You see them at various places all over Seattle. Buckets strapped to the side of a pole at a street corner. In the buckets are a bunch of bright-orange flags, often homemade. Someone who wants to cross the street can take a flag, carry it across the street and deposit it in a bucket affixed to the other side of the street. The idea is that passing motorists will see the flag–if not the pedestrian–and stop.
They’re known as pedestrian flags, or pedestrian crossing flags, or simply pedflags. The surprisingly self-help system is not unique to Seattle. Its suburb of Kirkland apparently was the first U.S. city to roll out pedflags in 1995. They have been used in parts of a few other American jurisdictions, including Salt Lake City, Park Ridge, Ill., Dane County, Wis., Aiea, Hawaii, and Berkeley, Calif.
I can’t find any studies concluding they are effective. Nor can the City of Seattle, which, while encouraging the citizen efforts I see now, abandoned an official pilot program started in 2008 due to inconsistent results and–this is a quote–“frequent theft of the flags.”
But I’d say Seattle pedestrians can use all the help they can get. That’s because Allstate Insurance today released its annual ranking of the largest U.S. cities when it comes to driving ability. And Seattle again fell deeper into the bottom quarter.
Out of 200 cities, Seattle was ranked 154th (the lower the number, the better the drivers). That’s a drop of seven clicks from last year’s ranking of 147, which wasn’t too hot, either, and a continuing free-fall from 2010’s ranking of 128. There must be something about Puget Sound. Tacoma this time came in even worse, at 156. For some reason suburban Bellevue wasn’t on this year’s list, which is probably a good thing since it ranked 145th last year. The only other ranked cities in the state–neither near Puget Sound–did a lot better. Spokane ranked 43, and Vancouver, 67.
Allstate uses its huge insurance accident database to figure out the average number of years between incidents. The longer the time, the safer the drivers are deemed. The Seattle average is 7.9 years between accidents, a lot less than No. 1 Sioux Falls, S.D. (13.8 years) but least longer than last-place Washington, D.C. (4.7 years). In Allstate’s crunching of the numbers, you’re 27.2% more likely to get whacked in Seattle than the national average.
As I have written here before, as one New To Seattle, the Allstate findings amaze me since in my experience Seattle drivers are polite, non-aggressive and not even prone to speeding. However, I do see an awful lot of them yakking away on cell phones illegally held to their ears, oblivious to their immediate surroundings. Taking my daily constitutional around the neighborhood, I’ve been nearly clipped any number of times by such distracted drivers.
This group apparently included the uninsured college student who earlier this year rear-ended me on a traffic-stalled I-5 on-ramp above Boeing Field despite having 200 yards of straight-line visibility and dry, sunny, weekend afternoon conditions. He denied even having a cell phone with him, but his girlfriend somehow got the news and showed up in her car a few minutes after he and I exchanged IDs. I think there was a fair chance she actually heard the collision as it occurred and within seconds was on her way to rescue her man. Returning from officiating youth soccer matches behind nearby Van Asselt Elementary School, I was still wearing my yellow referee jersey, but resisted the urge to show a card.
Aside from perpetually wet and slippery streets, my alternative theory is that Seattle drivers here are so enraptured with the beautiful geography and views that they don’t focus on the road. Either way, a red flag for an orange flag.
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The proliferation of such establishments in Seattle is certainly true, but, as I noted, I don’t find the average driver here to be hyper or aggressive. However, maybe the coffee connection is the difficulty in holding a hot cup while driving. I think that’s one of the reasons New Mexico, of all places, has banned any kind of drinking–including coffee–while driving.
Any chance caffeine blood-level plays a role? Can’t think of another city with drive-thru espresso on every corner.