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Can a pedestrian 'scramble' be safe?

The name alone seems worthy of an eyebrow raise. Scramble? Really? That's the term city planning engineers have assigned to crosswalks where the traffic signals are set so that all vehicles stop in all directions at the same time. The idea is that the entire intersection becomes a crosswalk. During the ensuing interval, pedestrians can cross in any direction they want – even diagonally. Scramble, indeed.

Some in the San Francisco area may be familiar with these unusual intersections. There are a few of them around the city. The latest opened recently in Chinatown at the busy crossing at Kearny and Clay streets. Experts call it a positive step forward in the city's Vision Zero SF effort. Will the scramble reduce injuries or deaths due to vehicle-pedestrian accidents? Officials hope so.

Municipal transportation officials claim the new scramble intersection will encourage wheeled and foot traffic to move at what it calls a "human pace." When that happens, they say, traffic flows more smoothly and everyone is safer.

Of course, that presumes everyone understands how the intersection is supposed to work. With any new traffic change, there is bound to be an uphill learning curve. People who ply the neighborhood regularly will probably get used to the situation quickly, but San Francisco has a high number of tourists. Most will likely never have heard of a scramble, much less experienced one.

Since police in San Francisco say they will be stepping up their patrols around the new intersection and issuing tickets until behaviors change, it seems pedestrians would be wise to exercise extra caution.

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