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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.


  • Dinah Might

    Exactly what I was thinking… I know a bunch of intersections that have advance-green turn signals only during rush hours, and some switch sides depending on where the heavier traffic is coming from. How hard can it be to give the Bay scramble similar time-sensitive programming?

  • Dinah Might


    Seriously though that would be very useful. Lots of crowding on those corners.

  • wklis

    Use of pedestrian scrambles should not be just black or white. Make use of them as needed, for conditions at different times of the day, days of the week, or holidays.

  • 44North

    I don’t know why the City didn’t paint the striped lines going on the diagonal. Two white stripes isn’t enough to make people who are otherwise unaware of the scramble understand that they can cross that way.

    Make it easily identifiable, and it will get way more use.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      I’ve never seen anyone fail to figure out the scramble.

      And it would be a waste of money, because the intersections just get torn up by Toronto Hydro or a gas company every couple of weeks.

      • 44North

        I’ve seen people unable to figure it out. And every image I’ve seen of other pedestrian scrambles elsewhere have some kind of identification as to where pedestrians cross. Though every other major city has well marked roads. On some streets in TO lane markings are so hard to see they’re virtually nonexistent.

        But you’re totally right about it being torn up. In a month’s time it’d just be a patchwork of utility cuts and different coloured spray paint markings.

        • Conservative Astroturf Brigade

          If you don’t understand it, go round the conventional way. I think most people can figure it out after the first time they see it. Of course, it would help if the announcement was clearer. (walk light is on – “walk like a dog for all crossings”?)

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            I’ve also heard “walk diagon for all crossings”.

        • tyrannosaurus_rek

          I was just in San Francisco; there’s a scramble on California St that doesn’t have any painted marks, posted signs, or audio cues to indicate that it is a scramble. All it took was seeing someone cross diagonally and I knew immediately what it was.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Bloor and Bathurst could use one during evening rush hour until about 11.

  • billybob

    That wouldn’t be so great considering the number of TTC buses that go through that intersection.

    • Alex

      Sidewalks at that intersection will be a mess for the next few years with condo, LRT and mall construction. A scramble is overdue as well as more restrictions on turning traffic. The TTC buses might even have their own priority signal.

  • OgtheDim

    DMW and Ford have both indicated they hate the one at Dundas.

    • Dogma

      Yup, but that corner is crazy busy with pedestrian traffic so I suspect they’re out of luck on getting it changed.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      Dundas between University and Church should be blocked to private vehicles anyway, they choke it and make streetcars impossible during rush hour.

  • OgtheDim

    The Dundas one is needed pretty much all day.

  • Mo Fielding

    The real problem for traffic there is the no-right-on-red, especially turning from west-bound Bloor to north-bound Bay. There are times when not a single car can turn throughout three to six light changes. The pedestrian traffic never clears on the green, and on the red and the scramble, you can’t even try to turn. They’ve just stuck a new one in on Dundas at Keele. Completely moronic, because the pedestrian traffic doesn’t justify it – and no pedestrian has ever been struck there in the previous three years. Fortunately, many drivers are just ignoring it.

  • SteelesAvenue

    move it to Dundas and Spadina!!

    • MER1978

      Dundas and Bay.

  • tomwest

    Lets not forget that scrambles make it easier for cars to turn right at intersections with lots of pedestrians. By removing the scramble, you’ll end up making it *harder* for right-turning vehicles.

    • Sunny

      But at scramble intersections, vehicles are not allowed to turn right on red. Trade-offs…

      • Dinah Might

        Let’s add NEW phases where:
        – Cars going E/W (then N/S) can only turn right
        – Pedestrians can cross on the diagonal between turning cars
        Nothing will go wrong! :-)

      • tomwest

        At least they *can* turn right on green… unlike at busy non-scrammble intersections, where you generalyl get only one or two cars managing to turn right.

  • Tallia

    Not enough use or traffic as what was intended? Sounds like he new Scarborough subway…

    • TorontoistEditors


  • Nathan Ng

    Hopefully this is a pragmatic alternative that is raised at the public consultation!

  • TokyoTuds

    I plan to be at the meeting to point out that the Bay-Bloor Scramble has not yet been implemented properly. The N-S and E-W phases need to be cars only with no pedestrians so that turning vehicles can clear. For God’s sake, just copy Shibuya.

    • bobsdf


  • fanxin

  • bobloblawbloblawblah

    “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.”

    So why not program the scramble to happen only during those hours it is used and needed? I’ve found myself at Bay & Bloor or Yonge & Bloor at 3 AM and the scramble was on. Really, there is no need to have it on when there is little pedestrian traffic.

  • ibivi

    Bloor Street is a mess and has been for years and I don’t see it getting any better. They narrowed the lanes, they’re putting up more condos, they changed traffic lights…What do they expect? That people will stop using their cars? Don’t think so!

  • simonyyz

    Lots of pragmatic suggestions in the comments — I come through this intersection often during rush hour going east-west, and agree:

    Having two scrambles right after each other wasn’t such a good idea.

    The biggest issue at Bay & Bloor is that right-turning traffic doesn’t have enough time to clear.

    I like the ideas of losing the scramble here altogether (I’m sure there are lots of good candidates – Yonge and Eglinton was a good suggestion…), and adding right-only turning periods.

  • Functionalist

    St. George and Harbord should have one. The pedestrian volumes are huge, and many pedestrians have to cross twice. There probably aren’t that many pedestrian-car collisions there because of the traffic calming measures on St. George, but it would improve things for pedestrians, which make up most of the people on the street.

  • Conservative Astroturf Brigade

    If the lights were coordinated it would be a lesser problem. I’m sure it would work a LOT better if they both went into scrambles at the same time and the east-west timings were set to clear the intersections afterwards.