Some days it’s impossible not to love the City of Portland, where transportation geekery and fun often intersect in memorable ways.
Remember that new signal at NW 11th and Couch we told you about last week? To celebrate it’s activation the bureau of transportation is hosting a dance. A barn dance to be exact. And it will happen in the intersection.
How the heck does a traffic signal inspire a city-sanctioned event where people will dance in the streets?
It has to do with three men: Henry Barnes, John Buchanan, and Peter Koonce.
Barnes was a colorful and innovative traffic engineer who worked in several cities between the 1940s and his death in 1968. He was particularly famous for his work with signals and ahead of his time in putting people first (a mindset that apparently found him at loggerheads with car-centric, freeway builder Robert Moses during his tenure in New York City). One outcome of Barnes’ philosophy was a signalized intersection design where priority is given to people walking in all directions simultaneously while people in cars have to wait. Today these are called “pedestrian scramble signals” and they’re in use all over the country (including Portland as of last week).
In his 1965 autobiography The Man With the Red and Green Eyes, Barnes recalls a reporter from a city where one of these signals had been installed. The reporter, John Buchanan, wrote: “Barnes has made the people so happy they’re dancing in the streets.” After that article, this type of walking-centric signal became known as the “Barnes Dance.”
The Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Peter Koonce is in charge of our city’s 1,100 signals. He’s also a big fan of the Barnes Dance, having first mentioned it publicly in a blog post in 2011. Since then Koonce has become a strong advocate for the signals, even working it into the Pedestrian Phasing section of the Federal Highway Administration’s traffic signal timing manual which he wrote. (The FHWA’s website has an entire page devoted to the Barnes Dance.)
For a dedicated engineer like Peter Koonce, the installation of a Barnes Dance in his hometown must be like a dream come true.
You can help celebrate this milestone in Portland’s transportation history by joining Koonce and his bosses PBOT Director Leah Treat and Commissioner of Transportation Steve Novick for a barn dance to celebrate the Barnes Dance at 10:00 am this Saturday, December 5th.
Learn more about the event and the new signal at PortlandOregon.gov.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org