most famous and busiest pedestrian scramble is at Hachiko Square in Shibuya, Tokyo, where one million people cross the scramble intersection each day. As many as 10,000 people cross the Hachiko Square scramble during a single traffic light cycle.


Written and researched by Kenneth Chan, a Columnist at Vancity Buzz. Follow Kenneth on Twitter: @kjmagine

Featured image credit: Matt Cheeham (a photo of the pedestrian scramble at London’s Oxford Circus)