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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 11, 2010

'Pedestrian flags' meant to make crossing Pali safer

By David Waite
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The flags are an effort to make pedestrians more visible to drivers on one of Hawaii’s deadliest road stretches.

Photos by NORMAN SHAPIRO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

A pedestrian ignores homemade crossing flags at the corner of Dowsett and Pali Highway — the same intersection where Hideno Matsumoto was struck and killed on Jan. 12.

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Hideno Matsumoto, an 81-year-old Nu'uanu resident who was fatally injured Jan. 12 while trying to cross Pali Highway, is gone, but not forgotten.

"Pedestrian flags" have begun appearing at three crosswalks along the highway, none of which have traffic signals.

The theory is that drivers will be better able to spot a pedestrian who is carrying, and possibly waving, one of the flags while traveling through one of the crossings.

About half a dozen of the flags have been set out on each side of the highway where it intersects with upper and lower Dowsett Avenue, and at the Wood Street crossing as well.

It was at the lower Dowsett Avenue marked crossing where Matsumoto was hit. She had made it across three lanes of Kailua-bound traffic, but was struck by a sport utility vehicle as she stepped into the first lane of Honolulu-bound traffic.

The driver told police investigators that she simply didn't see Matsumoto.

Witnesses riding on a city bus, who saw the tragedy unfold right next to them, said Matsumoto darted out into traffic from the center median without looking, perhaps in hopes of catching the bus that was pulling away.

The flags at the three crosswalks are held in place by wide-mouth clear plastic jars with the bottoms cut out. Each of the jugs is held fastened by reinforced packaging tape wrapped around wooden utility poles or steel traffic control sign posts.

The flags are actually 3-foot-long plastic "candy cane" Christmas decorations to which red, yellow, orange, green and purple streamers have been attached.

Each of the jars has a list of instructions taped to them that instruct users to:

• Take flag across street for increased safety.

• Make eye contact with drivers.

• Wave flag to alert drivers.

• Place flag in bin across street — ready for next pedestrian.

Taped to the shaft of each flag is a paper inscription that proclaims: "In loving memory of Hideno Matsumoto."

Kailua resident Virginia Kawauchi, a retired insurance adjuster, said she put the flags out "on an impulse."

Kawauchi, who didn't know Matsumoto or her family, set out the first batch of 30 flags Jan. 16, four days after Matsumoto was killed. Twenty of the flags disappeared within the first four days.

"It's a good thing I work cheap," Kawauchi quipped. "For the time being, I'll just keep replacing them.

"I can put the flags there, but I can't make people use them."

As of Wednesday, Kawauchi had replenished the flags three times.


She said she was aware that small cities in Japan use pedestrian crossing flags.

"You can sit around and talk about an idea forever, or you can do something on a trial basis," Kawauchi said.

"Sometimes, one person can make a difference. If (the flags) save one life, it will have been worth it."

Kawauchi estimated that each flag cost a dollar or less to put together.

"I got a great deal on the plastic candy canes at an after-Christmas sale at Price Busters," Kawauchi said.

She has noticed that the majority of the flags "migrate" toward the bus stops on the downhill side of the highway.

"We hope people will use them to cross in both directions," she said.

The idea drew a mixed response from a pair of area residents.

"I think they're a great idea, an excellent idea, especially for the sake of the older ones," said Jody Walsh, who lives on Puiwa Lane.

Walsh, a frequent bus rider, says she always watches out for drivers when she's traveling on foot, even on the interior streets in her Nu'uanu neighborhood.

"Some guy took out the stop sign at the corner of Puiwa Lane and Dowsett Avenue and he says, 'I didn't know that I hit something.'

"We were like, 'Dude, how could you not know? You bent the steel post in half and pulled the (concrete) bottom out of the ground.'

"Lucky that wasn't a pedestrian," Walsh said

About a block farther up the highway, retiree Herb Sato was less convinced the flags are a good idea.

"Those things are a distraction and don't look very nice on the roadside," Sato said.

He said a similar system is used in Japan.

"They may also give some pedestrians a false sense of security. I know the emphasis has been on getting drivers to be aware of pedestrians, but education works both ways.

"The flags certainly don't give pedestrians a license to step into a crosswalk with the attitude, 'I'm here, you stop!' "

The pedestrian flag idea has been tried in various cities on the Mainland — including Seattle, Salt Lake City and Berkeley, Calif. — with varying degrees of success.

The Seattle program began as a voluntary citizen effort but more recently has been included in the Seattle Department of Transportation budget.

Berkeley ran a pilot program from 20001 to 2004, but discontinued it after concluding the flags did not appear to have a significant effect on driver behavior or pedestrian safety. The city found the flags were often misused and stolen, requiring continual replacement.