Here is a grand idea to improve pedestrian safety: Make them wave flags to cross the street

bridgeport flags
Public Domain City of Bridgeport

In 1865, when the first "horseless carriages" were appearing on English roads, there was a lot of concern about cars hitting people (they weren't pedestrians yet) so they passed the Red Flag Locomotive act, which:

....required that self-propelled vehicles, or automobiles, travel at no more than 4mph in the countryside and no more than 2mph in cities. Furthermore, such vehicles must have a 'crew' of three people - one of which had to walk 60 yards in front waving a red flag (or carrying a lantern) to warn people that the automobile was coming.

Fast forward 150 years to Bridgeport, Connecticut and the tables have turned. Now pedestrians have to wave a flag to cross the street. The police chief says “Our police officers are out every day enforcing our traffic laws and working to keep our streets safe. But motorists are just part of the formula. In my mind, it will be worth it if this project prevents one injury or death.”

So the other part of the formula is that pedestrians, at a marked pedestrian crossing, will have to wave a flag to let cars know that they are crossing. Because unlike in 1865, we know who owns the roads now. The thing is, these flag programs don't even work. TreeHugger emeritus Alex Davies, now with Wired, writes that a woman in Berkeley was hit in the first week. The City concluded that “the flag program did not seem to have a significant effect on pedestrian safety.”

But hey, flags are cheap, the whole program is costing Bridgeport $500. Building pedestrian friendly infrastructure is expensive, and who walks anymore anyway. And everyone knows that pedestrians should dress in dayglo and carry flashlights if they want to live.

Red flag for cars/Public Domain

They had the right idea 150 years ago. Slow the cars down to a reasonable speed and make them carry the flag.

UPDATE: Mikael at Copenhagenize had a better idea when the Berkeley flags were waved:

Just ban walking altogether. Nevermind lowering the speed limits on the streets or installing traffic calming measures. Nah. Blame the squishy traffic users who are only stunting society's progress by showing up sans car.

Tags: Transportation | Urban Life