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Flagging unsafe streets

There are some people who want to see cyclists decked out from head to toe in high viz along with other assorted measures in the name of safety. If that happens then perhaps pedestrians will be next and in some US cities are already trialling what could be the next, pedestrian flags. Wired reports:

Pedestrians in one Connecticut city might get around a bit more safely, if they don’t mind crossing the street carrying a bright yellow flag.

The city of Bridgeport has started leaving the flags at each end of one downtown crosswalk in an effort to cut down on the number of people hit while crossing the street. The idea behind the program is simple: Drivers are more likely to see—and yield to—pedestrians carrying the flags, which make it abundantly obvious that the person is about to cross the street. Similar efforts have been made, with varying levels of success, in cities around the country, most often on busy arterials that don’t always have traffic lights or crossing signals.

Pedestrian Flag

There’s surely no greater sign that streets have been designed hostile to pedestrians than the suggestion you would need to wave a silly flag while crossing the street all in the hope that a driver might see you. It would be a very sad day if we ever saw it suggested here.

76 comments to Flagging unsafe streets

  • Jolisa

    Hate to tell you this, but: plenty of school kids are being obliged to do this already. See Pt Chev Primary (crossing Meola Rd on a pedestrian crossing with a guard) and even worse, Grey Lynn School kids crossing Great North Road on the hill, at a traffic signal. Yep: kids are carrying hi-viz flags to cross the road when cars are stopped at a red light. Just in case. Because car-centric road design FTW.

      • Loraxus

        Lets get some photos and a follow-up article. “Kids making car drivers risk hitting them – make them wear high-viz”. No, wait, that is the standard practice for walking school buses already. On footpaths.

    • Anon

      To be fair, Great North Road and Meola Road are both fairly significant main arterials so I kind of think they should be car-centric. Doesn’t excuse people for not stopping at red lights or following the road rules. But then again, I would expect that the number of children killed crossing the road on a red light is vanishingly small (given that most red light runners do it just after the lights gone red so luckily most people won’t have started crossing yet). 10 deaths children died on the roads last year, which is 10 too many (and also NZTA doesn’t say how many were pedestrians, but does say 34 pedestrians died last year) which says the walk to school isn’t **that** dangerous.

  • conan

    How it used to be:

  • Charlie Lundberg

    They tried thi in Laguna Beach, CA several years ago and abandoned it because pedestrians
    waved the flag and walked across the street with no regard for the traffic. They now use imbedded lights in the crosswalk
    to cause traffic to stop and allow pedestrians to cross.

  • Anon

    Seems to me that people are going to have to cross the roads at some point, so how do you make roads less “hostile”? The roads have 1-2 tonne chunks of metal on them which are inherently dangerous. So what do we do? Dig tunnels? Build bridges? (The obvious solution is for people not to drive like dickheads and follow the damn road rules, but that’s obviously too hard for us to deal with).

    • Jolisa

      Lower the speed limit on streets where people walk and bike; make all crossings raised, with “neckdowns” to narrow the edges of the streets; put speed bumps where the diamonds currently are before pedestrian crossings; get rid of slip lanes that send cars zooming around corners; use paint to make sidewalks visually continuous across roads; assiduously ticket drivers who refuse to stop for pedestrians, until behaviour changes. And that’s just for starters.

      • Kent Lundberg

        Also, add signalised and/or all-way stop intersections, especially at, um intersections.

      • JimboJones

        Speedbumps, neckdowns, etc cost money, and it will add up to a lot if done to almost every street in Auckland.
        Surely the easy fix is to lower the speed limit so 40 is the ‘default’, 30 everywhere in the city, 10 in shared spaces, and 50+ on designated arterials where crossing is unlikely. Our police are really committed to policing the speed limit and I’m sure people will slow down even without all of the visual clues. The amount of times I see people doing 60 between speed bumps, etc – what a waste of money when a simple 40 or 30 km speed limit sign would work much better.

      • jacques

        yes to all, these steps would be both practical and effective.

      • Anon

        On streets where people walk and bike? So, pretty much everywhere except the motorways? Is that practical? My son has to cross Sandringham Road to get to school, which he does at a pedestrian crossing that is controlled by lights, but it also happens to be a major transit route for people going to work and has bus lanes running down either side. It’s also lucky enough to have a 40km/h school zone in place, but I still watch cars, buses and sometimes trucks roll through that red light. And neckdowns aren’t going to work there are they? I agree with enforcement, but unless you’re doing over 110km/h the police don’t seem to be interested in enforcing road rules.

