Streetfilm: Barnes Dance!

Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson filmed the only place that we know of in Manhattan where pedestrians can go out and do the Barnes Dance, also known as the Pedestrian Scramble, at the
intersection of 17th Street & Broadway. There you’ll find red
lights in all directions for about 17 seconds, allowing
pedestrians an exclusive phase in which to cross safely. You
can even groove it diagonally if you wish. So get out and dance; no cover charge.

  • Dave H.

    Careful what you wish for though. In New Haven, there a few of these but our ones at least come at a price: red lights for pedestrians whenever any cars have a green light, which means very long pedestrian waiting times.

  • galvo

    does new haven allow right turn on red?
    right turn on red is one of the dangerous acts for bicyclist and peds.

  • Damian

    Try “grooving” though this intersection at 5:30 pm: you’ll likely encounter what looks like a parking lot as cars, trucks and those aggressive MTA express bus drivers block the crosswalks.

  • ddartley

    I think there are more such crossings in Manhattan.

    I think 1st Ave. and 20th or 21st has one.


  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    There’s also one just south of City Hall, at the corner of Ann, Liberty, Broadway and Park Row.

  • Dave H.

    NH unfortunately does allow right turn on red. I get why it’s dangerous for pedestrians, but why is it dangerous for cyclists?

  • anonymous

    Right on red is dangerous for cyclists who have the green. It increases the likelihood that a car will just pull out in front of them, likely because the driver assumes that cyclists move no faster than 8 mph, when you’re doing 20 downhill with a tailwind. And the car doesn’t even have to complete the turn: often just pulling out far enough to be able to see the cross-traffic means that the car is now in the space that cyclists normally occupy.

  • Dave H.

    Hmm, other than NYC, are there any other pedestrian-rich areas that have no right on red? This may be an idea of something to work on here.

  • Jonathan

    Anonymous, if you’re “doing 20 downhill with a tailwind” and riding close enough to the curbline that a car turning into your path from the street to your right would unavoidably be in your path, you’re also at risk for pedestrians emerging from between parked cars or car doors opening into traffic.

    Safety first!

  • Dave H.

    Also, anyone seen any kind of study on whether allowing right on red has any significant effect on cyclist or pedestrian safety?

  • There are plenty of places where you can do this — anywhere there’s a T-intersection with a one-way street as the base of the T, where the one-way street is one-way going away from the intersection. For example, lots of intersections along the sides of Central Park.

  • Ed Ravin

    I don’t think that spot qualifies as a “Barnes Dance” – there’s no diagonal crosswalk, and as pointed out in the film, it only lasts for 17 seconds of the time alloted to pedestrian crossings. Some of ped signals there are as long as 60 seconds, so it seems to me that the short all-pedestrian phase was more of an accident than design.

    Jason, your suggestion that the intersection can be grooved diagonally is misleading – you could only do that if you carefully looked around to make sure that all the ped signals were displaying “WALK” (or that all the motor traffic signals were displaying red), and you would have to figure that out, and cross, within the 17 second period.

    A real Barnes Dance is planned out to allow pedestrians to cross diagonally to an opposite corner. There would be one or more diagonal crosswalks or signs that explicitly permit diagonal crossings.

    I like the cute yellow hats, but this Streetfilm really misses the ball. Can we send Clarence to Tokyo or San Fransisco so he can document a real Barnes Dance?

  • tom l

    Lots of these on York Avenue.

  • galvo

    number 9 jonathon. the no right turn on red is a huge safety laws for bicyclist.
    when riding down Broadway heading south to 125 street, if i am catching the greens i feel pretty confident that i am ok, unless i see a out of state plate, that may do the right turn on red out of habit.
    the NYC drivers know they are supposed to stop before the crosswalk and wait for the green.
    in areas out side NYC , they slow down at the red and pullout, they rarely make a stop, especially if it is a familiar intersection.
    the no nyc right turn on red is a huge safety measure, it keeps the cars behind the crosswalk.
    in Westchester’s the cars will make a right turn on red right in front of you.
    no right turn on red would be a good topic,
    there was a link someplace to a real barnes dance, it has a diaganol crosswalk and the walk signs stated diaganol crossing is ok

  • Actually Ed it wasn’t by accident. Back in summer of 2005 I went to a DOT Community Board meeting where residents of Union Square area were asking for ped improvements (and also asking to take back a number of footage of the car travel lanes on 17th Street to make the park wider.)

