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DDOT to Debut Barnes Dance at 7th and H Streets, NW

by Prince Of Petworth — May 10, 2010 at 3:30 pm 20 Comments

This sounds pretty wild, from a press release:

“The District Department of Transportation is launching a new pilot program aimed at providing safer crossings for pedestrians at one of the District’s most traversed intersections: 7th and H streets, NW in Chinatown. The new traffic pattern, commonly called a “Barnes Dance,” allows pedestrians to cross in every direction, including diagonally, at the same time while vehicles on all four sides of the intersection are stopped at a red signal. The change is scheduled to be implemented on Wednesday, May 12 at 10 am.

Continues with some history after the jump.

“We are really excited to launch this pilot, and the intersection we’ve chosen is a great place to test this innovative timing technique,” said DDOT Director Gabe Klein. “Nearly 27,000 pedestrians use this intersection on an average day and about 26,000 vehicles. We believe by utilizing the Barnes Dance we can minimize conflicts and create a safer environment for everyone.”

Statistics show there were 35 total vehicle crashes at that intersection with 9 injuries (4 involving pedestrians) in 2009, and a total of 15 pedestrians injured from 2005-2008.

Long-time residents of the District may remember intersections similar to this in downtown DC in the 1960s and 1970s. However, unlike those earlier Barnes Dances, pedestrians at 7th and H Streets will also be allowed to cross with traffic that has a green signal, as they do now. Also, this enhanced Barnes Dance will prohibit all turns by all vehicles at that intersection. This has been done to increase the safety of pedestrians and maintain the flow of traffic. If you need to turn left or right off of 7th Street NW or H Street NW, please use an intersection before or after the Barnes Dance Intersection.

Traffic Control Officers will be placed at the intersection during the first few days to assist pedestrians and motorists with the new timing. In addition, Variable Message Signs have been posted and brochures will be handed out and available for the public detailing how the intersection works.

Because this is an area with heavy pedestrian traffic, DDOT reminds motorists to drive at or below the speed limit and to not block the box, as this creates pedestrian hazards.

The “Barnes Dance” is named after Henry A. Barnes, who was a traffic commissioner in Denver, Baltimore, and New York City. In Barnes’ autobiography, The Man With the Red and Green Eyes (E. P. Dutton and Company, 1965), he states that while the concept had been tried in other cities, Barnes was credited and recognized for his installation by utilizing the innovative timing technique throughout the entire business area in downtown Denver. After predicting doom before the concept was put into effect, the local newspapers had to admit the concept worked well-and it didn’t take long for people to get used to it. A feature article by the City Hall reporter, John Buchanan was ended by saying, “Barnes has made the people so happy they’re dancing in the streets.” And that’s how the name, “The Barnes Dance,” came into being.”

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) places a high priority on pedestrian safety and accessibility. DDOT’s Pedestrian Master Plan, released in 2009, recommends several innovative treatments to increase pedestrian safety at signal-controlled and uncontrolled crosswalks in the District. In August of 2009, a HAWK pedestrian signal was installed at a crossing on upper Georgia Avenue, NW. In 2010, DDOT began installing Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPI) at selected busy intersections with a history of turning vehicle-pedestrian conflicts. LPIs give pedestrians a 3-4 second head start before drivers get a green signal. By summer of 2010, Rectangular Rapid Flashing Crosswalk Beacons will be installed at multiple locations in all parts of the District.”

  • Honestly, I suspect the prohibition on turning will do more to alleviate traffic and increase pedestrian safety than the actual Barnes Dance will.

    • Sleepy


    • legs1357

      agreed. the constant flow of pedestrian traffic in both directions makes turning, either right or left, a nightmare. separating the two will make it less stressful and safer for all involved.

    • GDopplerXT


    • E-Rich

      I’d also be willing to bet turning traffic will be the biggest impediment to this experiment’s success. DC drivers pretty much only take no turning signs as a casual suggestion, as it is. It’s going to take some real efforts on enforcement to get people to quit turning there.

      • Anonymous


    • Lrob

      These things are great. Speaking as someone who used to spend a lot of time in Shibuya in Tokyo, home to one of the more famous examples of this traffic pattern, they work well. Call me naive, but I think it’ll help.

  • Badger

    This sounds like chaos. Hopefully it will do something, though, because it really is a dangerous corner.

    One of the big issues in my mind is that there is just too much commotion. Bright lights, flashy colors, people. Drivers and pedestrians simply don’t pay attention.

    When this was a run down corner (remember when the metro escalator was open to the rain and that bum who play music with his hands and a whistle was always there? – miss him), it was never a problem.

    It’s senses overload now.

    • TaylorStreetMan

      Disagree. The current situation is chaos. this sounds like a great idea to me.

      Do agree that Chinatown is just too damned crowded. I don’t even bother going down there anymore.

  • Kalorini

    Flash Mob, people. Let’s make it happen.

  • briefly

    If they have armed officers enforcing this it will work, otherwise it will be the same chaotic clusterf*ck it is right now.

  • Awesome. I will be there at 10 AM Wed To do the first Barnes Dance.

  • David

    San Francisco has these. They work well there.

  • cookietime420

    I’ve seen this work elsewhere. Denver? Seattle? I can’t recall, but anyway, it worked out just fine and really helped the flow of pedestrian traffic. My sense is that it will work really well at this intersection.

  • HN

    I work in the area and use that metro stop, and there are always as$%^les who turn on pedestrians with walks signs. I feel for the drivers who have to deal with the pedestrians who walk when they shouldn’t, but I’m sick of having the right of way and nearly getting run over by some pig jerk who thinks it’s funny. Cabs and delivery drivers are the worst, and I’ve made it a point of taking down license plate numbers and calling their companies.

    • Anonymous

      there are also idiotic pedestrians who cross against the light. everyone’s guilty.

  • houseintherear

    Can we call it a “Barnyard Dance” and provide animal costumes and changing booths for pedestrians?


    All righty.

  • skellie

    I wonder if the tourists will get this?? why don’t they put a pedestrian circle over the road? They will still jaywalk regardless of the Barnes Dance

  • this has been done in so many other busy intersections in the US and abroad. it will do fine.

  • Le Pedestrian

    I really can’t stress how sick I am of having to jerk my head around in all directions when crossing a street with the right of way. What is it with DC drivers slowly advancing against pedestrians, like they are playing some game of chicken?

    What these traffic pattern changes might to is reflect the fact that thousands of people are walking on DC’s sidewalks (and riding their bikes), and hopefully get that message to suburban drivers that seem to think they are still in MF’ing Fredericksburg.

    Sorry. I get angry just thinking about my walking commute.


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