Could low tech crosswalk flags work for Northfield?

crosswalk flags in Hudson, WI

crosswalk flags in Hudson, WI

Robbie and I were in Hudson Wisconsin over the New Year’s weekend and noticed that they use DIY crosswalk flags on some of the intersections along State Trunk Highway 35 as it runs through the city.

Can you think of some busy areas in Northfield where these might work?

How about Woodley at Linden St.?  Or Highway 3 at 3rd St.?



  1. Kevin Krein said:

    i don’t think that anything will help pedestrians in northfield. as someone who walks in the downtown area quite a bit, i know i take my life into my own hands every time i try to cross the street by using a crosswalk.

    brightly colored flags will not prevent people from either not stopping at all, rolling through the stop signs in this town, or driving into the middle of an intersection and getting as close as they possibly can to a pedestrian crossing in a crosswalk.

    January 4, 2010
  2. Robbie Wigley said:

    Actually Kevin… I saw them work really well in Salt Lake City on some pretty busy and wide streets. The only problem was sometimes all the flags ended up on one side of the street. When that happened, a person crossing would take a few to the other side, instead of just one. I was amazed.

    There are some definite directions…. you are only suppose to cross one directional side of the street at a time…. cross to the middle then wait to make sure the other side sees you and stops.

    I really was amazed at how well it worked, even at night.

    January 4, 2010
  3. Jim Haas said:

    We encountered these pedestrian flags in a medium-size town in Colorado this summer. We wanted to cross a busy street and when I grabbed a flag, one of my kids said, “You’re not really going to carry that, are you?” Apparently it’s not cool. I did anyway and it worked. Even worked on the way back, too!

    January 4, 2010
  4. Ross Currier said:

    Kevin –

    I think you put your finger on the key to success on this matter: respect. It must be mutual respect. Drivers need to respect pedestrians’ rights. Then again, pedestrians need to respect drivers’ rights to use intersections too.

    Whoever arrives at the intersection first gets to proceed first. Pedestrians can’t just stroll, without looking or without caring, into the crosswalk if it’s not their turn. However, you’re right, drivers need to allow pedestrians time to cross and not nip at pedestrians’ heels with their vehicles.

    Somebody has commented on this site (I think) about some European country where not only do they not have safety flags or signs…they have no crossing signals at all. Both drivers and pedestrian need to look sharp, maybe even making (respectful?) eye contact, before proceeding. According to the commenter(s), this system is statistically safer than our system.

    January 5, 2010
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    Kevin, I didn’t see these crosswalk flags being used in downtown Hudson. It was outside the downtown where traffic was flowing more freely and where it was likely that kids or seniors would be attempting to cross.

    January 5, 2010
  6. Whoever arrives at the intersection first gets to proceed first. Pedestrians can’t just stroll, without looking or without caring, into the crosswalk if it’s not their turn.

    Ross, I think what you say is polite and good common sense, but that is not actually required by law. On paper, pedestrians have a lot of power, including right of way at all intersections, regardless of whether a car has already stopped.

    Some other reminders:

    • Pedestrians have right of way at intersections regardless of crosswalk marking, presence of stop sign, or speed limit. (That is, strictly speaking, if a pedestrian were crossing South Highway 3 at Heritage Drive, cars should stop for him/her).
    • The only exception to this is where traffic controls are in place (you can’t cross against a light) or where there is a pedestrian bridge or tunnel provided.
    • Pedestrians must yield to cars for mid-block crossing, unless there is a marked crosswalk (e.g., 200 block S. Division Street by the Library).
    January 5, 2010
  7. Ross Currier said:

    Sean –

    You recite the law, I was trying to suggest something that might work.

    Personally, I believe if a car got there first, I should let them proceed and then take my turn.

    January 6, 2010
  8. As I said, I think your suggestions are good, Ross. I just wouldn’t want your very decisive choice of words (“Whoever arrives at the intersection first gets to proceed first. Pedestrians can’t just stroll…”) to cause people to misconstrue their right under the law.

    January 6, 2010
  9. john george said:

    I had an interesting discussion with my son this last weekend about how much we rely on government controls of various kinds to keep us safe rather than common sense and respect. There was an intersection in one of the European cities (I don’t remember which one) that was very complicated and had all sorts of signs and lines painted on the roadway. It also had the highest accident rate of any intersection in that city. The city planner got the approval of the government to remove all the signage and lines, thus requiring people to actually look and respond to one another. Within a short period of time, the accident rate at that intersection dropped to zero. I don’t know if I am ready to risk life and limb to see how that would work in Northfield, but I think there is a precedent in how much we rely on the government to keep us safe rather than taking personal responsibility.

    January 6, 2010
  10. john george said:

    For any of you who would like to look it up, the city my son was telling about is in Denmark. The book he read about it is “America Alone” by Mark Steyn.

    January 7, 2010
  11. John —
    I’m intrigued by the thing you mention, reducing “rules” and allowing people to work it out themselves. However, for pedestrian or bicycle interactions with cars, this really only works at low speeds.

    First off, I want to point out where this already exists. On both college campuses, on the downtown portion of Division St., and in most parking lots, this environment exists. While there may be marked crosswalks, stop signs, etc., pretty much a pedestrian will negotiate with the car him- or herself. And I think this works really well, however, the fastest of those environments is maybe 25 mph.

    However, if we see a pedestrian crossing — even legitimately, at an intersection — in an area where cars are not going <25 mph, you will not see this effective negotiation. In fact, you'll often see drivers shocked or even angered that pedestrian is crossing in the environment — imagine somebody crossing S. Division St (246) near the Middle School or, to use my earlier example, S. Hwy 3 at Heritage Drive.

    So I would love to see this system implemented, but I think our attachment to driving fast is just too strong. Establishing pedestrian zones at crossings — and sometimes just getting pedestrians to be a bit bolder — would go a long way toward improving safety.

    January 8, 2010
  12. john george said:

    Sean- The concept here is not so much the reducing of “rules,” but rather the forcing of drivers to think for themselves rather than relying on the painted lanes and posted signs. When all the directions were laid out, the response by the drivers was more to use these things as a justification of their actions in case of an accident, and the assumption that everyone else would follow along because they were in “their lane.” The most dangerous driving pattern, IMO, is presumptive inattentiveness.

    I know what you are saying about hedonistic drivers in response to pedestrians. I see this every time I pass MM on Hwy 19 at shift change time. Also, I have experienced what Russian traffic is like during rush hour. The painted lines and signs were a waste of time, because people drove wherever they could find an opening. The interesting thing about that experience is that everyone got through and their vehicles were still intact. The pedestrians there had an advantage simply in their sheer numbers. A car might be able to survive hitting one pedestrian, but the throngs that took out across the streets in the Siberian towns we were in were something to be reaconed with.

    January 8, 2010

Leave a Reply