Pedestrians who cross the street at five intersections on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue can carry bright orange flags with them and wave them to get the attention of motorists who might not otherwise see them.

The new pilot project kicked off Sunday and is the latest initiative from the Summit Hill Association to educate motorists about state crosswalk laws and improve pedestrian safety. And it comes as St. Paul is holding its first citywide Pedestrian Awareness campaign this week.

Police will camped out at several intersections throughout the city that have high numbers of pedestrians and vehicular traffic, and watching for those who violate state crosswalk laws, said police department spokesman Sgt. Paul Paulos.

“Today people have so many distractions, talking on cellphones or just having a bad day, and they don’t take time to notice that there is a pedestrian,” he said. “They are unfocused. It’s clear and evident that drivers don’t follow the pedestrian laws, and for those who violate there is a high probability they will be cited.”

State law requires motorists to stop and yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk.

Pedestrian safety became a hot-button issue in St. Paul earlier this year when two Macalester College students were hit in May 27 by a vehicle while trying to cross Snelling Avenue at Lincoln Avenue. College officials have been pushing for safety upgrades and a possible flashing lights at the intersection. Two days later woman in Minneapolis was seriously injured when she was hit by a school bus while crossing a downtown street.

Statewide 35 pedestrians were killed in and 867 injured in 2013, and 369 have been killed since 2004, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Back in St. Paul, Sara Schmidt of the Summit Hill Association’s Pedestrian Safety and Traffic Calming Committee said the neighborhood has been actively promoting pedestrian safety for the past few years, and decided to take their efforts city wide. The association teamed up with other District Councils and neighborhood groups to hatch this week’s citywide effort. St. Paul Walks, a citywide pedestrian safety group, also was involved.

“It’s not just a neighborhood issue,” she said. University and Snelling is at the top of the list” she said referring to a list of dangerous intersections the association received this summer from the city’s Public Works Department. “It’s more important than ever to get that message across to drivers and pedestrians alike.”

The Grand Avenue Business Association donated $1,000 for crossing flags on Grand Avenue at uncontrolled intersections at Syndicate, Dunlap, Oxford, Milton and Avon streets. Here is how they work: Flags on sticks sit in holders at opposite sides of a crosswalk. A pedestrian takes a flag and uses it to wave at cars while he or she is crossing the crosswalk. That helps get the attention of people driving in the borough. When the walker is safely on the other side, he or she deposits the flag at an identical bucket for the next person to use.

The Macalester High Winds Foundation also has put out flags at Snelling and Lincoln Avenue.
Crosswalk flags are not a totally new concept. About a decade ago, the city provided flags to neighborhood groups that wanted them. But interest waned and the program was phased out, said Kari Spreeman, a city spokeswoman.

Flag programs have successful in Madison, Wis., where 50 pedestrian flag sites are up and running, according to the National Safety Council. Local and national studies say motorists yield to pedestrians who use the flags 67 percent of the time vs. 20 percent without them, the council said.

But they don’t work everywhere. Seattle scraped its program after finding that while flags made pedestrians more visible to motorists, there was not consistent pattern of improved compliance by motorists.

“We don’t want to create a false sense of security,” Schmidt said. “It is expensive to put in bump-outs. This is cost effective and something we can do for the whole neighborhood. If it’s successful, we hope to take it city wide.”

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