Crosswalk flags in Halifax 'simply common sense', says Norm Collins
'It's an issue and we are actually doing something about it,' says crosswalk flags advocate
Norm Collins has installed buckets and buckets of crosswalk flags in the Halifax area and Annapolis Valley communities and he's had requests for them from Lunenburg County.
Schools have contacted the retired Dartmouth man who has been happy to install the flags at crosswalks used by students multiple times a day.
"In the grand scheme of things, it is a relatively inexpensive way to improve safety," Collins said. "It's simply common sense."
The total cost for the materials — two buckets and 30 flags — which are more likely to catch a driver's eye than overhead lights, Collins says, is about $200 compared to $15,000 to $35,000 for lighting.
Yet, despite the popularity of the program, Collins is still mostly a one-man band.
While businesses have shown support for the crosswalk flag program, no one organization has stepped forward to become a partner in the cause.
'We're actually doing something'
"This is community driven and community funded. It's an issue and we are actually doing something about it," the crosswalk safety advocate said.
Halifax Regional School Board remains neutral about the crosswalk flags installed at various crossings in Dartmouth and Halifax. One on North Street outside Oxford School was installed at the request of a parent-teacher group, Collins said. This week, he installed buckets and flags at Ian Forsyth Elementary School in Dartmouth.
"We do not have a specific policy. It would be a school-based decision," wrote Doug Hadley, HRSB spokesperson, in an email. "They know the specific circumstances of their community and be in a much better position to make this decision."
"If a school approaches me, I will do everything in my power to see it is installed," Collins said.
There are flags at 36 crosswalks in Halifax Regional Municipality alone. More can be found in Port Williams, Berwick, New Ross and Hubbards.
A 2006 pedestrian safety study from the United States showed 65 per cent effectiveness for flags and 47 per cent for overhead beacons.
"It is very noteworthy that this study concluded pedestrian crossing flags had considerably greater impact on motorist yielding rates than did overhead flashing amber beacons and high-visibility signs and markings," the study found.
Halifax traffic staff cool
Halifax traffic staff has been cool to the program unlike regional councillors Matt Whitman, Jennifer Watts and Gloria McCluskey, who are outspoken supporters. Some councillors have even kicked in thousands of dollars from discretionary funds to help purchase the materials.
"This is something that certainly Halifax traffic staff has been reluctant to accept," Collins said. He said the provincial Transportation Department also forbade him to use its posts to install buckets outside urban areas. That edict was overturned in January.
One argument put forward is that the flag may give a pedestrian a false sense of security. It is estimated only up to 15 per cent of pedestrians actually use the flags.
That's not the point, Collins responds.
"They are a tool. They [flag buckets] are at eye level. The objective is to make crosswalks and pedestrians as visible as possible," he said.
"Regional Council has endorsed the use of crosswalk flags in the Halifax region, as long as there is no cost to the municipality," Jennifer Stairs, a spokesperson for the city, said Friday.
She said if a community group or individuals want the flags installed and can pay for them as well as monitor their use, "they have the city's blessing to do that."
Pedestrian signs on horizon?
Stairs acknowledged there were concerns when the program initially began back in 2008, but "we've worked with Norm to find a place for this program, as it seems to have great support from the community."
Collins is now looking for pedestrian signs he said were approved by council about a year ago that are supposed to be placed at crosswalks. The signs that read "Stop, Look and Live" have not appeared yet.
Staff advised against widespread installation of these signs for the same reason marked crosswalks aren't at every intersection, Stairs said.
"The proliferation diminishes the impact on motorists and pedestrians because it becomes part of the background clutter."
In 2013, there were 169 collisions between vehicles and pedestrians in HRM. That number rose to 262 in 2014. There have been 121 accidents between vehicles and pedestrians between January and July 2015.