The intersection where W. Bde Maka Ska and William Berry parkways meet Richfield Road in south Minneapolis has always been a bit confusing.
The parkways and adjacent paths cross Richfield Road at a slight angle, making it hard at times for pedestrians and bicyclists crossing the busy intersection to see turning traffic — and vice versa.
Avid Drive reader Jenette encountered something peculiar when she came to the corner nestled between Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet while on a recent bike ride with a friend. Traffic lights were red in all directions, but countdown timers and walk signs indicated it was safe to cross in any direction, including diagonally.
She wasn't sure what to make of the intersection that looks like it has been painted with a giant X.
"Who is the countdown clock for?" she asked in an email. "We wondered if it was for people who are allowed to cross diagonally at that intersection now. This setup seems really unclear and an accident waiting to happen. It's just the start of the summer, and I'm afraid someone is going to get hurt."
Let's hope not, Jenette, but here is how the diagonal crosswalks known in transportation circles as the "Barnes Dance" — or the pedestrian scramble — are supposed to work.
When signals are in the pedestrian scramble phase, vehicles in all four directions get red lights. Those who bike, walk or roll see walk signs and countdown timers, indicating it is legal to cross the street in marked crosswalk in any direction, said city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie.
Of course, the traditional corner-to-corner option following green lights remains.
This is Minneapolis' first Barnes Dance-type intersection. The city put it in last fall when it rebuilt traffic signals and pedestrian curb ramps to make it safer and to comply with the Americans With Disability Act. Many are just noticing it now.
The intersection is a good fit for the pedestrian scramble because of high pedestrian and bicycle volume, McKenzie said.
"In particular, the pedestrian path is only on the west side of William Berry Parkway, so in order to get from the lake to the path, it would require crossing two roads," she said. "The diagonal crossing provides a direct connection from the lake to the path."
Additionally, the pedestrian scramble improves safety by allowing pedestrians and bicyclists to proceed in any direction while the vehicles see a red light, she added.
Drive reader Jenette isn't sold.
"I think when they redid the signals on the intersection it is even more confusing, and possibly dangerous, than it was before," she said.
Other U.S. cities have tried diagonal crossing. In Denver, however, they were removed from downtown streets in 2011 because only 10% of pedestrians used them, the city found.
McKenzie said Minneapolis will monitor the intersection and look into ways to make it easier to understand.
"It could be considered at other intersections with similar characteristics," she said.