Bright Orange Flags Highlight Pedestrian Safety in Georgia City

By JIM THOMPSON, The Athens Banner-Herald | January 9, 2015

Let your “feet flag” fly, Athens.

As of 9 a.m. Wednesday, two mid-block crosswalks on the intown portion of Prince Avenue, at Newton Street in front of The Grit restaurant, and at Pope Street near Daily Groceries, are equipped with pedestrian crossing flags. The flags will be in place for at least the next six months, as the Athens-Clarke County government conducts a pilot program to determine their effectiveness in improving pedestrian safety.

The concept behind the flags is simple. They’re intended to increase the visibility of pedestrians crossing Prince Avenue to motorists using the street, as an enhancement to the flashing lights already installed at the two crosswalks, which are intended to stop vehicular traffic for people crossing the street.

Pedestrians take a flag from a pole on one side of the street, use it to attract attention to their presences as they cross, and deposit the flag in the pole on the other side of the street. Each of the four poles holds a dozen flags.

photo: Athens-Clarke County Unified Government
photo: Athens-Clarke County Unified Government

Locally, the pedestrian flags are an initiative of the Athens-Clarke County government staff, but pedestrian flag programs have been in place in other cities for years.

In some instances, though, those programs have been canceled, often due to the cost of continually replacing stolen flags.

According to Athens-Clarke County Manager Alan Reddish, government staffers had talked about a pedestrian flag program “three or four years ago,” but it was never implemented.

And while pedestrian and cyclist safety on Prince Avenue has long been an issue for neighborhood activists along the corridor – even becoming a focus of last year’s mayoral campaign – the pedestrian flag program isn’t specifically a response to those community efforts, Reddish said.

Reddish did acknowledge, though, that the intense interest in the Prince Avenue corridor made it a logical choice as a pilot location for the pedestrian flag program.

Also on hand Wednesday as the flag program was inaugurated was Athens-Clarke County Mayor Nancy Denson, who said she sees the initiative, in part, as a means of “getting people used to thinking about” pedestrian safety.

Among the first people to cross Prince Avenue with the aid of a pedestrian flag was Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Kelly Girtz, who crossed at the Newton Street crosswalk with his young son in tow.

Girtz, who’s been among the advocates for significant traffic-calming measures along Prince Avenue, said he didn’t see the flag program as some sort of token response from the government to the broader neighborhood concerns about safety along the corridor.

Recounting an experience in which a vehicle failed to stop as he was crossing the flashing-signal crosswalk at Newton Street, Girtz said, “If it (the flag program) diminishes that … I’ll be happy.”

Girtz went on to say, though, that he hopes the pedestrian flags are part of continuing safety improvements to the corridor.

The flags, he said, “are not a replacement for engineering or infrastructure” along the street.

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