May 20, 2014 | 02:59 PMAny driver seeing an orange flag floating by at the intersections of Main and Wisconsin streets, Main and Cook streets or Main and Marshall streets, should take care.
The pedestrian hoisting the flag wants to cross the street safely.
The experiment with the crossing flags was started by Alderwoman Elizabeth Chappell, said Public Works Director Dan Winkler.
The program is based on a similar crossing-flag program in Madison, Chappell said.
“I personally think it’s a good idea,” said Winkler. “Anything that attracts attention to the pedestrian crossing the street is a good thing.”
Chappell said she came up with the idea after a pedestrian in a wheelchair was struck by a vehicle while crossing at Broad and Dodge streets last summer.
“The poor man gets hit in the crosswalk and it flipped my wig,” Chappell said.
Chappell said she, her dog and her daughter often take walks around the city. “Over the years we’ve been narrowly missed in the crosswalk,” she said.
Among other Wisconsin communities that use the flag program are Stoughton, Menomonie, La Crosse and Cottage Grove. Flags are usually yellow, orange, red or even lime green.
Lake Geneva opted for orange.
According to a 2011 story in the Santa Barbara, Calif., Independent, where the flag idea was under consideration, the pedestrian flag program originated in Japan.
The first U.S. city to adopt the program was Kirkland, Wash. in 1995.
Using the flags is simple.
The pedestrian grabs a flag and holds it out until oncoming traffic stops, and then crosses the street, finally depositing the flag in the holder on the other side of the intersection.
Chappell proposed the program last summer after a wheelchair-bound pedestrian was struck by a vehicle at the intersection of Main and Dodge.
The public works committee and city council approved the program, which was started about two weeks ago, Winkler said.
The flags cost about $3 each, and there are eight flags at each intersection, Winkler said.
The flag holders are old flag holders that were in the city inventory.
Program shortcomings are persons who walk off with the flags, either accidentally or otherwise, and the conundrum of coming to a crosswalk and discovering all eight flags are on the other side of the street.
However, the flags are inexpensive and fairly easy to replace, Winkler said.
And, he said, if all the flags wind up on the side opposite the pedestrian, the pedestrian will just have to cross the street the old fashioned way: very carefully.
Chappell said she was impressed with how quickly the city approved the program and set up the flag crossing areas.
“This is the positive community involvement I want to accomplish as alderman,” she said.