Chicago’s First Pedestrian Scramble: Diagonal Crosswalk at State and Jackson

On Friday at work, I found out that the city was trying out something called a Pedestrian Scramble near where I used to work, over at State and Jackson. Given how close I was, I figured I’d stop over on my lunch break and try to document the very interesting new approach to handling car and foot traffic, on a pretty busy intersection.

The big thing with the scramble is that two new crosswalk directions are available, allowing people to cross the intersection diagonally. While the option is not available at every light change, a new pattern allows for the diagonal crossing at every third light cycle.

While I was observing, the pattern I noticed was this:

1) Vehicle traffic moves along State
2) Vehicle traffic moves along Jackson
3) Vehicle traffic moves along State
4) Vehicle traffic moves along Jackson
5) Pedestrian-only traffic (35 seconds)

Interestingly, there were about four or five OEMC workers helping to direct traffic in all directions – vehicles as well as pedestrians. It seemed weird to institute a new rule that was potentially so confusing as to require this kind of help, but looking back… it makes a great deal of sense. As a whole, people aren’t so great with big changes like this… so I can see having help, until the pattern becomes more routine.

Despite this extra addition to the cycle, it didn’t seem all that bad. To me, it didn’t feel like cars were “stuck” waiting around, and the general flow of cars and people seemed to be moving along at a brisk pace. I got the sense that the duration of each light got shortened a little bit, and it made the pedestrian-only phase seem less intrusive as a result.

An interesting sight to see: every crosswalk light lit up, in all directions.

Standing on the corner made for some good people watching as well. Some people were a little confused at the new changes, others seemed kind of oblivious to what was going on (despite several news vans parked along Jackson).

I was surprised to learn how busy the intersection at State/Jackson was, averaging 41,600 pedestrians and 20,000 cars during each weekday. That’s a lot!

While I was standing around though, the pedestrian traffic seemed pretty muted. Part of me wondered why the experiment didn’t take place a bit further north, at State and Madison (as that felt more pedestrian-heavy). But maybe I’m not factoring in all the DePaul students at State/Jackson.

Part of me is now curious – were there people manning the intersection all through the night? Will they still be there over the weekend, and through next week? How long, until the training wheels come off and we’re left on our own?

When I was back at my desk, I saw online that a few other folks from EI had been out there, checking out the intersection (missed them by about 20 mins or so). I texted Ben, and got a photo of the new intersection, taken from the 7th floor.

Color Jam: Colorful Buildings and Sidewalks at State and Adams, Downtown Chicago
Tony Tasset Eye Sculpture: Construction in Pritzer Park

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