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Opinion: Middlebury has pedestrian flags

Middlebury began piloting the use of crosswalk safety flags at the Middlebury Post Office on Main Street last week as part of Middlebury’s Safe Routes to School initiatives. Pedestrians wanted additional visibility at vulnerable, high-traffic crosswalk locations, like the post office, to reduce accidents.
Brightly colored yellow flags have been placed in a container at each end of the post office crosswalk. Pedestrians are instructed by a sign at the container to carry and wave the flag while crossing the street and then place it in the container at the opposite side of the crosswalk. The flags alert drivers that pedestrians have a desire and intent to cross the street. Many drivers wonder if pedestrians are just standing at the crosswalk with no intention to cross. Drivers then get tempted to drive by without yielding. With flags, drivers know that pedestrians intend to cross.
Middlebury Director of Public Works and Safe Routes to School team member Dan Werner pro- posed crosswalk flags to our Safe Routes to School team as a low-cost measure worth trying. We are considering flags for other crosswalk locations on the path to Middlebury schools after seeing how the flags at the post office perform.
A number of cities nationwide use crosswalk flags, in addition to other measures, to protect pedestrians. Drivers in these cities commented that simply having the flags make crosswalks stand out more upon approaching them. Flags are being used successfully in Hudson Falls, N.Y. They seem to be staying in place and not stolen.
The town of Middlebury deploys several pedestrian protection measures. These include many reflective white-lined crosswalks, pedestrian– crossing buttons on traffic lights, and a variety of pedestrian-crossing signs. Some crosswalks feature fluorescent-yellow, diamond- shaped pole-mounted signs. Some have mobile yellow signs placed in the middle or to sides of the crosswalks. The position of mobile signs gets changed periodically to respond to a need and enhance their visibility.
Middlebury’s Safe Routes to School Team pondered rapid-flashing beacon lights, powered by solar, similar to those along Pine Street in Burlington, as another safety measure. Rapid-flashing beacon lights can only be placed at uncontrolled crosswalks (where there is no traffic light) and cost between $5,000 to $7,000 each. The team opted to try crosswalk flags as a lower cost measure until funding could be secured for beacon lights and while crosswalks are monitored further to determine beacon light location priorities.
Flags have an excellent education component. We hope the flags will inspire conversation about how to share our roads safely.
Middlebury’s Safe Routes to School Team meets monthly at Mary Hogan School to discuss measures to encourage more students to walk and bike to school and to improve safety in their transit to and from school. Its recommendations can be viewed at its 2013 Middlebury School Travel Plan posted at the Mary Hogan School website and Safe Routes to School Vermont website.
This year’s Safe Routes to School Team achieved a Gold-Level Partnership with Vermont Safe Routes to School and I was recognized as champion of the year. The team consists of parents, teachers and other community stakeholders. It works closely with the Town of Middlebury Public Works and Parks and Recreation Departments, school administration, regional planners, local and state transportation agencies, and bike/pedestrian advocacy groups.
Based on mapping the student population for the 2013-2014 school year, the team discerned a clear significant barrier to walking and biking to school is the distance from children’s homes. Sixty-six percent of all students live over a mile from school, often beyond the reach of sidewalks and roads deemed safe enough for young children to bike. Improving both the infrastructure and bus access is important to reaching these students.
Infrastructure improvements such as prioritized sidewalk construction in areas of town where children live, enhancing existing and increasing the number of crosswalks throughout town, retiming traffic lights to favor pedestrian crossing, creating designated bike paths and lanes, and improving pedestrian passageways through parking lots near school would all improve the safety of children walking and biking to school.
Middlebury’s Safe Routes to School team hosted regular events this year to encourage walking and biking and teach safety, including a Kids’ Bike Swap, a Bike Safety Fair, and frequent Walk and Roll to School days on the first Wednesday of each month with crosswalk monitors and “Go Slow for a Safer Town” lawn sign reminders.
Anyone in Middlebury and the wider community wishing to be up- dated on, or participate in, bike and pedestrian safety efforts can contact me at 388-9478 or lasermily@ yahoo.com or request to be added to the middbikeped@googlegroups.com list by contacting Adam Franco at afranco@middlebury.edu.
Laura Asermily
Middlebury

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