It’s an initiative that’s supposed to make a downtown intersection safer. Instead it is creating confusion, delays and potential safety issues.
The City of St. Albert introduced a Pedestrian Criss Cross (scramble crosswalk) in late May at the intersection of Perron and St. Anne streets as a pilot project. This came in response to safety concerns from pedestrians who cited near misses or drivers failing to yield to pedestrians at this intersection.
The city says feedback to the new crosswalk has been mixed, though online comments seem to be decisively negative. Spend time at the intersection and you will see some confusion.
The way it is supposed to work is that pedestrians must activate a walk signal. When the walk signal comes on, all vehicular traffic is to come to a stop in all directions, then pedestrians are free to cross either laterally or diagonally. Motorists can only travel when the light is green, regardless of whether they are going forward, turning left or turning right. All vehicle traffic must stop on red lights, including right turns. This information is available on the city’s website under Pedestrian Criss Cross.
The problem is that some people are not getting the message. They arrive at the intersection and are clueless about what to do. Pedestrians are sometimes crossing before the walk light comes on and some motorists are turning right even when the lights are red.
A scramble crosswalk is designed to manage high volumes of turning traffic and high pedestrian volumes. However, neither apply most of the time in downtown St. Albert. When there is a low volume of pedestrian traffic, motorists can get frustrated by delays. When there are few cars, pedestrians can be impatient to wait for the lights.
The scramble crossings are said to work in larger cities, like Tokyo when an accumulation of pedestrians flush across on the walk light, and traffic flows steadily when traffic lights turn green. But most of the time it seems there is not enough traffic to make it functional in downtown St. Albert.
It is admirable for the city to try and improve pedestrian safety downtown and to make the city more pedestrian friendly, but this type of crosswalk does not seem to be the answer. Safety is not improved when drivers and pedestrians don’t know what to expect at the intersection.
After getting feedback, the city announced recently that it will make some changes to the intersection. By late July or early August they will permit some right turns on red when traffic is moving in the perpendicular direction. This is likely to make the intersection even more confusing to drivers who have just gotten used to the right turn ban.
Pedestrian safety is important and we support many of the city’s efforts in its Cyclist and Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, currently underway. Curb extensions, warning lights and enhanced road markings can help make the city safer for pedestrians. This pilot project scramble crosswalk is not achieving this goal. It’s confusing, it slows traffic flow for both pedestrians and vehicles, and most of the time there isn’t enough pedestrian traffic to warrant its use in St. Albert.
The city is taking feedback until Sept. 30. Hopefully that will be the last we hear of this venture.