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Crosswalk flags a success despite bureaucratic obstruction

Community-funded program a street-smart success story.


Some flags ready for use at North and Dublin Street. - SAM KEAN
  • Some flags ready for use at North and Dublin Street.

A crosswalk-safety measure that was in the slow lane at City Hall for years has grown in popularity across many parts of the municipality. 

Right now there are 74 crosswalks in HRM with pedestrian-safety flags. Six months ago, the flags were only available at 36 crosswalks.

Use of the flags was introduced several years ago as a result of the persistent work and lobbying done by local crosswalk-safety advocate Norm Collins. It’s a community-driven initiative that council has officially endorsed, though it stopped short of bankrolling the program which places small buckets containing hand-held orange flags at eye level on poles on each side of a crosswalk. A user pulls a flag out of the container, and, when safe to do so, walks across the street carrying the eye-catching flag, which has a reflector strip, extending it ahead. Then the item is deposited in the bucket on that side of the road.

The system isn’t the only answer to improving pedestrian safety and reducing road accidents in crosswalks, supporters say, but it’s one way of increasing the visibility of a crosswalk user when drivers are approaching.  

Collins, a Dartmouth resident who operates a website dedicated to crosswalk safety and is a founding member of the fledgling Crosswalk Safety Society of Nova Scotia, said the flag program is financed by community supporters. The cost is $200 per location. This amount covers two flag buckets and 30 markers. A spokesperson for the municipality says staff have been assessing crosswalk flag usage at a number of locations.

“There will be a report coming soon to regional council that outlines some of that data,” says Jennifer Stairs in an email.

“Right now, crosswalk flags can be installed at...marked crosswalks [without] a traffic-control device, such as traffic signals, stop signs or yield signs,” she says. There are no crosswalk flag locations in the downtown core.

The evolution of the crosswalk flags in Halifax was slow and marked by roadblocks put up by city hall’s bureaucracy. They began as a pilot project in 2008 on Waverley Road, which was met with resistance from the city’s then-manager of traffic and right-of-way services.

Staff reports were usually anti-flag, as former traffic manager Ken Reashor always maintained the minuses outweighed the pluses. He more than once advised council that the utilization of the brightly coloured flags would give pedestrians in crosswalks a “false sense of security.” Reashor died in 2014 after a battle with cancer.

Collins acknowledges most pedestrians don’t use the flags when available to them, but the flags still have considerable value even when they’re not being used, “being visible [upright in their containers]...and thereby sensitizing drivers to the existence of the crosswalk.”

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