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Barnes Dance starts Wednesday

May 12 Update: And let the dancin' begin: Dr. Gridlock reports on the first day of the Barnes Dance. | Gridlock Report

Original post: You don't have to bring a fiddle. All you have to do is walk across the street. But that's going to take some getting used to, at least for people who weren't in Washington as of several decades ago when the diagonal crossings disappeared from D.C. intersections.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the District Department of Transportation will create a new pattern for vehicles and pedestrians at Seventh and H streets NW, one of the city's busiest intersections.

This style of crossing is called a Barnes Dance, after Henry A. Barnes, the traffic commissioner who made it popular back in the middle of the 20th century by using it in Denver. (Barnes also served as traffic commissioner in Baltimore.)

The basic idea is that at a certain time, all the lights turn red for vehicles, and all the pedestrians have walk signals, to cross any way they want. The District's plan for the Chinatown intersection is a variation on that idea. It will have the all-way crossing, lasting about half a minute, but it also will have cycles in which pedestrians can cross in the usual way, directly across Seventh or H street. At no time will vehicles be allowed to make turns at the intersection.

"Nearly 27,000 pedestrians use this intersection on an average day and about 26,000 vehicles," District Transportation Director Gabe Klein said in a statement Tuesday. "We believe by utilizing the Barnes Dance we can minimize conflicts and create a safer environment for everyone."

There were 35 crashes at the intersection with nine injuries, including four to pedestrians, in 2009. From 2005 to 2008, according to city statistics, 15 pedestrians were injured there.

DDOT traffic control officers will be at the intersection for a while to make sure people get the idea. Drivers and walkers also will see variable message signs announcing the change. There are new walk signs and new markings on the pavement. Brochures will be handed out to explain how the intersection works.

By Robert Thomson  |  May 11, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  Safety  | Tags: District Department of Transportation, Dr. Gridlock  
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I'm actually interested to see how this turns out. There are certainly many intersections in the city where a ped only signal would be useful, as long as they do not cross during the no ped-times.

A lot of places right turns are held up do to peds. This could resolve it.

19th and K comes to mind (Turning right onto 19th from K)

Posted by: yetanotherpassword | May 11, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock: A question about this "Barnes dance" change -- this means the intersection of 7th and H has been turned into a "no turn" intersection? Does this apply to buses and cabs as well?

Posted by: jcbcmb68 | May 11, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

I'll be interested in seeing how this works in the fall when the Verizon Center gets busy again. I suppose it's probably a good thing that it's being introduced during the offseason--though I wish the offseason hadn't started until next month!--because I have no doubt that introducing it during a high-traffic period would result in more confusion.

IF the "no turns" restriction is enforced (a very big "IF" there), it ought to help in that area. Making a right turn downtown is very difficult these days because most intersections have signs prohibiting turns on red, yet there is never a time when pedestrians are not in the crosswalk, thus making it more or less impossible to turn legally.

The big sticking point will be what "yetanotherpassword" said at the end of the first paragraph: "[A]s long as they do not cross during the no-ped times." I think the chances of that happening are about as good as the chances of $100 bills coming out when I blow my nose.

Posted by: 1995hoo | May 11, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

1995hoo - I think the point of the 'dance' is so that right turns will be much easier. Right now traffic in a right lane can back up as cars queue to make a right turn while waiting for peds to clear the intersection.

Posted by: yetanotherpassword | May 11, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

"I think the point of the 'dance' is so that right turns will be much easier."

I don't think that's correct because ALL TURNS are to be banned at that intersection. Notice that pedestrians will be allowed to cross "in the usual way" (per Dr. Gridlock)--that is, if you're standing outside Fuddruckers and you want to walk up to RFD, and the light is green for traffic on 7th Street, you can legally cross without waiting for the "all-red" cycle. This is a modification from the traditional "Barnes Dance" in which crossing is allowed only during the "all-red" cycle. I suspect that DC planners believe that local pedestrians would refuse to wait for the "all-red." Based on what I've observed over the years, I think their assumption would be valid.

Posted by: 1995hoo | May 11, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

That is the point of the dance as I see make right turns easier and to facilitate diagonal ped crossings.

But that is not how DC is doing it. Peds will be allowed to cross during the "dance" phase, AND during the regular phase. The article clearly states that at no time will vehicles be allowed to make a turn.

I'm amazed at the pedestrian volumes and crash stats for that intersection, both are very high (the crash stats are what I would expect for a road carrying 3 times as much traffic). Anything they can do to help the situation is a step in the right direction.

Posted by: thetan | May 11, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Ok.. if no turns are allowed then what is the point?!?

Posted by: yetanotherpassword | May 11, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

we used to cross downtown streets diagonaly back in the day when vendors mall was still operational, the blind man use to sing on the corner of 9th and f st and hechts use to be on 7th and g.

Posted by: nivla | May 11, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Who gonna teach the government workers how to use the Barnes Dance?

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | May 11, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm curious whether the high rate of accidents at this intersection might have any relation to the 3 large video screens which tower over the intersection. While I think drivers might be reticent to admit to looking at the signs and thereby admitting negligence, there has to be a reason behind the high crash stats here other than just "it's a busy intersection," because there are other busy intersections in DC.

More big, bright, digital signage is being proposed around the Verizon Center, and the city may want to take a look at these crash stats before allowing them to go up.

Posted by: MaxDC | May 12, 2010 1:02 AM | Report abuse

Is it time for a skywalk in DC?

Posted by: NovaMike | May 12, 2010 7:52 AM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: DDOT says all turns by all vehicles will be prohibited at 7th and H. Vehicles will have to find another place to turn.

I think DDOT is trying to improve safety and pedestrian flow at this intersection, which is used by about as many pedestrians as vehicles. If it doesn't work out, it won't be that hard to go back to the traditional crossing pattern, but it's worth a try.

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | May 12, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

They have these at several intersections in the financial district in San Francisco. It works. Let's give it a chance in DC. I think it'll be more up to the pedestrians to make it work than to drivers. We already have fools who cross on red because the cross traffic lights have turned red yet don't realize turn arrows are green. I keep waiting for a pedestrian to get struck at 17th and I by a legally turning car going west on I. Same at Connecticut and Florida.

Posted by: busgirl1 | May 12, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I'd say pedestrian tunnels would be a good idea, if we could prevent people from getting shot and stabbed in them.

Posted by: 123cartoon | May 12, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

The problem with pedestrian tunnels there is that there is already a Metrorail entrance on one corner, so there's nowhere to put a tunnel. If they had put Metrorail entrances on both corners (say, the one diagonally across from the existing entrance), then it would be possible to use those to cross the intersection. I've done that in New York in a few places on occasion on rainy days.

As far as the video screens go, New York has screens like those all over the place in Times Square and London has them in several places, yet they don't seem to cause trouble.

I think this particular intersection was probably the ideal one at which to try the Barnes Dance because of the relatively unique combination of factors in play there: (1) Metro stop; (2) high concentration of restaurants and the Verizon Center all contributing to high pedestrian traffic; (3) heavy vehicle traffic due in part to the Verizon Center and in part to H Street being a major eastbound cross-town route ever since Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House closed in 1995.

Posted by: 1995hoo | May 12, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

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