    DOT did not approve the widening because they said traffic in that area was already a “D” or “F” as in terms of service for drivers and didn’t want to remove room for cars. But they said they would put a Barnes Dance at that intersection. It actually works really well since part of the time it is a Barnes Dance. Other times, yes, it is like a regular crosswalk, so gotta watch to make sure you know what signal cycle you are in and which side you are crossing.

    In San Francisco, the four Barnes Dances I know of do not have diagonal crossing striping on the street (see the short snippet of video I included) but they DO have a WALK/DON’T WALK sign facing diagonally that does last for about the same – around 20 seconds. And again, like the one here in Union Square you can cross other directions at times when there is not a true Barnes Dance.

    And sure, would love to go to Tokyo! I hope someone sees this comment!

  • anonymous

    You once had a link to a great video of the Shibuya Station 5-way crossing. What happened to that?

  • Owen

    Most obnoxious streetfilm since bikebox.

  • I’m absolutely amazed at this “right on red” behaviour. I thought it was a given that a red light means “Stop; don’t drive yet”. Allowing turns on red could only ever make sense where there were no pedestrians. The fact that this is allowed in densely populated American cities just blows my mind.

  • Hilary

    It’s our last major attempt at energy conservation.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Can we send Clarence to Tokyo or San Fransisco so he can document a real Barnes Dance?

    Not San Francisco, Ed! Denver! It’s where Barnes invented the dance. And they are very impressive. For a while they were the only thing keeping Denver’s downtown at all pedestrian friendly.

  • Yes, I have been told Denver is the place by many people. Unfortunately, I’d have to find a few fun people that would want to put yellow hats on at the last minute. Maybe someone can send some pics from Denver?

    Next stop is Melbourne!

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Whoops! I should’ve read the page I linked to with that “Denver” link – it’s actually pictures of San Diego! But the Denver intersections look just like that. If you click on the pictures, they link to higher-res versions.

  • Irwin

    This video makes it seem like this is a good thing for pedestrians. I am interested to hear what benefits people are actually finding for pedestrians. We have these in the Boston area and they seem to be terrible for pedestrians. A group of pedestrians and I are considering petitioning to get rid of one of these. The problems:
    1) Very long wait to get the walk signal. In this case as much as 2 minutes.
    2) Very short walk signal. Since traffic is building up in all directions during the walk time, there is a strong incentive for the city to keep the walk as short as possible.
    3) There’s no way to cross both streets. You have to wait 2 minutes to cross one and then another 2 to cross the other. The walk is too short to cross diagonally. The usual signalling seems better — cross one and the light is just about to change so you can cross the other way.

    It seems to me that in places like Manhattan with very large pedestrian density the Barnes dance is good for the cars because otherwise pedestrians block turning traffic. In places with less pedestrian density it isn’t clear that there’s a benefit for either the cars or the pedestrians.

  • i think there may be a spot on the upper east side/yorkville like this


Streetfilms: The Pedestrian Scramble Returns to L.A.

Clarence Eckerson’s newest Streetfilm captures the bustle of pedestrians and cyclists using diagonal crosswalks near the USC campus. It’s entrancing footage, even without the benefit of time-lapsed film. LADOT recently added 10 of these crossings around the metro area, but as Clarence discovered in the course of making the video, the "pedestrian scramble" isn’t completely […]

Envisioning an Upper West Side Streets Renaissance

If you’re thinking about coming to tonight’s Upper West Side workshop with Jan Gehl but you are having trouble picturing what a "Streets Renaissance" might look like, the video above was made for you. It consists of a series of photo simulations produced by New York City Streets Renaissance Creative Director Carly Clark. Whipped into […]

Streetfilm: Lessons from L.A.

Never let it be said that transportation reform advocates don’t have a sense of humor. How else can you explain the decision to take one of Los Angeles’ best known pedestrian advocates and interview her while driving around the Hollywoods at rush hour on a Friday night? Streetfilms’ Nicholas Whitaker took a backseat, rush hour […]