Transportation Division
Transportation Division

 

PEDESTRIAN FLAG PROGRAM IN BERKELEY

(2001-2004)

What was the purpose of the program and how long did it last? 

The City of Berkeley’s pilot program to test the effectiveness of pedestrian flags at seven intersections ended in January 2004, almost three years after it began in response to a request from the City Council.  The purpose of the solid yellow flags, which were located in containers at both sides of the crosswalk, was to make pedestrians more visible as they crossed the street.  This program has been tried at other cities in the United States with mixed results.  Unfortunately, in Berkeley it did not prove to be cost-effective in improving pedestrian safety at the seven sites selected.

Where were the sites located?

Of the seven sites, four were in downtown Berkeley.  Three of these sites were on Shattuck Avenue (at University Avenue, Hearst Avenue, and between Cedar and Vine) with the fourth at the intersection of University Avenue and McGee Street.  In southeast Berkeley, two of the three sites were on College Avenue (at Russell Street and between Russell Street and Ashby Avenue), with the remaining site at the intersection of Claremont and Russell Street.  Only two of the sites were at signalized intersections, Shattuck at University and Shattuck at Hearst.  Two were at uncontrolled mid-block crossings, one was at a 4-way stop, and the remaining two were uncontrolled crossings.

What were the costs of the program?

For this pilot program, the equipment consisted of cloth flags attached to wooden sticks that were provided in plastic quivers on all corners of the intersections or both sides of the two mid-block crosswalks, and special signs.  Although the initial costs were low, the total flag cost of the program reached nearly $10,000 because of the high theft rate.  A total of 8,000 flags were purchased to ensure that an adequate number of flags were available during the three-year program.

Did the flags meet their objective of increased pedestrian safety?

Surveys by City staff indicated that the flags were used as intended by only two percent of pedestrians, and the use of the flags did not have a noticeable effect upon driver behavior.  Many of those who picked up the flags used them for purposes other than for which they were intended.  Behavior of those who displayed the flag while crossing the street had the following characteristics:

  • At mid-block crosswalks, the few people who utilized the flags as an aid in crossing the street waited noticeably longer before crossing than most other pedestrians during both morning and evening peak periods;

  • The time pedestrians took to cross the road was approximately the same before and after the flags were installed;

  • At an awkward signalized crossing, pedestrian flag users waited slightly less time before crossing than non-users; and

  • The use of the flags did not seem to have a significant effect on driver behavior.

Based on these observations, the flag program did not appear to have a significant effect on pedestrian safety.

Have any other improvement strategies been adopted at the test sites?

At all seven intersections, the potential for alternative strategies was considered, in unison with removal of the flags.  At the signalized intersection of Shattuck and University Avenues, signal timing was adjusted so that pedestrians on the northside crosswalk are protected from westbound cars turning right.  Also, countdown timers were installed that indicates to pedestrians the time remaining before the pedestrian crossing time ends.  These timers will also be installed at the Hearst/Shattuck intersection.  At the intersection of Claremont at Russell, a pedestrian warning sign with a fluorescent, yellow-green reflective background was installed at the centerline of the main road on each side of the intersection. Finally, at the other intersections, the crosswalks were repainted so that they are more visible, and new signs installed. 

What other activities is the City involved in to increase pedestrian safety? 

The City of Berkeley is committed to increasing pedestrian safety through a variety of projects and programs, including the following:

  • The development of a City-wide Pedestrian Plan is underway; 

  • The installation of countdown timers will be expanded to numerous signalized intersections with high pedestrian demand;

  • The City has received a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety to install seven sets of in-pavement flashing lights;

  • The City has been working with the City’s public schools to improve the safety of students traveling to and from schools;

  • Staff have been studying the operational safety of locations considered to be high risk, and making improvements where feasible, as recommended in the Bike and Pedestrian Safety (BAPS) report;

  • Staff are updating the BAPS high ranking collision list;

  • Staff will be identifying candidate locations for audible pedestrian signals to expand the accessible signals program;

  • Staff will be reviewing the design of crosswalks within Berkeley, with the object of introducing standardization and improving operational safety.

What are our conclusions about the flag program? 

  • The flag program is not sustainable because while the vast majority of crosswalks could theoretically benefit from this treatment, the flags are misused and stolen, meaning continual replacement is required.

  •  The general public needs to learn safe walking practices (e.g. bright, light colored clothes, defensive crossing techniques) while motorists need to learn safe driving habits, watching for pedestrians at all times in all locations.

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