Pedestrians like Marjorie Kleven wait patiently as cars zip through the intersection at Hwy. 55 and General Sieben Drive — Hastings’ busiest — on her way from her senior apartment complex to Cub Foods.
Though there’s a crosswalk, Kleven, 92, said she either walks to the next intersection or takes a risk, crossing when there’s a rare break in traffic.
“We’ve had problems with the crosswalk here,” said Carol Schlomka, who also lives in the senior apartments at Rivertown Court. “It just floored me that they built this building and they didn’t put in the flashing lights.”
City officials heard their concerns. A new program aims to make crossing safer by providing orange flags for pedestrians, effectively making them their own crossing guards. Walkers — and the occasional scooter rider — can grab a flag from a container on one side and use it to alert traffic, then deposit it in a container after crossing.
The city is analyzing the entire General Sieben Drive corridor, which has several uncontrolled intersections, for long-term solutions, said City Administrator Melanie Mesko Lee. City officials noticed pedestrian flags in cities like Minnetonka and Bayport and thought such an effort might be worth a try in the meantime. The city will evaluate the program over the coming year and survey area residents about its effectiveness and assess whether to use them at other busy Hastings intersections.
There’s no data saying pedestrians are hit or almost hit at that intersection, Mesko Lee said, but residents raised concerns that it was dangerous.
Hastings public works employees recently installed flag receptacles at a cost of about $500.
“I think it really raises the awareness of people,” said Melissa Barnes, the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s pedestrian and bicycle safety engineer. “It’s a little bit of extra visibility.”
Though pedestrians have the right of way, drivers yield to them just 15 percent of the time at intersections with a crosswalk and yellow sign. By contrast, they yield 65 percent of the time when pedestrians carry orange flags, Barnes said. The size of the road, traffic speeds and the area’s character influence the yield rate. And if people don’t use the flags, or if the flags get moved to one side of the road or get stolen, they obviously won’t do any good.
People often request marked crosswalks, Barnes said, but they “really aren’t the answer” because yield rates are so low.
Nothing is foolproof — not even stoplights, she added.
Rivertown Court residents agreed to monitor the flags and see how the program is working.
“I think it’s going to have to be a building endeavor,” said Schlomka, who has lived at the apartments for seven years.
Schlomka said she worries that the flags might be stolen over the summer months, when children roam around outside.
Elliot Wilcox often walks his dog, Scout, in the area and he and his wife run 15 to 25 miles a week on nearby trails. He said they like idea of the flag experiment.
“It’s great because just around this corner, people do fly around really fast,” Wilcox said. “We avoided it just because it’s that dangerous.”