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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

SocietyJuly 22, 2023

All Dunedin’s Barnes Dance crossings, rated

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Ōtepoti has an absurd number of scramble crossings. Molly Wootton, an executive assistant working in the CBD, gives us the vibe check for each of them.

Upon the return to my hometown of Dunedin, there was one glaring change to the quaint town I had once known. Ōtepoti cosy, small-town vibe had been replaced by a big-city-living, skyscraper-filled metropolis, and as part of the revamp, Barnes Dance crossings are popping up throughout the city centre. 

Popularised by American traffic engineer Henry Barnes, a Barnes Dance (or scramble crossing) allows pedestrians to cross in any direction, including diagonally, when the green man lights up. My 2.1km walk to work sees me crossing a whopping nine of these things, and the time spent waiting for the free-for-all green light is excruciating. I could be solving the world’s great issues. I could be first in the office, with a smug grin. I could be watching grass grow or paint dry.

Instead, I have no option but to wait my turn to cross – and to mull over the merits of each of the Dances. Here’s my verdict.

Crossing 1: Moray Place/Princes Street

This is far and away my favourite crossing. It’s the first one I hit after I leave my flat, so morale is always high. I take a moment to relish the corporate girlie™ dream I’m living, smiling at fellow commuters, flashing a wink at bus drivers, and nodding to the boy now a man with a full-blown beard with whom I went to school. There’s a glorious sunrise reflecting off our heritage buildings, making the sandstone details glow. Dunedin, you’ve done it again. 

The traffic stops to make way for the traffic flowing in my direction, and the suspense builds. I feel my fellow pedestrians hold their breath. The right-turn arrow turns green, orange, red. The green man starts blipping, and our days begin. 

Allotted crossing time: 18 seconds
Pedestrian vibes: blindly positive
Overall rating: 9/10

Crossing 2: Princes Street/Octagon

After maybe 20 seconds, I hit another Dance. The Octagon greets me with dawn seagulls, Robbie Burns and the occasional bubble-bath water feature. It’s a beauty to behold in the early morning light, and you can feel the excitement building for a Friday post-work debrief in the lower Octagon’s bars. The road is narrow here and I only need a three-second gap between cars to make it, so when the traffic gods are smiling on me, I’m able to glide right through with perfect timing. 

Allotted crossing time: 15 seconds
Pedestrian vibes: mentally cheers-ing to the freakin’ weekend
Overall rating: 7.5/10

Morale is high as the day breaks (all photos by Molly Wootton)

Crossing 3: Octagon/George Street

Here’s where morale takes a real nosedive. I’ve only walked 270 metres, but I’m already having to press my third crossing button. I start to feel stupid at this point: I haven’t even hit full acceleration because I’m constantly waiting at lights. People I left in the dust at the first crossing catch up to me. We wait in silence. My eyes glaze over. Reality hits. 

Allotted crossing time: 16 seconds (why is it different to its twin on the other side of the Octagon??)
Pedestrian vibes: more like depress-trian…
Overall rating: 2/10

Crossing 4: George Street/Moray Place

This crossing feels like it would slay in summer. I’m picturing melted tar, jorts and jandals, and a top-tier spot to watch Dunedin’s Santa Parade (Te Waipounamu’s best summer entertainment). Unfortunately, it’s a winter that would freeze the feathers off a brass duck. 

This crossing is the gateway to George Street’s one-way pedestrian zone; a polarising move from our former mayor, Aaron Hawkins (miss u babe). When the wind blows just right, you get a whiff of sausage rolls from the bakery ahead and you’re left contemplating whether pastry crumbs could accent your outfit. The crossing is a waste of diagonal space, given us non-driving plebs could just use the pedestrian-friendly stretch of road ahead to cross. Sadly, I’m no city-planner; just a silly little taxpayer with a silly little Bachelor of Arts.

Allotted crossing time: 13 seconds
Pedestrian vibes: ghost town 
Overall rating: 4/10 (expect a steep increase come summertime)

Crossing 5: George Street/St Andrew Street

It’s cheating to judge this crossing now, given construction means the lights aren’t even switched on. Instead, a warden herds us like sheep through the construction-fence maze, and we’re at the mercy of the traffic. This feels like the scramble crossing with the most potential, though. We have two $2 shops, a jewellers, and Dunedin’s last-remaining department store on one side, and on the other there’s retail heaven with classy brand names like Glassons, Hallensteins and Dotti. It’s prime traffic-light real estate. 

Allotted crossing time: TBC
Pedestrian vibes: baa baa 
Overall rating: 6/10

Crossing 6: George Street/Hanover Street

The construction dust settles and blue sky appears as I pass my next checkpoint. Again, I cross under the watchful eyes of a warden, but this time we have working lights. Sometimes I revisit this crossing at lunch on my quest for the perfect rice ball they’re from Miga Hako on George Street so I like to think I’ve got a good rapport going with this particular group of tradies. 

I try to imagine this crossing at peak performance – Christmas shopping perhaps? I can see how, during a busy retail season, a scramble could be useful in this location. It’s the link between student-friendly upper George Street’s trendy shops and cafes, and our malls. Not to blow our own trumpet, but Dunedin has three malls. 

Allotted crossing time: 16 seconds
Pedestrian vibe: impatient (we’re edging closer to work now)
Overall rating: 8.5/10

Crossing 7: Hanover Street/Great King Street

Our seventh Barnes Dance is right by New World so it’s always busy after work, where I join the stream of office workers chafing at the bit for a snack after work (or a full rotisserie chicken). The diagonal crossing is pretty superfluous because a ten-second walk either side of Great King Street will take you to a raised pedestrian crossing, so it’s not much use unless you desperately need to get from the travel agent to Family Planning. Hey, I don’t know your story. 

Allotted Crossing Time: 18 seconds
Pedestrian vibes: hangry
Overall rating: 3/10

Crossing 8: Great King Street/Frederick Street

Here, the dental school dwarfs everything in its vicinity, casting shadows over the entire block and giving off an eerie, all-powerful, dentist-is-king vibe. Waiting for these lights feels like pulling teeth (hehe) and, again, the Barnes Dance feels unnecessary: this block is a dead-end, so surely any diagonal journeys can wait? I remind myself that I mustn’t judge those who are naïve to the ways of the morning powerwalkers. This crossing is particularly busy; university staff going one way and hospital staff going the other. Feels a little like the showdown between Jacob and Edward in Twilight. (Hospital staff are Edward, obviously.)

Allotted Crossing Time: 17 seconds
Pedestrian vibes: work mode = on
Overall rating: 3/10

Crossing 9: Great King Street/Albany Street

The bane of my existence. I fucking hate this one. Firstly, it takes an age to cross. It’s a State Highway, so the trucks thunder past with sheep staring sadly out the gaps in their cages. Secondly, this crossing leaves the pedestrians exposed to the judgement of those in cars. Third, and worst of all, is the lack of time we’re given to cross. The green man lasts all of three seconds, then you have a measly 17 seconds to cross what must be the largest Dance in the South Island.

Imagine my horror last week when I watched my poor grandmother make the trek from Tūhura Otago Museum to The Cook. Thank God she had her speedy stroller, otherwise she’d have been roadkill for sure. I breathe a sigh of relief each time I finish this crossing; the neck tension I’ve been holding since I locked my front door at 8:07 am subsiding as I cross the Museum lawn.

Allotted crossing time: 17 seconds
Pedestrian vibes: panicked
Overall rating: 0/10


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