        • How about something like this: http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/making-a-1960s-street-grid-fit-for-the-21st-century/

          That looks pretty practical but will require road users to slow down. Is that really such a problem?

          The Dutch (and Danish) have around half the number of traffic related deaths NZ does. So every year that we dont start implementing schemes like this, we are just accepting that someone’s family member has to die so that NZers can continue to travel faster but in an unsafe traffic environment.

          So much for family/child friendly NZ.

          • Anon

            That actually looks pretty awesome. We can’t get rid of all risk of crossing the roads, especially main arterials, but getting traffic slower and off the residential streets is something I’m all in favour off. I think we just need to be balanced about this stuff, because we still need traffic to get around efficiently, but they can do that on the arterials, and don’t need to be speeding around the residential areas.

    • Steve D

      The main way of reducing the danger from those 1.5-tonne chunks of metal is reducing the speed they travel at when they are around people. Partly through enforcing speed limits, but mainly through road design that encourages drivers to stick to a safe speed.

      There’s already a gigantic body of knowledge on ways streets can be designed to be less hostile to pedestrians. You can get a run-down of lots of the concrete tools used at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_calming

      As for people “following the damn road rules”, New Zealand’s road rules don’t provide pedestrians with much protection. Except at traffic lights, zebra crossings, or driveways that cross footpaths, there’s no rule giving pedestrians priority over cars at all. Obviously, the rules aren’t enough – that crosswalk in Bridgeport is supposed to give pedestrians priority, as well. But the first step, for us, is actually making some damn road rules that people can follow.

    • Stevenz

      Glass House Syndrome: I have never been anywhere where drivers are as hostile to pedestrians as New Zealand. A pedestrian here is either a target or invisible.

  • Ari

    This is a great idea! We need more of this radical innovation! Improve pedestrian safety, save money by not building crossings, less driver confusion over what those crazy pedestrians are doing, achieve world peace, it’s win-win for everyone! After we do this, we can take the next step and require all pedestrians to wear hi-viz and helmets! Someone must think about the children!!!!

  • Rohan

    Over 40 years ago Sydney University students used to routinely shut down Parramatta Road in protest seeking a new pedestrian bridge: http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/bridge-over-parramatta-road/2008/01/10/1199554833030.html.

  • Geoff Blackmore

    Of course roads are hostile to pedestrians. So are runways and railway lines. It’s infrastructure designed for vehicles, not people. Footpaths are for pedestrians.

    It baffles me that some people have such difficulty understanding something so simple.

    • So in your world Geoff, the pedestrian never crosses the road?

      Sorry if this baffling but I believe that roads should be safe for all users, this includes pedestrians, cyclists & PT users.

      • Steve D

        > the pedestrian never crosses the road?

        To segue a bit, I wonder for how many people that’s literally true? They only ever leave the house in a car, and every one of their destinations has on-site parking. Where “going for a walk” means driving to a park with some trails in it. From the comments you see (not picking particularly on Geoff), it seems to be a scarily common approach to life.

      • Geoff Blackmore

        Yes, pedestrians cross roads, just as they cross railways and rivers too. Crossing is not the same thing as using.

        • Sailor Boy

          Yeah, I never use to road to get to uni, or to get home from a bus stop, or to go to the local shop, or to walk my dog, or to go out to dinner. Oh wait no that’s driving, I never DRIVE on the road to do those things, am I no longer a person?

          • Geoff Blackmore

            If you walk along roads for all those things, you are doing so illegally. Crossing a road is not using it. When you cross a railway do you regard yourself as using the railway? Of course not.

          • Sailor Boy

            Rookie error.

            a) footpaths are always a part of the road, just not necessarily the vehicle carriageway.
            b) it isn’t illegal if no footpath exists, which for a few of those journeys it doesn’t.

      • John

        Bevan, you are implying that pedestrians just walk out on to the road obliviously? Car drivers would be well aware of the risks of just driving over the footpath. People need to have some responsibility, we cant just cater for the lowest common denominator all the time.

        • Loraxus

          Lowest common denominator? You mean like children, the elderly, people with walking disabilities? Yeah, lets design our city so that most of it is actively hostile to a large proportion of our community.

          Especially when cities world-wide show that cars and pedestrians CAN co-exist. Lets just ignore that, and put all the responsibility for dealing with a car-centric infrastructure on… pedestrians.

