You’ve probably been frustrated by sitting in a taxi or your own car at a big city intersection and having to wait several minutes for all the pedestrian traffic to go in all directions before your car can inch its way down the street. I’m pretty sure there’ve been times in New York City when I’ve sat a good five minutes without being able to turn right or left because of all the foot traffic.
Don’t get me wrong: Walking is great, and I enjoy walking through Times Square or downtown Seattle or wherever I can … as long as my destination is close enough to make it feasible. But sometimes you gotta drive, and that’s when getting three miles across town can take a half hour.
Well, Santa Monica has this figured out. Cari and I saw this last month when we were visiting for a few days:
Look closely. See that girl walking across the street? She’s walking diagonally through the intersection.
Here’s what Santa Monica does: At a red light, car traffic in all directions has to stop for 30 seconds. And for those 30 seconds, pedestrians are free to walk in whatever direction they want, even diagonally across the street. After 30 seconds, car traffic can resume — first the cars going in one direction, then the cross-traffic, then everyone stops again for the pedestrians. While cars are moving, pedestrians can’t go in any direction — that speeds things up for cars needing to turn right or left onto a cross street.
It’s genius. It sped up everything. Cars flowed smoothly through the intersections and walkers/bicyclists got where they needed to go faster.
I’ve never seen that option in any big city like New York or Seattle, but they should give it a try.