Last fall, Wesley Barrett, a local councilman for the tiny borough of Emmaus, Pennslyvania, attached a bucket containing brightly colored flags to a signpost at the intersection of Second and Harrison streets. Barrett had just returned from a trip to the beach, where he’d seen pedestrians brandishing flags at cars, which dutifully stopped to let them cross the street.
Emmaus had seen 18 crashes involving pedestrians in the past five years, and Barrett thought the flags could help his town. They did. After a month, parents were using the flags every day while walking their kids to school, which is something of particular importance to Barrett. He told The Morning Call that “I walk my son to school every day, which is something I really enjoy. And one of the things that’s always a challenge is to get the drivers to stop at the intersections.”
Even more surprising than the fact that drivers stopped was the fact that the flags weren’t stolen or vandalized. Perhaps because it’s such an ingenious, simple, and cheap solution (the whole initiative, The Morning Call noted, will cost less than a tank of gas) that benefits everyone in the town. The process is absurdly straightforward: Pedestrians pick up a flag from a cylinder on one side of a street, parade through the intersection, and deposit it in a cylinder on the other side. “It kid of recycles itself back and forth very naturally,” Barrett told The Morning Call.
Emmaus is now deploying the flags in an official capacity, and residents are being asked which intersections would benefit the most from this low-tech traffic-calming measure. The most likely spots are junctions without crossing guards or stop signs, Barrett said. The town has recently lowered the speed limit on Chestnut Street, the site of several fatal crashes, from 35 mph to 25 mph. Knowing how much attention drivers pay to speed limits, though, it seems like the flags might actually be a more effective solution. The best solution, of course, would be drivers not operating their vehicles in such a way that they keep crashing into pedestrians, so no flags were required at all. But with local government’s cash-strapped budgets, redesigning roads to calm traffic can’t always happen.
The best part might be the hands-on involvement of Councilman Barrett, who spotted a smart idea elsewhere and installed a test version himself. That’s the kind of local government everyone can get behind.