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Mesa Architects Propose ‘Scramble’ Intersection for Cliff Drive at Meigs Road

The design stops all traffic to allow pedestrians to cross in every direction at the same time, then gives vehicles a turn; watch the video to see how it works

Pressing a crosswalk button ad infinitum for a safe chance to walk across Cliff Drive at Meigs Road in Santa Barbara may be a thing of the past, if Dennis Thompson and Jeff King have their way.

They’re part of a group of a dozen planners and Mesa residents who call themselves the Mesa Architects, and they think they have a solution for pedestrians.

They’re proposing a pedestrian “scramble,” or diagonal crossing. With foot traffic between businesses that sit diagonally — such as Lazy Acres from Albertsons — taking two trips across the streets, pedestrians are often left waiting longer than it takes to drive.

“It takes so long that people will drive from one parking lot to the other” instead of walking, Thompson said.

The “scramble design” stops all vehicle traffic and allows pedestrians to cross in every direction at the same time. Vehicles are also given a turn, and pedestrians aren’t allowed to cross at any time during their movement. This gives cars the ability to make right turns without worrying about pedestrians.

“In the end, it’s safer for drivers and pedestrians,” King said.

The scramble intersections are used all over the world, as well as cities closer to home, such as Oakland and Los Angeles.

LA Gets Diagonal Crosswalks (again) from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

The Mesa Architects were a large part of the success of the recent Cliff Drive improvements. They helped get the neighborhood to speak out at public comment when the City Council discussed restriping the road in June. After extensive support from the neighborhood, the council eventually approved restriping the road from four lanes to two, with a center turn lane and bike lanes in both directions.

For that effort, the group was given a Barry Siegel Award from the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST) last week.

Prompted by the city’s General Plan updates, the group started four years ago to represent a Mesa viewpoint in the discussion. They purposefully stayed away from more controversial issues such as housing density, Thompson said, and focused their efforts on things such as circulation and public spaces.

The members live in the area, so their ideas come organically, from experience.

“We’ve lived and walked in it every single day,” King said of the Mesa.

The professional background helps, too. Thompson is the principal architect at Thompson Naylor Architects, where King also works.

The Mesa Architects have drawn up some impressive plans about what the scramble project might look like. Click here to view them online.

Scramble intersections are used all over the world, as well as cities closer to home, such as this one in Oakland.
Scramble intersections are used all over the world, as well as cities closer to home, such as this one in Oakland. (Mesa Architects photo)

King said most of the feedback they’ve received through the group’s Web site has been positive.

“I’d say about 90 percent of people we’ve heard from are in favor of trying it,” he said.

Curb extensions are also included in the plan, to reduce the amount of time needed to cross the street on foot, which may raise some eyebrows from critics. But the group maintains that the extensions would extend out less than the width of a parking space. The group also looked at a roundabout for that intersection, but space was an issue.

One member of the group noted that the shopping center on the Mesa is smaller than La Cumbre Plaza, which shares a parking lot, King said.

“We’re hopeful that this could create a more synergistic business area,” he said.

But are there enough pedestrians to make the plan work? Rob Dayton, principal transportation planner for the City of Santa Barbara, said scramble crossings can work well when pedestrian volume is high. He said the approach stops all vehicular movement in the intersection, so motorists will get impatient if there isn’t much pedestrian activity.

“If there’s not a lot of pedestrian volume that can be a real issue,” he said.

Dayton said he hasn’t heard a lot of comments about pedestrian safety at that intersection, but added that it’s under Caltrans’ jurisdiction, at least for now.

Dayton said the pedestrian volume may not be high enough to warrant a scramble, but “that doesn’t mean it can’t be done,” he said. “We haven’t counted volume out there.”

King said more pedestrians will want to walk if the area is more amenable to it.

“It’s a chicken and egg problem,” he said.

Thompson said the project could be implemented in phases as well, reducing upfront cost. Paint for the crosswalks and some reprogramming of the traffic lights would be a low cost to the city, and the larger hard scaping changes could come later, he said.

The plan also calls for a landscaped plaza for the street that fronts Taco Bell, the Cliff Room, Alcazar and other businesses. 

“The downside is that those businesses would lose some parking,” Thompson said. “The upside is that you gain a public space. We don’t really have any type of urban plaza like you would find in Latin America.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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