Safety cited as key reason for new downtown scramble crossing

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COLUMBIA - Columbia City Council members unanimously approved the reworking the intersection of Ninth and Elm streets into a new type of crossing following a public forum Monday. The scramble crossing require cars on all sides stop, allowing pedestrians to move cross in any direction, even diagonally.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said the city wants to test a new crossing in a high-traffic area downtown to see if it will reduce pedestrian accidents.

"Pedestrian safety is of paramount importance to local government," Skala said. "It's worth making pedestrians safer than they were before it becomes an issue."

Skala said the new crossing will reduce accidents that occur with typical two-way intersections when vehicles currently make right or left-hand turns as pedestrians cross.

During the meeting, though, Skala expressed concern over the implementation the project and said the city and the University of Missouri will need to work with residents and students so they understand how to use a scramble crossing.

Starting August 2016, the city will implement the scramble crossing as a 'three-phase intersection' that switches between vehicle and pedestrian traffic rather than letting pedestrians cross with traffic.

The first two phases would allow vehicle traffic on each street to move in tuns, and then the third phase would allow pedestrians on all corners to cross in any direction they wish.

The city said the new crossing would likely increase average pedestrian and vehicle wait times as a result of the three-phase system, but that it would also be more efficient during peak traffic hours in downtown Columbia.

The project is expected to cost around $130,000, which includes the cost of replacing some traffic signals and installing new ones

The city said it was saving around $100,000 by starting the project alongside the planned replacement of a failing storm drain system at the same intersection.  

Skala said the city can revert the intersection back into a two-way crossing if the scramble crossing doesn't work out.

"I think if we get the word out and at least try it out for the Ninth and Elm intersection, which is a high traffic intersection, it's probably worth trying," Skala said. "It's not that difficult to reverse if we decide it's not working very well or there's no traffic demand for it, but it may work great."