Miami’s streets are designed for drivers — and Miami drivers are best known for their disdain for pedestrians and bicyclists.
But this month, the Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works announced the installation of a new crosswalk designed for safer pedestrian crossings. Known as a scramble crosswalk, the right-of-way gives pedestrians free rein to cross the street in any direction and prohibits cars from turning right on a red light.
The crosswalk was installed at the intersection of NE First Avenue and NE Second Street in downtown Miami, near Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, New World School of the Arts, and Government Center.
"There's definitely lots and lots of pedestrians there," Alice Bravo, Miami-Dade's transit director, told New Times in an interview before leaving her post. "If you're talking about safety, the best place to have enhanced pedestrian features is where there are a lot of pedestrians because drivers are more aware of what's going on. There's safety in numbers."
Scramble crosswalks, also known as diagonal crosswalks, allow pedestrians to cross perpendicularly or diagonally. All cars stop at the same time, including those in the right turn lane, giving pedestrians a complete right-of-way.
Social-media commenters reacted swiftly to the announcement.
"Many drivers don't stop at red lights….but stopping for pedestrians? You're asking too much," one Facebook user said.
"Well someone is going to die," said another.
We don't even use the regular crosswalks. https://t.co/CvFAB8L9dW— I'm NOT Shane Battier (@Mad_Dad2020) December 10, 2020
Those are fair criticisms. Several Miami-Dade cities rank as some of the deadliest places for pedestrians. Miami has an appalling record of crashes caused by drivers running red lights. And pedestrians sometimes don't make use of crosswalks at all.
But some safe-roads advocacy organizations think the scramble crosswalk is a positive addition to Miami's streets.
"Prioritizing pedestrian convenience over automobile traffic is the future of our cities, and a powerful economic tool," the Miami Riders Alliance tweeted.
The child-safety organization WalkSafe pointed out that Flagler Street used to have scramble crosswalks, but they were removed in the 1990s.
Matthew Gultanoff, founder of the advocacy group Better Streets Miami Beach, says he thinks it's great that the county is implementing strategies to increase safety for everyone on the road, including pedestrians. Gultanoff says he thinks pedestrians scrambles would be a time-saver. They'd allow walkers to get to where they need to be without waiting for two different pedestrian cycles to cross a road. Enhanced pedestrian features are also important for elderly people and those with disabilities, he says.
"There is a pervasive windshield perspective among the general public and, sometimes, our elected officials and decision-makers," Gultanoff says. "But keep in mind that everyone is a pedestrian, even drivers. If you drive downtown for business, work, retail, entertainment, or school, you will park your car somewhere and walk."
Bravo, the former transit director, acknowledged the criticisms and said it's a matter of drivers and pedestrians getting accustomed to something novel.
"I think when you introduce something new, it's important that you do it in the right place," she said. "And that's why we picked this location that is already known for having a lot of pedestrians. Drivers going through there already should be more sensitive to that. Part of this is also informing the public that this exists."
Bravo said the department is considering other locations for scramble crosswalks in the county.
Pedestrian scrambles are popular in parts of Europe, in Australia, and in Japan. Perhaps the most famous one is outside the Shibuya railway station in Tokyo. Considered a landmark, the scramble sees upward of 1,000 pedestrians crossing in multiple directions at once.
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