A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from January 18, 2006
Barnes Dance
Henry Barnes was the city's traffic commissioner in the 1960s. He was known for the traffic scramble called the "Barnes Dance" to help pedestrians cross the streets safely.

His autobiography denied that he invented the traffic scramble, but he certainly popularized it. The "Barnes Dance" is not used today.

Henry Barnes was a prominent traffic engineer and administrator of the 20th century who served in many cities, including Denver, Colorado, Baltimore, Maryland, and New York, New York. Barnes was responsible for many innovations in applied traffic engineering, including the Green Wave of coordinated traffic signals and the application of actuated traffic signals (signals set off by the presence of an automobile or a pedestrian pushing a button).

The Barnes Dance is a street-crossing system that stops all traffic and allows pedestrians to cross intersections in every direction at the same time. The Barnes Dance was first used in Kansas City and Vancouver in the late 1940s. Subsequently it was adopted in other cities such as Denver, Colorado and New York.

The Barnes Dance

After reading this article, several people commented on the reference to the "scramble," during which all traffic at an intersection is halted so pedestrians can cross in any direction, including diagonally. The readers suggested that Henry A. Barnes, who had been traffic commissioner in Denver, Baltimore, and New York City, invented the concept, which became known as the "Barnes Dance."

In Barnes' autobiography, The Man With the Red and Green Eyes (E. P. Dutton and Company, 1965), he doesn't claim to have invented the Barnes Dance. He traces his involvement in the concept to a presentation he made in Los Angeles to the Institute of Traffic Engineers while was working in Denver. (Throughout the book, Barnes is vague on years, but the presentation, "Denver Installs a Modern Signal System," was delivered in September 1951.) He decided to talk about pedestrians, inspired by dropping his daughter off at school and watching her and her friends dash across the street between parked cars. Then he had watched adults trying to cross streets, and found they were taking their lives into their hands:

As things stood now, a downtown shopper needed a four-leaf clover, a voodoo charm, and a St. Christopher's medal to make it in one piece from one curbstone to the other. As far as I was concerned--a traffic engineer with Methodist leanings -- I didn't think that the Almighty should be bothered with problems which we, ourselves, were capable of solving. Therefore, I was going to aid and abet prayers and benedictions with a practical scheme: Henceforth, the pedestrian--as far as Denver was concerned -- was going to be blessed with a complete interval in the traffic signal cycle all his own. First of all, there would be the usual red and green signals for vehicular traffic. Let the cars have their way, moving straight through or making right turns. Then a red light for all vehicles while the pedestrians were given their own signal. In this interim, the street crossers could move directly or diagonally to their objectives, having free access to all four corners while all cars waited for a change of lights. [See pages 108-110]

Barnes pointed out that he did not invent the concept. He said, "There were a few such installations in Kansas City, Vancouver, and a couple of other cities. But we would put them throughout the entire business area." [Page 110]

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. Barnes added:

There were other stories, too, including a feature article by the City Hall reporter, John Buchanan. For me, it was very pleasant reading, and John ended it 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." [Page 116]

25 December 1952, Washington Post, pg. 10:
Barnes Dance
Some months ago the energetic traffic engineer in Denver, Henry Barnes, devised a new system to speed traffic through the city. The system has many features, including an electronic brain which automatically adjusts signals in the downtown area to correspond with traffic flow. Most spectacular, however, is a phase in the traffic light cycle which stops all vehicle traffic. Pedestrians then may cross in any fashion they desire, including X-fashion through the intersection. This plan has worked surprisingly well and has come to be known as the Barnes dance. The great advantage is that, with all pedestrian traffic stopped except during the "Dance," 10 or more cars are able to make right turns on a green light whereas previously only 1 car got through.

2 January 1953, Washington Post, letters, pg. 14:
"Barnes Dance"
This refers to your editorial of December 25 recommending consideration of the so-called "Barnes Dance" traffic control system, which provides separate phases pof the traffi-light cycle for pedestrians and for automobiles.

Such a system has been in use in Boston for many years. The Boston system has a red-and-yellow phase during which the crossing is reserved for pedestrians, who may corss in any convenient direction. The green lights are for automobiles only.
Arlington, Va.

19 July 1954, Washington Post and Times Herald, pg. 9:
Baltimore Tries "Barnes Dance

24 January 1962, New York Times, pg. 30:
"Scramble" Plan for Pedestrians
Begins Tomorrow on E. 42d St.

Noonday crowds near Grand Central Terminal will have their first chance at uninhibited street crossing tomorrow when the "Barnes dance" has its premiere here.

All vehicular traffic will be halted periodically at Vanderbilt Avenue and Forty-second Street to give pedestrians exclusive right-of-way. They may then cross for twenty-two seconds in any direction, including diagonally.

The innovation is named for the city's new Traffic Commissioner, Henry A. Barnes, who is the first to acknowledge that he is not the inventor of what is known as the scramble system. It has had wide pedestrian appeal across the country for twenty years, but has been taboo here because Mr. Barnes' predecessor, T. T. Wiley, felt it would cause motor vehicle traffic to back up.

14 March 1962, New York Times, pg. 32:

All-Red Light System Tried
Out at Broadway Corner

20 April 1962, New York Times, pg. 29:
Brooklyn Stumbles During Its First Barnes Dance

13 June 1962, New York Times, pg. 43:

Pedestrian Scramble Will
Replace Confusing Signals
at 7th Ave. and 32d St.

17 September 1968, New York Times, pg. 1:
Traffic Commissioner Barnes, 61,
Dies After Being Stricken on Job
(Pg. 33 -- ed.)
He became famous all over the world for such dramatic innovations as the Barnes Dance, in which all the traffic lights at an intersection go red, allowing pedestrians to cross the street every which way. It was tied as far away as Melbourne, Australia, in addition to New York, but was largely abandoned.

Posted by Barry Popik
Transportation • Wednesday, January 18, 2006 • Permalink

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