As Kuala Lumpur welcomes its first large-scale pedestrian scramble crossing in Bukit Bintang, we take a look at iconic examples around the world and what new upgrades this city can look forward to.
New York City
The United States was one of the earliest adopters of the pedestrian scramble, in which all vehicular traffic in all directions is temporarily stopped to allow pedestrian to cross in every direction at the same time. Known as the Barnes Dance, after traffic engineer Henry Barnes, who popularised them while serving as a street commissioner in Denver, Baltimore and New York, its unique name is in reference to pedestrians doing little happy dances as they crossed the street.
However, by the late 1960s, this style of traffic and pedestrian flow management had fallen out of favour. Today, of the five pedestrian scrambles installed by Barnes in New York City, only one remains: at the intersection where Broadway meets Vesey Street, Park Row and Ann Street in Lower Manhattan.
Nevertheless, the Barnes Dance may soon see a revival in New York City as the Department of Transportation explores ways to bring them back to 25 high-crash intersections throughout the city as part of its goal to reduce traffic deaths.
They don’t come more famous than Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. Considered the biggest and busiest pedestrian crossing in the world - up to 2,500 people forge their way across this intersection every two minutes during peak times - Shibuya’s scramble crossing is likely to have been on nearly every single list of the 32 million tourists that visited Tokyo in 2019.
Located right at the busy heart of Shibuya, the downtown shopping and entertainment district, which is home to countless bars, clubs, restaurants, swanky shops and office towers, the flow of pedestrians on the crossing is simply breath-taking. The atmosphere and aesthetics have graced international media and pop culture references all around the world, most notably in countless movies, from seminal indie hits like Lost in Translation to action-packed blockbusters like Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift. It is where Tokyo residents gather for an uproarious Halloween celebration filled with over-the top costumes and much merrymaking.
One of the main exits of Shibuya Station leads right onto one end of the crossing, and it is here that a famous sculpture can be found. The story begins with a dog called Hachiko, who accompanied his owner, Professor Ueno, to Shibuya Station in the 1920s every day. Even after Ueno passed away, the loyal pet continued to wait for the professor at the station every day for nine years. A statue celebrating Hachiko’s love and devotion was erected outside Shibuya Station in 1934, and remains to this day.
A new kid on the block to scramble crossings, when London jumped on the bandwagon, it went big. Oxford Circus, right smack in the middle of one of the most popular shopping districts in Europe, is one of the most congested spaces in the UK. It is used by over 43,000 people and 2,000 vehicles every hour, and is part of 23 London bus routes. Overall, the West End accounts for around 20 percent of the capital's GDP and employs 300,000 people.
In order to better manage the huge influx of traffic and pedestrians in the late 2000s, Transport for London drew inspiration from Shibuya Crossing, and redesigned the pedestrian crosswalk at Oxford Circus into a similar X shape. The £5 million (RM28.95 million) intersection was opened in 2009, and recorded 90 million crossings within the first year, thanks to the 70 percent increase in road space for pedestrian use. It also boosted sales in the West End area by 7 percent.
David Shaw, head of Regent Street Portfolio at The Crown Estate told the BBC: “London hasn't seen a more significant improvement to its public realm than the Oxford Circus diagonal crossing in the last quarter of a century.”
In line with KL City Hall’s (DBKL's) aspiration to make Kuala Lumpur more pedestrian-friendly, the Bukit Bintang pedestrian scramble will soon be complemented by another X-crossing at the entrance of Tun Razak Exchange, at the South-East part of the Golden Triangle. The bustling Imbi Junction has been serving as 2 major channels from Bukit Bintang - Jalan Gading to Jalan Barat towards the financial district, and the 1.1 kilometre-long Jalan Imbi, that ends at Berjaya Times Square right before Jalan Hang Tuah.
TRX’s Jalan Gading Streetscape Enhancement programme includes improvements to the walkways around the junction, starting from the iconic Bukit Bintang shopping street extending all the way to TRX’s Lifestyle Quarter, creating the right avenue for outdoor cafes, and arts and culture installations, while adding vibrancy to the area.
Pedestrians will be able to cross the busy intersection safely during the day with additional wayfinding elements, and in the evening, the area will be brightly lit with tree and footpath lightings. This joint effort with DBKL to upgrade streetscapes in the area is expected to be completed by the end of 2022.