How to Use Crosswalk Flags in Port Angeles

Recently we decided to take the long way around and travel from Vancouver to Seattle via the Olympic Peninsula and through a place called Port Angeles, Washington [portangeles.org]. A tiny town on the very northwest corner of the US mainland, Port Angeles has a population of around 20,000 people and is the birthplace of famous NFL quarterback John Elway.

One of our favorite quirky Port Angeles features is a crosswalk on the main street through town that uses pedestrian flags. Prior to visiting Port Angeles we’d never heard of a pedestrian flag but apparently they are also used in Salt Lake City and Chicago. The flags were installed in 2006 despite the fact that “Deputy Chief Terry Gallagher said he couldn’t recall the last time there was a car versus pedestrian crash in the downtown corridor” [peninsuladailynews.com]

Port Angeles Crosswalk Flags

The basic idea is that the flags will be more visible to drivers and will reduce the number of pedestrian accidents. A flag holder and brightly coloured flags are placed on both sides of crosswalk. Pedestrians are supposed to pick up a flag, carry it across the street, and deposit it in the holder on the other side. Waving it around is purely optional but really that was by far our favorite part of the process!

Port Angeles Pedestrian Flag Instructions

Looking at the directions more closely it appears that the flags may give you the ability to shoot laser beams out of your eyes at oncoming drivers but we weren’t able to make that work. More seriously, having read the instructions thoroughly we were sure to be mindful of the warning that:

flags are helpful tools, but remember, use normal caution and good judgement when crossing the street with or without a flag.

So flags do not give you any force field protection. Got it. One day they should upgrade to Vancouver style crosswalks with powerful force fields that allow pedestrians to blindly walk into traffic without a care in the world.

We picked up one of the flags and looked both ways (using our “good judgement” even though it’s a one way street). Being a small town the traffic was sparse, but a single car was about a block away so we waited while holding the flag right out in front of us. I’m not sure how often people use the flags because the driver didn’t seem to notice us until the last second. They came to a rather surprising and abrupt stop just before the crosswalk.

Sometimes I wonder if they were distracted by trying to figure out what these people who are cleary not construction workers were doing on the side of the road with a flag (“Hey! Did that touristy looking family just break a flag off of our crosswalk sign?”). Either way the flag worked as advertised! We safely made our way across and placed the flag in the other holder just as instructed.

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25 thoughts on “How to Use Crosswalk Flags in Port Angeles

  1. Ha! I love it. I had never heard of these either until we moved to Seattle. They have started popping up in the neighborhoods. I see them more in Kirkland and Bellevue though. I wonder how they would do on the east coast? Glad that driver saw you and you made it out of Port Angeles alive 😉 Thanks for linking up!

  2. My kids would LOVE using these crosswalk flags. We’ve driven through Port Angeles, but it was late at night, so we didn’t even stop in town. If I’d known about these flags, we may have made a point of taking a break there and crossing a street.

  3. I have never seen anything like this, but it seems like the kids would really think it was fun. Thanks to you, I won’t look like a fool if I ever see crosswalk flags.

  4. As you mentioned, we have these flags here in Salt Lake City, and although I feel dorky using them they’ve become essential for crossing the street in many areas of the city. However, we don’t have a super cool sign teaching us how to use the flags like they do in Port Angeles 😉

  5. I think I might feel just a bit foolish using the crosswalk flags – perhaps because pedestrians in our town use the “Vancouver” method of crossing the street. I wonder if it’s a Canadian thing?

    • I’m not sure if we have different pedestrian right-of-way laws up here, but it’s true that in other countries people seem to use their own common sense rather than rely on a bylaw or regulation to protect themselves.

  6. What fun! I want a set of those for my corner. Although with Korean drivers, waving around an orange flag would be like being in a ring with a bull. They’d probably hit the gas and it would all be over!

  7. What a good idea. Here in Sacramento cars drive really fast on city streets and there are too many pedestrian deaths, even in crosswalks. You’ve gotta love Seattle!

  8. Great find and fun post. I’ve never seen these in Chicago, but will keep a look out for them next time I visit. For a very short time, I remember seeing these in the town south of San Francisco where I live. It was at a crosswalk near a Senior Citizen’s facility. I think they found that it still didn’t make it a safe crossing, so they installed a traffic light.

  9. Very interesting, Ryan! Too bad there’s no force field as well. Perhaps if you email the city council on that one… Did you get your photo taken with one of the flags? If not, you have a good reason to go back some time!

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