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Flagged intersections to help pedestrians

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet staff
Thursday December 13, 2001

Flags in Berkeley? 

You bet. But they’re not red, white ‘n blue. 

City officials hope the luminous orange squares appended to three-foot sticks will stop the local terrorists – drivers who speed through crosswalks occupied by pedestrians. 

Councilmember Polly Armstrong showed off the first flagged intersection Wednesday to a gaggle of appreciative neighbors and members of the press at Russell Street and Claremont Avenue.  

Here’s how it works: There’s a bin with about 10 flags stationed at each of the four corners of an intersection. A pedestrian picks up a flag from one bin, holds it high while crossing the street and deposits it into the bin on the other side of the street. 

“I’m thrilled,” Armstrong said of the project, an emulation of one in Salt Lake City where, she added, pedestrian accidents decreased by 15 percent after the flags were introduced. 

Reducing auto vs. pedestrian accidents in Berkeley is high on the list of city priorities.  

“Berkeley has more than two times the rate of pedestrian injuries and more than four times the rate of bicycle injuries compared with the state of California,” according to the city’s Public Health Department. 

Will the cars stop when pedestrians wave the flag? Armstrong advised pedestrians to continue their hypervigilance.  

One Daily Planet reporter grabbed a flag and started to cross Russell, but was stopped by a driver turning right through three-quarters of the crosswalk she had stepped into. The driver stopped and looked directly at the reporter, who was shaking the flag at him. With half-a-dozen TV cameras aimed his way, the driver backed out of the crosswalk, permitting the reporter to cross the street. 

Other drivers were seen darting through the crosswalks paying little attention to the persons with flags at the crossings. Most, however, stopped and allowed the people to cross. 

“We’ll give it a try,” Armstrong said. The cost is only about $500 per intersection. “We’re working with UC Berkeley to evaluate (the project),” she said. 

It is assumed that at first flags will be stolen, but people will soon tire of that, she said. Nearby neighbors will have extra flags and take responsibility for replacing missing ones.  

Why start out at this intersection?  

It’s not a high-accident corner, Armstrong said. But drivers come from the university with the aim of getting home quickly and don’t watch for pedestrians. The intersection has “been a worry, primarily in the evening,” she said. 

In the next several weeks, the city will add flags to three other intersections: College Avenue between Russell and Ashby Avenue, Shattuck and Hearst avenues (where a young woman was killed crossing the street last year) and University and McGee avenues. And within the next several months the city will add University and Shattuck avenues, the most dangerous intersection in the city and Shattuck between Cedar and Vine streets, said Reh-lin Chen, acting supervisor of traffic engineering.