Along with the hordes of tourists looking for some Southern California sun last Memorial Day weekend locals may have noticed some other newcomers to Downtown Santa Monica – crosswalk guards.

The guards, sporting red board shorts, inflatable rescue rafts and a dab of zinc oxide on their noses, spread out among twelve intersections in the downtown area and helped pedestrians navigate the diagonal crosswalks. While they looked like actors in a viral marketing campaign, they were actually paid and organized by the business organization Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.

“I think generally the idea of scramble crosswalks is newish to everyone,” CEO Kathleen Rawson said in an interview with the Daily Press. “Unfortunately we’ve had a lot of pedestrian/vehicle accidents already in 2017 and we thought we would help increase awareness of how these intersections should work.”

The City repainted the roads and established the scramble crosswalks at 12 intersections in May of 2016 to coincide with the launch of the Expo Line downtown. The intersections allow pedestrians to cross in all directions – including diagonally – at the same time. Inversely, pedestrians are required to wait instead of crossing with the flow of traffic so cars can turn without the threat of running into someone on foot.

The scrambles – also known as a Barnes Dance – have been making a comeback in Los Angeles and cities around the world as local governments aim to increase walkability and reduce crashes. For example, recently painted scramble at the busy corner of Hollywood and Highland has received praise from publications and blogs for curbing accidents at one of Los Angeles’s most perilous intersections.

Rawson is still waiting on the official numbers from over the weekend, but says initial feedback regarding the crosswalk guards on social media has been positive. A search on Instagram for #dtsmscramble showed 174 posts, some with hundreds of “likes.” While social media is important, Rawson says the scramble guards had face to face contact with thousands of pedestrians walking to nearby restaurants and the beach.

“It was meant to be education, attention grabbing and a fun way to get people to understand how to use the intersections,” Rawson said. Downtown Santa Monica, Inc contracted the guards for the weekend and deployed about fifteen of them on Saturday, Sunday and Monday during the holiday weekend. The organization coordinated with Santa Monica Police Department, who also deployed crossing guards at several busy intersections, such as Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue near the Expo stop.

“It seemed to work really well. It’s a pilot,” Rawson said, adding she’s still waiting on the data before determining whether the red board shorts will make another appearance. She’s considering whether they might be useful during the Twilight Concert Series, when Santa Monica streets once again become packed with pedestrians and drivers looking for a parking space.

kate@smdp.com

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