On Monday, Cupertino will begin using a pedestrian scramble at one of its intersections for the first time, hoping to boost pedestrian safety and ease traffic during school commute times at the busy intersection of Bubb and McClellan roads.
The scrambles will occur between 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and then resume in the afternoon from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Pedestrian scrambles involve turning all the traffic lights at an intersection red at the same time to stop traffic in all directions and to allow pedestrians to cross the street without any vehicular movement around them. Afterward, drivers are allowed to turn right freely during their green light, according to city officials.
While it’s a first in Cupertino, the method itself isn’t new — it’s been used in San Francisco and Oakland before, as well as in other cities throughout the country over the last several decades. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration, pedestrian scrambles were first implemented in various parts of North America, including Denver, Kansas City and Vancouver, in the late 1940s or early 1950s.
The best-known pedestrian scramble in the world may be Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Japan, where thousands of pedestrians cross the street each day — not just by walking across lanes of stopped traffic, but by crossing them diagonally as well.
City officials and residents in Cupertino hope that the pedestrian scramble not only boosts safety in the area, but also reduces traffic congestion by allowing only pedestrians or only cars to move through the intersection at any given time. In a Cupertino bulletin, officials asked that residents adhere to strict guidelines to make sure the pedestrian scramble works as intended. Pedestrians must make sure to cross the street when signals allow and remain on the sidewalk at all other times, and drivers must turn right during green lights and will not be allowed to turn right on red lights.
Additionally, unlike some other pedestrian scrambles, including the famous Shibuya Crossing, pedestrians at the Cupertino intersection will not be allowed to cross diagonally. Instead, the lights at the intersection will remain red long enough for pedestrians to make two full crossings if needed.
The pedestrian scramble technique could help the city alleviate traffic congestion and increase pedestrian safety without having to immediately resort to more costly infrastructure changes, according to Jennifer Shearin, a board member for Walk-Bike Cupertino, an advocacy group that pushes for safer walking and biking conditions in the city. Shearin said the intersection is often inundated with traffic from travelers heading to Lincoln Elementary School, Kennedy Middle School or Monta Vista High School and foot traffic, bicycle traffic and car traffic tend to swell during school pick-up and drop-off hours.
“It’s pretty much bumper-to-bumper traffic in the mornings,” Shearin said. “You get all the traffic from what we call the ‘tri-school area.’ Because of that, McClellan Road itself backs up — really, really backs up.”
According to Shearin, drivers and pedestrians often find themselves facing problems at the intersection — drivers who want to turn right on Bubb Road may not be able to when pedestrians are crossing, meaning they might not be able to take the turn they need to get to one of the schools.
“People in vehicles, they get frustrated,” Shearin said. “If they can’t get through an intersection, and they have a child on the way to school, they can get very frustrated. It just becomes snarled, that’s the best way to put it — it’s a snarled traffic situation.”
But with a pedestrian scramble, cars and pedestrians don’t have to compete for dominance.
“This is one way to reduce that level of frustration and improve safety for people, especially kids getting to school,” Shearin said.
This isn’t the first time the city of Cupertino has considered using a pedestrian scramble — according to Shearin, Walk-Bike Cupertino had previously discussed the idea of having a pedestrian scramble at the intersection of Stevens Creek Boulevard and Finch Avenue, near Cupertino High School.
“It’s been on the city’s radar for many years, to look at putting a pedestrian scramble at some of these school sites, because you’ve got a lot of conflicts between cars and pedestrians who all want to use the intersection at the same time,” Shearin said.
She hopes the city continues to implement creative solutions to traffic problems in Cupertino — not just to improve safety and reduce the risk of pedestrian injuries or fatalities, but to also make the city easier and more enjoyable to navigate by bicycle or on foot.
“I think the city could look into other solutions too — maybe not always a pedestrian scramble, but they could look at other unique solutions to various trouble spots throughout the city,” Shearin said.
Residents with questions or feedback about the program can contact the Cupertino Safe Routes to School team at [email protected].
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