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Pedestrians in NW Hope Flags Signal Safety

By Nicole Fuller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 19, 2004; Page DZ03

Tired of dodging cars as she crossed Connecticut Avenue near her Chevy Chase home, Samantha J. Nolan took the problem into her own hands.

Nolan lobbied the city to study pedestrian and motorist practices at two intersections where crosswalks connect busy stretches of shops just south of the Maryland line. And she got results -- in the form of a program called Safe Steps, a street crossing system that provides colorful hand-held flags pedestrians can use to signal drivers to stop for them in crosswalks.

Samantha J. Nolan, shows Janie Williams how a new flag system works to help pedestrians cross the street more safely at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Morrison Street in Northwest. The flags can also be used at the intersection of Connecticut and Northampton Street. (Jonathan Ernst For The Washington Post)

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The program debuted last Wednesday at the corners where Connecticut Avenue intersects with Morrison Street and with Northampton Street in Northwest.

"So far, the community reaction has been very positive," said Bill Rice, spokesman for the department. "We want people to obey the law, that's the most important thing. We want the pedestrians to be protected."

Nolan said the intersections have been the sites of several close calls in recent years between motorists and pedestrians.

Safe Steps is "low tech. It's low cost. And it has a high rate of success," she said.

The flags hang from holders on utility poles at the corners of the intersections. Instructions are posted on the poles.

Nolan frequently shows neighbors how to use the flags, teaching them to make eye contact with drivers and to hold the flags so motorists can see them. She advises them to walk to the center of the street and do the same with drivers in the other direction, then place the flags back in their holders.

The flags will remain in place for at least two months while the department determines the effectiveness of the program, Rice said. D.C. police are also monitoring the intersections. Similar programs operate in 13 states.

D.C. Council Member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) has introduced legislation that would require drivers to come to a complete stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk and would levy a fine of $100 for failure to do so.

Now, motorists must yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. Fenty said he expects the council to change the law by the end of the year.

"I think a lot of it is people don't know what it is to yield," Fenty said. "So, I think this will just fix the ambiguity. We want the automobilists to know that they're supposed to give the right of way to pedestrians."

The flags have received mixed reviews in the neighborhood.

Siobhan Abell, 35, who pushed her son in a stroller on a recent morning, said she usually walks to the next block to cross at the traffic light, but since the flag system was installed, she's been using it with much success.

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