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Flags For Amblers

Orange pedestrian safety flags offer a new layer of safety at Duke, Diagonal and Dulaney.

Carrie Crockett seemed to be having a wonderful time hamming it up as she walked across Duke Street, waving a fluorescent orange flag wildly in the air as if she were a crazed majorette. A green sport-utility vehicle honked at her as she slung the flag higher. By the time she got to the south side of the intersection, where she works at the Time-Life Building, her experiment with the pedestrian-safety flags was over. She politely put it in the holster and promptly decided that she would not be using the flag again.

“I felt kinda silly,” said Crockett, an online editor at the Motley Fool. “To be honest, I can’t believe that anybody would want to carry one of these flags across the street — increased pedestrian safety or not — unless they were trying to be funny.”

The flags are an effort to combat serious concerns about safety at the intersection, a high-volume traffic area where 40,000 automobiles jockey for position with 4,000 pedestrians each day. Signs at both ends of Duke Street instruct pedestrians to grab a flag “for added visibility,” and holsters at either end of the crosswalk offer and accept the flags. Its an added safety feature are for those who are unable — or unwilling — to use the underground tunnel at the west end of the crosswalk. The tunnel, which opened in the summer of 2004, is open from Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“I don’t understand why more people don’t use the tunnel,” Wilson Hall, a security guard at the Time-Life Building. “It’s much safer.”

IN THE PAST five years, the Carlyle area has seen tremendous growth — adding thousands of daily commuters to the United States Patent Trade Office, the Carlyle Towers and the Time-Life Building. During the workday, scores of pedestrians battle automobiles for passage along the busy crosswalk — a perilous situation that worries city officials. Yon Lambert, the city’s pedestrian and bicycle program coordinator, said that the flags are one way to increase visibility for the ever-increasing horde of pedestrians.

“It’s not for everybody,” said Lambert. “Admittedly, it’s a low-tech solution. And, yes, it’s a little odd. But it’s a great way to improve your visibility.”

Pedestrian flags are already in use in several cities: Kirkland, Wash., Hudson Falls, N.Y., Berkley, Calif., and Salt Lake City. Connecticut Avenue in the District of Columbia has two intersections that bear the dayglow banners. Now that Duke Street has the flags, Lambert said that he could imagine several scenarios when they would be useful — groups of small children crossing in unison, a large tour group ambling across the street or elderly people wanting to alert people of their presence.

“The first time I used one of the flags, I felt a little odd,” Lambert said. “But I also felt very visible.”

THE THREE-WAY nexus between Diagonal Road, Dulaney Street and Duke Street has been a growing concern for city officials for some time. In March, the City Council voted to allocate $50,000 for “marginal pedestrian barriers” along Duke Street to prevent mid-block crossings. The barriers will be erected between Diagonal Road and Dulaney Street as well as between Reinekers Lane and Holland Lane.

“This will save lives,” said Councilman Ludwig Gaines at the time.

First, signs will be installed to inform pedestrians of the proper way to use crosswalks. Then, a system of physical barriers will be installed along each side of Duke Street.

“The preferred approach will be to use street-side landscaping, either a continuous planting strip or in raised planters to limit pedestrian access to mid-block crossing areas,” wrote City Manager Jim Hartmann in a March 23 memorandum on the issue. “The general cost estimate for this action is $45,000 to $50,000.”

If this doesn’t work, the City Council is prepared to take additional action — installing a continuous fence in the median of Duke Street. It would be similar to the ones near Ben Brenman Park and Beatley Library. The cost estimate for the fence option is estimated to be between $100,000 and $150,000.

POLICE OFFICERS say that many motorists on King Street ignore the 25 mile-an-hour speed limit. Lt. Paul Story, commander of the Alexandria Police Department’s traffic section, said that he has spent many hours watching this particular intersection where the flags have recently been installed. And he said that he has been amazed at the “undisciplined behavior” from people who dart in and out of oncoming traffic with a seeming disregard for their own safety.

“I would like to see more efforts directed at pedestrians,” said Story. “In my experience, it’s usually the pedestrians — not the motorists — who are to blame for accidents.”

He said that the city experienced three pedestrian fatalities last year and one this year. Although no accidents have been reported at this intersection yet, Story said that one man was killed on nearby Callahan Street — less than a mile from Duke and Dulaney. Although he doesn’t expect widespread use of the orange flags, he said that they are a proactive measure to give people one more option to keep themselves safe.

“It gives the pedestrians an edge — if they want to use it,” Story said. “If it saves one life, it’s worth it.”