          • Geoff Blackmore

            The flags don’t put all the responsibility on the pedestrians at all. It helps them to cross more safely, so blogs like this one should be backing such safety initiatives. I get the impression it’s actually the other way around, with the general tone of this blog believing that the onus should be entirely on motorists. Safety is a two-way street :)

          • Nik

            I believe the social contract is pretty much:

            Pedestrians remain on the footpath unless it is a pedestrian crossing or walk phase of signalised intersection.

            Having had a friend killed by a driver who ran a red light whilst DIC and hit her while crossing with the green man, I think the onus is on all road users to obey the road rules, including cyclists.

            Should someone of competent mental facility chose not to obey the road rules, they get to live with the consequences, whether they be a pedestrian, cyclist or motor vehicle driver.

            I think the concepts of flags for crossing roads is reducing the requirement for drivers to pay adequate attention while driving and will probably lead to worse outcomes in the long run. Mainly because at some point the driver becomes accustomed to the flags and if they don’t see them, they’re likely to take the mental short cut that the pedestrians aren’t a risk/at risk.

          • conan

            “I think the concepts of flags for crossing roads is reducing the requirement for drivers to pay adequate attention while driving”

            That is exactly the point nicely summed up.

          • conan

            Though pedestrian will struggle to cross only at a pedestrian crossing or signalised intersection as there are so few on them in most areas, hence the legal ability for them to cross anywhere that isn’t within 20m of a crossing.

          • Geoff if we want to improve safety then the only proven thing is to build safer streets. That means better pedestrian and cycling infrastructure along with measures that slow drivers down a little. The reality is people drive to the environment and if we give them and so if that environment is wrong then we need to fix it.

        • conan

          ‘Car drivers would be well aware of the risks of just driving over the footpath. ”

          You walk around much? This certainly is not a fact borne out by my observation. Footpath crossing are used as parking spaces and many drivers seem unaware of the concept of giving way to pedestrians on footpaths.

          • Sailor Boy

            Completely agree, there is no way that even the majority of drivers here follow the law when crossing driveways.

          • Dave

            Far too often I have to stop in the middle of a crossing to allow a red light runner, or just plain impatient turner through. If the vehicles do come to a stop, it’s often right on top of the crossing I’m about to use.

            It’s tiresome.

    • Geoff, you’re so backward it makes me laugh. Thanks for cheering me up :-)

      • Geoff Blackmore

        If enhancing pedestrian safety with bright colours is backward, then so be it. Personally I think the definition of backward would be to support the concept of red light running (which this blog does) and support the right of pedestrians to walk in front of vehicles with their head down and ipod ear plugs in (which this blog also does) by transferring blame for these obviously wrong things on to motorists (and that’s exactly what this blog does). backward indeed.

        • TimR

          Have a cup of tea, get some perspective. And perhaps take a walk after that, if you can bring yourself to do so.

          • Geoff Blackmore

            I suspect I probably walk a lot more than you do Tim, not that it’s relevant. Do you have anything constructive to add to the topic?

        • Bryce P

          So I presume Geoff, that you would support the banning of in car entertainment systems? Oh, and car windows as these prohibit drivers being able to hear things outside the car? #DoubleStandards

          • Geoff Blackmore

            Are you defending the right of pedestrians to walk into roads without looking or listening? Really? It’s staggering that such views exist. You would have to be an absolute moron to walk blind and deaf into a road.

            No I don’t support the banning of car windows or stereos. Your comment is the height of stupidity. I suggest you walk into a busy road with your eyes closed and ears blocked, and see what happens. My guess is we’ll get a Transport Blog article blaming the motorist who hit you!

          • Bryce P

            People drive cars oblivious of what is happening around them. If you want to complain about pedestrians wearing head phones then at least be consistent.

          • Geoff Blackmore

            Where did I say otherwise Bryce? As I said, safety is a two-way street. I’m not the one defending the right of people to walk blind/deaf into traffic. You appear to be saying “there are bad motorists, so we should allow pedestrians to be bad as well”. I’m sure you can see that’s a nonsense argument.

          • Bryce P

            You resort to using the term ‘stupidity’? Grow up. I’m merely countering your opinion. You are a foamer who also loves cars. I don’t expect you to understand nor agree with my position on the use of streets by all users, not just automobiles.

        • You have to remember that Geoff wants everyone to live in a “self sufficient” rural community. But one where everyone drives everywhere and lives in big houses. Presumably on dirt roads because there is no way you could afford to maintain the roads without the massive subsidies now used for maintenance of roads.

          No room for bicycles or pedestrians.A well thought through plan.

