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Pedestrian safety flagged as a priority in Kirkland
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
For 10 years now, the fluorescent orange pedestrian flags dotting the city of Kirkland have been stopping traffic.
What began as an experiment at five intersections with no signals downtown in 1996 has grown to 47 throughout the city. Pedestrians can pick up a flag in a stand, wave it while crossing the street, then deposit it at a stand on the other side.
Two fatal accidents
The program was created after two fatal accidents involving pedestrians, neighborhood traffic controller Noel Schoneman said.
The flags' bright color draws attention to pedestrians. "One reason why they work so well is if you can be seen, the car will stop," Councilwoman Joan McBride said. Many accidents are due to motorists not seeing pedestrians, officials said.
Waving the flags is a daily practice for Kim Crofoot, a paralegal who works downtown and crosses Central Way near First Street.
"People come barreling up and down and don't see me," Crofoot said. "It's very dangerous, even with the flag. If they took them away, we'd all be sitting ducks out here."
Seen in Japan
The idea was brought to the city's attention by a resident who saw the flags in action while visiting Japan, McBride said.
The City Council approved a pilot project and, without realizing it, made Kirkland the first city in the country to have such a program, McBride said. Similar flags had been used in private resorts.
Other cities, including Mill Creek, Seattle and Redmond, have called Kirkland asking about how to set up similar programs.
Pedestrian flags have gone into use in Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
If approved for a Kirkland intersection, the stands, which are constructed by welding students at Lake Washington Technical College, will be installed along with a sign on how to use the flags. The stands will be stocked with six flags, three on each side of the crossing. Typically, the city will ask for volunteers to check and restock the stands once a week.
In August, new flags and stands were added at Northeast 80th Street and 128th Avenue in South Rose Hill, Lake Street and 10th Avenue South, and 124th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 107th Place.
The 15 pedestrian-flag intersections downtown are the only ones monitored by city staffers. Dave Gourlie, an engineering assistant, checks on them twice a week and usually has to replace two or three flags a week, mainly in the summer months. Either they've migrated away or have been stolen, he said.
The city buys them in batches of 200 for $523, Gourlie said.
Though the flags get used, plenty of people go it alone.
"I guess I just trust that I will be seen," said Christi Packard, a Realtor at Windermere downtown who said she's never used the flags. "It's second nature to just cross the street, [rather] than to get a flag."
Gourlie said that though usage isn't across the board, whenever he's out replacing flags, people thank him and describe what a difference they've made to the community.
"I've seen children get a joy out of using the flags and helping their parents cross the street," Schoneman said. "Just the fact that they tend to migrate from stand to stand and that we need to restock them indicate they're being used."
Lisa Chiu: 206-464-3347 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company