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The City Wants to Remove Bay Street’s Pedestrian Scramble

One of Toronto's three scramble intersections may not be long for this world.

Bay Street's scramble intersection  Photo by Tyler  Chris Tyler, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Bay Street’s scramble intersection. Photo by Tyler. Chris Tyler, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

It seemed like a good idea when it was installed in 2010, but now the scramble crosswalk at the intersection of Bay and Bloor streets could be removed for failing to live up to its potential.

An otherwise humdrum public consultation notice [PDF] breaks the news. It says that the City will be getting rid of the scramble “due to its relatively low usage, traffic delay impacts and insufficient overall benefits.”

Fiona Chapman, the City’s manager of pedestrian projects, said the notion of removing the scramble is only a recommendation, and that there will be public consultation before a final decision is made.

The Bay and Bloor scramble is one of three in downtown Toronto. It differs from a normal intersection in that it has three traffic-light phases, rather than two: one phase for foot and car traffic going north and south, another phase for traffic going east and west, and then one pedestrian-only phase, during which cars can’t move at all. During the pedestrian-only phase, people can walk across the intersection in any direction, including diagonally. This free-for-all is the source of the term “scramble.”

Scrambles are great for pedestrians, but they also have drawbacks. Because car traffic stops in all directions during the pedestrian-only phase, a scramble intersection can cause significant delays to vehicle traffic.

Chapman denies that vehicle delays are driving the push to remove the Bay Street scramble. “At the end of the day,” she said, “as compared to the other scrambles, it doesn’t perform as well.”

Regarding those other two scrambles—located at Yonge and Dundas streets, and at Yonge and Bloor streets—Chapman said, “Both of them have two peaks, so they’re both quite busy both in the morning and the afternoon. In the case of Bay and Bloor, it only has one peak, and that’s in the late afternoon.” Because of this, she said, the Bay Street scramble has far less foot traffic than either of the other two.

Chapman said the Bay Street intersection has other qualities that make a scramble undesirable. It’s wider than either of the other two scramble intersections, so its pedestrian phase is a little longer. She added that it also doesn’t have as many issues with pedestrian crowding and pedestrian-on-car conflicts, meaning people on foot don’t require extra accommodation.

The City, Chapman said, arrived at these conclusions after carefully studying traffic at the intersection. She doesn’t believe it will be necessary for staff to get council’s approval before removing the scramble.

The other two scrambles are seemingly safe, for the time being. “I think they’re important not just for managing traffic, but in certain cases they’re almost iconic,” Chapman said.

A public meeting on this and other Bay Street design issues, including the possibility of a new bike lane between Cumberland and Bloor streets, will be held on July 31, starting at 5:30 p.m. More details are here.

Hat tip to Laurence Lui.

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