A bill that the state Senate passed on Monday would allow New York City to implement “scramble” crosswalks outside all of its schools, allowing little ones to safely cross the street without the specter of auto traffic.
The legislation, passed unanimously by Albany’s upper chamber, allows cities with populations of over 250,000 — a threshold met only by New York City and Buffalo — to convert intersections outside schools into scramble crosswalks, where vehicle traffic is stopped on all sides and pedestrians can cross in any direction, including diagonally.
The passage comes on the heels of the deadliest year for children on New York City streets since 2014. Sixteen children were killed in traffic collisions on city streets in 2022, the most of the Vision Zero era.
“We need to make sure we are allowing children, who may not always have the best judgment, to be able to cross the street without the fear that a driver isn’t going to yield to pedestrians,” said Queens state Senator Jessica Ramos, the bill’s primary sponsor, in an interview with amNewYork Metro.
A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that the lower chamber’s version of the bill is currently sitting in its Transportation Committee.
The scramble — also known as a “Barnes Dance,” after the city’s 1960s Traffic Commissioner Henry Barnes, a champion of the design — would be active within school zones between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.. The morning bell and dismissal periods are the most critical for the design, as those are when streets surrounding schools flood with schoolchildren.
Ramos, a mom of two boys, said she first introduced the bill as a freshman senator following the 2018 death of Giovanni Ampuero, a 9-year-old boy killed by a hit-and-run driver on Northern Boulevard in her district. Eight pedestrians, including Ampuero, have died on Northern Boulevard in traffic collisions in the past decade, according to NYC Crash Mapper.
“It was clear this was happening closer to schools,” Ramos said. “And as a mom, it’s always been a worry for me.”
The scramble is not new in New York; during Barnes’ tenure as traffic commissioner, the city implemented the scrambles at intersections across the city — such that reporters ultimately coined the term “Barnes Dance” for the peppy stride adopted by pedestrians crossing without any worries of traffic.
Like many urban innovations of the time, the Barnes Dance was heavily disfavored by Robert Moses, who felt it held up the automobile traffic he prioritized. Ultimately, their creation bottomed out in New York and cities around the country.
In a 2017 report, the city’s Department of Transportation said that New York had 635 intersections with “exclusive pedestrian phases,” including 86 Barnes Dances, out of over 13,500 in total across the five boroughs.
Others include midblock traffic signals and three-way intersections where one-way traffic on side streets moves away from arterial roads. In the years since, DOT has installed traffic signal priority for pedestrians, where lights turn green for pedestrians before cars, at hundreds of intersections.
At the time, DOT wrote that a study of “high pedestrian volume intersections” found that scrambles “increased average delay and wait times for all roadways users,” but said Barnes Dances might still be considered for intersections with “atypical geometry.”
A spokesperson for DOT said that today, all-pedestrian phases are part of the agency’s street design toolkit at certain locations if deemed appropriate.
“DOT is working to enhance traffic safety every day—especially around schools,” said DOT press secretary Vin Barone. “Last year the agency improved 1,600 intersections citywide with a broad array of tools, from signal timing to full redesigns.”
Correction (3/15 at 2:50 pm): This story has been amended to note the bill simply allows the city to build scramble crosswalks outside schools, and does not require it to. We regret the error.