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When the news broke on Thursday that the Department of Transportation would be piloting a pedestrian crossing technique called a “Barnes Dance” at one of the busiest intersections in the city, I was massively confused. After reading the Post, Wikipedia, and a description from the Federal Highway Administration, I think I get it. But Streetfilms‘ geeky video probably explains it best:

Meet you there at 10 a.m. Wednesday! Full press release from the city after the jump.

DDOT to Debut Barnes Dance at 7th and H Streets, NW
New Pilot Allows Pedestrians to Cross at the Same Time, Even Diagonally

Starts at 10 am on Wednesday, May 12
Will Reduce Conflicts with Cars
All Vehicular Traffic Will Stop To Allow Pedestrians to Cross
No Turns Will Be Allowed in the Intersection

(Washington, D.C.) – 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.

“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.