FLAG OF SAFETY. Pedestrians crossing Southwest Admiral Way just west of 47th Avenue Southwest can attempt to stop traffic by walking with orange flags provided in tubes affixed to poles on both sides of the street. Photo by Steve Shay

Flags to mark crossing danger

To increase safety on Seattle's streets for pedestrians the Seattle City Council added a new feature to the current pedestrian program - pedestrian flags at 17 crosswalk locations.

A spin-off of your average school crossing guard, yellow pedestrian flags placed in holders at both sides of designated crosswalks allow pedestrians to cross the street while waving the flags to warn drivers that they are crossing and to slow down.

Nick Licata, Council member and co-chair of the Pedestrian Safety Committee said one of the first places pedestrian flags were used was in Salt Lake City; then discovered Kirkland had been using pedestrian flags since 1995. The Council suggested they be added in the city.

But the flags were popping up around the city mostly because of accidents.

In 2006, a West Seattle man who had witnessed Tatsuo Nakata, chief aide to then-Council member David Della, being struck and killed at the intersection of Admiral Way and 47th Avenue installed bright orange-red flags on each side of the crosswalk with homemade safety signs.

"Flags are put in to see if crosswalks become safer," said Rich Sheridan, of the Seattle Department of Transportation. "They are there to make pedestrians feel safer and to encourage more people to walk."

The 17 locations were chosen specifically where crosswalks were considered problems and at multi-lane crossings or where there were numerous complaints about pedestrian and vehicle and safety. Some are in both high and low traffic areas in residential areas.

In West Seattle, the flags are, or will be, at these locations:

- Southwest Avalon Way and Southwest Yancy Street

- California Avenue Southwest and Southwest Dakota Street

- California Avenue Southwest and Southwest Dawson Street

The Seattle Department of Transportation will reevaluate the crosswalks where the flags are place by the end of the year to determine whether or not pedestrians are safer and if the system is sustainable.

Missing flags has become a problem. About 70 flags go missing at crosswalks each week. Flags cost about $8.50 each.

A similar problem had happened in Kirkland when they had first installed the flags but Sheridan said they are banking on the experience of Kirkland other municipalities with the program.

"What Kirkland had done when flags had gone missing was to restock them until it reached a point where they stopped disappearing," said Sheridan. "People accepted the fact that they were there and no longer had interest in stealing them. You reach the saturation point of stealing flags, and everyone who would steal one has already done so."

Another solution they had in mind for the disappearing flags would be more community involvement. A concept they are looking into is involving businesses, local residents and community groups to replenish flags when needed. Details have not been sorted out yet but they are exploring the concept, said Sheridan.

As of now they are sending out crews one to two times a week to restock the flags and they are being aggressive about keeping flags in place.

Sheridan said that by the end of this year the measure of effectiveness of the program would be based on seeing if motorists are stopping at crosswalks with the use of flags and if more pedestrians are crossing at recommended stations.

"I think this is one of many measures we should take that is a definite improvement and we should be putting in more than the 17 locations we have," said Licata. "It's not a high tech solution, it's quite affordable and I don't think we need another study to show that they are effective. Other cities have used them and continue to expand the program because they've found it to be useful."

Licata encourages people to contact his office if they are in need of flags in their local neighborhood intersections by calling 684-8803 or emailing at nick.licata@seattle.gov. They will then put in a request at the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Allison Espiritu may be reached at 783-1244 or allisone@robinsonnews.com.