          • Geoff Blackmore

            Where did I say I want people to live like that? You’re making things up…..

            I have said that sustainable living requires land, and that those who live in little apartments are externalising their costs, not eliminating them ike they falsely believe.

            No room for bicycles or pedestrians. You need to get out more, cycling and walking are much more popular outside Auckland. In Napier and Hastings, 1 in 4 people cycle.

          • Aagin, you have confused sustainable with self sufficient. I come from a pretty rural background and I dont know anyone who lives self sufficiently. They all depend to some extent on the industrialised society around them.

            And yet I have never seen you present any evidence that someone living on a large isolated block with full access to electricity, sewage and running water consumes less resources than an apartment dweller with the same access. Unless you are suggesting that people live without electricity, sewage and running water? If so, have you ever lived without those things?

            If anyone is externalising costs it is the rural residents of this country who live in ignorant bliss of this fact. Please produce evidence to the contrary.

            Yes I am very aware of cycling in those areas as editor of the CAA blog: http://caa.org.nz/infrastructure/cycle-lanes-2/hastings-and-new-plymouth-show-the-way-cycling-safety-summit/

            Those towns have been lucky enough to be the recipients of large amounts of taxpayer funding – a lot of it coming from the residents of the large cities you despise so much.

          • Geoff Blackmore

            I’m referring to people living sustainably, at least making the effort, not urban vs rural as such. Sustainable living isn’t location relevant, and can be done (or attempted) anywhere, although it would be cheaper in a rural area due to lower land costs and no rates to pay.

            And again, stop making things up – I don’t “despise” cities. Put forward your argument without making it personal please.

            Yes, Napier/Hastings has had funding allocated, but it was allocated because they wanted those things, and because cycling/walking were already popular. Auckland’s lack of such things is a reflection of the people, just as provision of sch things in the bay is a reflection of the people.

          • “Sustainable living isn’t location relevant” – so why do you state that apartment dwellers cant possibly live a sustainable lifestyle and cause more damage? http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/SUSTAINABILITY/WHATCANIDO/Pages/SustainableLivingintheCity.aspx
            http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/live/residents/sustainable-city-living/sustainable-apartments

            You dont need land to be sustainable (but you do to be self sufficient). And you dont pay rates in rural areas? I never heard that before.

            There is nothing personal about saying you despise cities. It is just a statement of fact based on all comments.

            Please put forward an argument (personal or otherwise) with some evidence – it will be a first. You may wonder why other people put facts and figures and links in their posts. Those are called evidence and support facts, not opinions.

            No Hastings and New Plymouth did not beat Auckland for that funding. Auckland (and Chch, Wellington, Dunedin) was never considered and Hastings and New Plymouth were just the successful two of many towns and cities in NZ that competed for that money. There was nothing special about those cities before the Model Community programme was brought in. You should really try doing some research.
            http://www.nzta.govt.nz/planning/nltp-2012-2015/walking-cycling.html
            http://www.nzta.govt.nz/planning/process/doc/model-community-story-single.pdf

            From NZTA:

            “From the start it was clear that smaller provincial towns, rather than large metropolitan centres, were more likely to have the attributes that would produce a measurable change…”

    • john smith

      Geoff Blackmore: ‘Of course roads are hostile to pedestrians. So are runways and railway lines. It’s infrastructure designed for vehicles, not people’

      A possible implication of this comment is that for safety’s sake it should be illegal to cross a road except at a marked crossing (traffic light or zebra crossing). Just like with crossing train lines.

      This would of course be utterly impractical and unenforceable. It’s simply not possible to stop people on foot from taking the most direct route they can. Next time your local council revamps the town square, see how quickly people will beat a path straight over the top of the pretty new flower bed that blocks the direct route from one corner to the other.

      To make such a rule practical, consistent with nomral behaviour, at the very least you would need to install zebra crossings on EVERY side of EVERY road intersection in the entire metropolitan area.

      A more practical approach is to calm traffic in areas of conflict with pedestrians.

    • john smith

      Geoff Blackmore: ‘Of course roads are hostile to pedestrians.’

      Only if, by choice, you have made them so. There are plenty of contrary examples.

      I was interested to visit the ‘Rione dei Prati’, a 19th century area of central Rome (on the west bank of the river, opposite the ancient city centre). Rectangular grid of wide streets with generous footpaths; heavy traffic load of traffic that moved fairly slowly without jamming; also heavy pedestrian traffic in this medium density area. There were hardly any traffic lights, but zebra crossings on almost every side of every intersection. Traffic just oozed around among the people crossing. It looked chaotic at first blush, but seemed to work.

