Auckland pedestrians begin 'Barnes Dance'

21 August 1958

Queen Street, Auckland, c. 1960
Queen Street, Auckland, c. 1960 (Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl-7756-1-121)

Auckland became the first New Zealand city to introduce the ‘Barnes Dance’ system, which stopped all traffic at intersections, allowing pedestrians to cross in any direction at the same time.

Named after a US traffic engineer, Henry A. Barnes, the system was first used in North America in the 1940s. Barnes did not claim to have invented it, but as traffic commissioner in Denver, Baltimore, and then New York, he promoted its use in the CBDs of these cities. Despite dire predictions, local newspapers were soon admitting that it worked well. According to Barnes, the name had been coined when a reporter wrote that ‘Barnes has made the people so happy they’re dancing in the streets’.

In Auckland the Barnes Dance became a feature of pedestrian traffic in Queen St. Other New Zealand cities soon followed Auckland’s lead and introduced the system. But as more vehicles clogged city streets, the Barnes Dance came under attack, with traffic engineers regarding cars as more important than pedestrians.