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Crossing Local Streets So Treacherous, Some Residents Are Literally Raising Flags

pedestrian flag
Kristin Stratman
A flag sits at a crosswalk in Northside for pedestrians to use to attract a driver's attention that they want to cross the street.

If you feel like crossing the street is more dangerous today than in years past, you may be right. 

Ohio State Highway Patrol data shows the number of pedestrian crashes has gone up every year since 2013. In Kentucky, the numbers have gone up and down (see page 10 of this PDF). Many of these accidents happen in crosswalks.

Ft. Thomas Police Officer Nicholas Hoffman says often both the driver and the pedestrian are at fault.

"I think it's a lot to do with distracted drivers on cell phones, doing whatever, reaching back for the kids, putting makeup on, shaving, I’ve seen it all," he says. "But I think some responsibility lies on the pedestrian as well, making sure it's safe to cross. Parents still need to teach their kids to look both ways when they cross the street."

Lieutenant Brian Norris of the Cincinnati Traffic Unit adds increases in pedestrian accidents are because of more cars as well as more people being on the street.

"The upswing in the pedestrian crashes are due to people being out a lot more, bike riding, walking, exercising, but also in addition to that, just trying to get from A to B. People are more willing to walk or ride to get where they want to be."

In general, pedestrians have the right of way in a crosswalk, but are not legally protected when they walk out in front of a car.

Steve Magas is a personal injury lawyer specializing in bike and pedestrian accidents. He says an Ohio law governing crosswalks changed in 2013, making life more dangerous for pedestrians. It reads: 

No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle, trackless trolley, or streetcar which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.

“In theory, you should be able to cross at the intersection even if its an unmarked crosswalk. But the laws, with this law about stepping out and what is an imminent danger, all of that is very confusing," Magas says. "It would be nice just to have a rule that you could read it and follow, but in reality if you get hit, all of the actions are going to be interpreted by a court six months or a year later.”

Northside is one area residents are taking action on behalf of pedestrians because it has had some serious incidents

“In Northside, they had a pedestrian run down, the car goes too fast for conditions," Magas says. "It’s difficult to get the city to police the speed. And we know speed kills.”

One resident set out colorful flags at busy crosswalks for pedestrians to wave to alert vehicles when they want to cross the street.

One of those pedestrians is Emily Diefendorf. "Whenever I cross, if they have the flags there I use them. You know, I have two little kids so I want to make sure we stay safe."

pedestrian flags
Credit Kristin Stratman / WVXU
Directions on how to use the flags instruct users to "remove headphones" and "look both ways" when attempting to cross.

A report to Cincinnati City Council earlier this year shows police are issuing fewer citations in pedestrian-related incidents. Instead, the department is focusing on problem areas. Lieutenant Norris says a lack of officers at the traffic unit leaves some pedestrian-heavy areas unpoliced.

"We’re trying to cover the surface streets and help out in the districts as best we can," he says. "On slower days on the expressway, we're able to."

For cars and people to co-exist happily, Magas says pedestrians need to band together like bikers do.

"Pedestrians are not an organized body, they don't advocate effectively as bicyclists and motorcyclists do. They have fairly effective groups that are speaking for them."

Cincinnati Riding or Walking Network, also known as CROWN, is aiming to be one such community.

It's developing a network of 104 miles of multi-use trails and bike lanes in Greater Cincinnati, including Northern Kentucky, to make getting around safer for people who walk or bike. Money for the project comes from a variety of sources at the local, state and federal level.

Director of Tri-State Trails for CROWN Wade Johnston says while some people argue that's not a responsible use of public funds, he disagrees.

"When you look at making our region stand out as a destination for business development -- as a livable place to choose to locate as a resident -- it is very apparent that the cities that are investing in having a robust transportation system that includes biking, walking, transit and increasingly less dependent on the automobile, those are the communities that really stand out and we want to make Cincinnati one of those cities that stands out.”

Johnston says Cincinnati cannot meet the demands of its growing population if it continues to plan communities around the automobile. Still, CROWN’s vision may not be completed for another 10 to 15 years.

Jennifer Merritt brings 20 years of "tra-digital" journalism experience to WVXU.