      BTW, I don’t think anyone would quibble that when people are walking ALONG a street, it’s reasonable to ask them to use the foothpath if there is one. That’s not where the conflict arises.

  • Ban humans. They inconvenience machines.

    • Geoff Blackmore

      We do – it is illegal to get in the way of planes, trains and automobiles.

      Just imagine the carnage if we didn’t.

      • conan

        There is no usual interface between pedestrians and planes, and you have to go out of your way to interface with a train. So what is your point here?

        There are also many instances where pedestrians ‘getting in the way’ of automobiles is entirely legal. Have a flick through the road code sometime, sounds like you need a refresher.

        • Steve D

          > There are also many instances where pedestrians ‘getting in the way’ of automobiles is entirely legal. Have a flick through the road code sometime, sounds like you need a refresher.

          Particularly in the exact example in the post – a signalised pedestrian crossing!

          • Steve D

            Actually, wrong I am – it’s a regular crosswalk. Of course, in the US, this still means pedestrians have right-of-way.

            I think it’s this one here, which doesn’t really look that much of a deathtrap that you’d need flags. Although (as of when it was photographed for Street View) it could do with kerb extensions and repainting: http://goo.gl/maps/T7A2t

  • I’m reminded that the car’s ascendancy on the roads started with big-auto inventing the term “jay walker”. A Jay was a derogatory term applied to out of town munters. Until then, US streets were very much mixed use.

  • Stevenz

    In reality, though, these flags are going to end up in dorm rooms all over Connecticut.

  • jacques

    this is outrageous. the onus of additional safety measures is put on the victims, not the perpetrators. it’s like making alarms mandatory without punishing robbers.

    • Geoff Blackmore

      In what way is the person holding the flag a victim and in what way is the motorists a perpetrator? What bollocks. If you are referring to pedestrian accident history then you need to get your facts straight – more than half of pedestrian injuries and fatalities are the fault of the pedestrian. If somebody walks in front of a car without looking or listening then it’s the pedestrian who is the perpetrator and the motorist who is the victim.

      • Sailor Boy

        Actually Geoff, in the particular instance to which jaques was referring (crosswalks in the US), the pedestrian has row, so is the victim in a crash.

  • C W

    Something I’ve seen on some pedestrian crossings in auckland is orange lights embedded into the road before the crossing which flash when the crossing is in use. They work pretty well, especially at night, and I would love to see some more of them around.

  • Chris

    I cannot believe that anyone would support this measure in any way – many of the comments here are truly disappointing.

  • Simon H

    This article is from The Onion, right? A flag of a person carrying a flag? Really?

  • Dave B (Wellington)

    Cars have been imposed on urban and residential environments where people must walk, and live, do-business, and gather, and simply ‘be’. Just like people always have done. Trains and planes have not obtruded themselves into people-space the way road-traffic has. Sensible cities are those which heavily rein-in the ability of cars to dominate the urban environment. Foolish cities are those which allow traffic to go everywhere and simply expect anyone not-in-a-car to just keep out of the way. Yuck!

  • Geoff Blackmore

    I remember Gisborne used to have something like this flag scheme back in the 70′s and 80′s. The main street in town had public umbrella stands on each side of the road, with bright orange umbrellas. The idea was that on dark and rainy days you could pick up an umbrella on one side, walk across the road remaining dry, then leave it in a stand on the other side for somebody going the other way.

    It made walking more attractive by giving everyone the means to stay dry on rainy days, and made it safer by ensuring the pedestrians were highly visible to road users.

  • john smith

    The flag scenario may make life slightly safer for *the person carrying the flag*.

    However it simultaneously sends subliminal messages that -
    - pedestrians are intruders in a space which is the natural property of motorists;
    - motorists have reduced responsibility to watch out for pedestrians who do not take extreme and unnusual measures to make themselves more visible.

    These messages may well encourage selfish and agressive attitudes from motorists in less controlled situations. If so, they may make life slightly*less* safe for the vast majority of pedestrians who are not in a position to be carrying a flag.

    • Geoff Blackmore

      The only question of relevance really is “is a brightly coloured pedestrian safer than a darker one”? If the answer is yes, then it should be encouraged.

      The law in New Zealand already requires pedestrians using roads at night to wear light coloured or reflecting clothing, or to carry a torch, so they can be seen more easily. Improving visibility is just commonsense.

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