High-visibility safety flags, also known as crosswalk flags, are removable, fluorescent flags installed at crosswalks to increase the visibility of pedestrians to other road users. Flags are kept in “buckets,” or holders, attached to road signs, streetlights or power posts on either side of a crosswalk. Pedestrians take the flags and carry them while traversing the crosswalk, then deposit them in the buckets on the other side of the road. The presence of the flags is meant to clearly indicate pedestrians’ desire to cross and increase their visibility as they cross.
Inspired by their use in the Maritime provinces, crosswalk flags were selected by the City of Vaudreuil-Dorion as a low-cost solution to caution drivers to yield to pedestrians.
In October 2020, the City of Vaudreuil-Dorion, with the assistance of the Sûreté du Québec, officially launched a pilot project involving high-visibility safety flags for pedestrian crossings. The flags have been installed at the intersection of Gare Boulevard and Manoir Street – a high-risk location due to low rates of motorists yielding to pedestrians. In the past, the city has attempted to address pedestrian safety issues at the pilot location with medians, painted lines and rectangular rapid-flashing beacons. Despite these measures, motorist yield rates remain unchanged.
Data and lessons learned
Preliminary observations indicate that motorists approaching the intersection have reduced their speed but it is still too early to determine the efficacy of the flags. Additional data and lessons learned will be provided as findings from the pilot become available.
In November 2017, the Crosswalk Safety Society of Nova Scotia published “The Effectiveness of Crosswalk Flags: A Review of the Evidence,” detailing the results of a driver yielding study to determine if using a crosswalk flag led to increased driver yielding behaviour. The society works to improve crosswalk safety and, more generally, pedestrian safety through education and facilitating community initiatives. The study involved 200 staged crossings during daylight hours and after dark, with and without flags, at the marked crosswalk at Lady Hammond Road and Memorial Drive, Halifax. The study found that driver yielding behaviour improved with the use of a crosswalk flag by more than 20 per cent in daylight and more than 100 per cent after dark. The study also contains a review of vehicle-pedestrian collision data by Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) Police from January 2014 to September 2017, which suggests that crosswalk flags may also contribute to a reduction in pedestrian-vehicle collisions.
Following the study, the Crosswalk Safety Society of Nova Scotia collected annual collision data from “basic” (zebra-marked) and RA-5 (pedestrian-activated overhead flashing amber lights) crosswalk locations in the HRM from 2017 to 2019. For “basic” crosswalks, the percentage of collisions per location with and without flags was effectively the same at 2.9 per cent and 3.1 per cent, respectively. However, these percentages were found to be 2.8 per cent with flags and 12.2 per cent without flags at RA-5 crosswalks.
The City of Vaudreuil-Dorion has indicated that, as of December 2020, there is no end date for the pilot project. The crosswalk flags will be evaluated to assess their effectiveness and potential for implementation elsewhere in the city.