Ft. Lauderdale's opinion of the Las Olas pedestrian flag program seems to be similar to that of Hollywood's opinion of the Transformers franchise: Yes, it's really silly, and probably useless. But we don't really have any better ideas.
If you're not familiar with the Las Olas pedestrian flags, don't feel bad. Most people still aren't aware of them. It's a tiny program launched by the city of Ft. Lauderdale to try and make the busy streets of Las Olas Boulevard more crossable.
The city is asking pedestrians to take one of four bright orange flags that are provided in two buckets attached to poles at either side of the intersection. Once you have your flag, you hit the crossing button, and then proceed to wave it like you just conquered Iwo Jima as you make your way across the street. The purpose of this is to hopefully make yourself more visible to oncoming traffic. (One unintended side effect is looking like the leader of the saddest parade in the universe). Right now, you'll only find the flags at the colorful intersection of Southeast 13th Street and Las Olas, right across from Fork & Balls.
Or, you might not.
That was the case when New Times visited the intersection. Apparently people are stealing these things as if it was an iPhone 6 pre-loaded with hacked celebrity nudes. According to the Miami Herald, 15 flags cost the city $60.
"How about something where, like, it electrocutes you if you hold onto it too long?" One Ft. Lauderdale resident named Christopher suggested this idea to New Times to prevent flag theft. When asked if the electric flags might have unintended lethal consequences on our elderly who tend to take a while to cross the street, Christopher said, " Well, if you're old you've got to press, like, an extra button on the handle."
His friend and fellow Ft. Lauderdale resident, Cherin, suggested we hire our veterans to work dangerous intersections. These are just two out of dozens of ideas that Christopher and Cherin had about our streets. We encourage the city of Ft. Lauderdale to track them down and hire them at once.
But until those electric flags and Navy Seal crossing guards arrive, what's a flag-less pedestrian to do when crossing Las Olas Boulevard? New Times has a few suggestions:
- Find whatever side of the street has the most pizza restaurants, then stay there forever.
- Sacrifice a small mammal to Xentuth, the ancient Roman god of aqueduct crossings.
- Somehow acquire the phone numbers of the oncoming drivers. Send them a text saying, "Bout 2 cross pls don't hit lol."
- Duct tape your driver's license to your forehead and Sharpie your social security number across your belly. (This won't help you avoid getting hit by a car, but it will make your mangled body much easier to identify for the overworked first responders).
- Acquire more than one baby to carry across the street. Ensure babies are cute enough to cause drivers to hit the brakes.
New Times actually tried this last one. Not with actually babies, of course -- those are slightly out of our budget. But the results seemed promising nonetheless. Cars did stop for our two babies, even though one was actually a stuffed Chihuahua, and the other was a doll so creepy it would give Chucky nightmares.
Unfortunately though, after several trips across the intersection, a cop put a stop to our experiment. It appeared even he had little faith in the effectiveness of Las Olas' most posh intersection, no matter the number of babies one carried across.
In the end, it's hard to tell if the flags will really make much of a difference in terms of pedestrian safety, especially considering they're stolen 90% of the time. Owner of the nearby Las Olas Vapor, Chris Rotella, mentioned he has witnessed drunk people beating each other with them, though did admit none of the drunken flag beaters got hit by a car while flogging their friends. What the flags have done, however, is create awareness -- an awareness that our streets are so unsafe we're willing to try whatever dumb idea comes across our desks.
Right now, South Florida streets are broken into three tribes: pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers (one could make an argument for suicidal iguanas as a fourth, but let's keep it simple).
Currently, each side sees the others as an annoyance. Pedestrians hate cars, cyclists hate everything (you'd be a bit jumpy too if you spent all day getting nearly decapitate by side mirrors), and drivers hate anything that forces them to take their foot off the gas.
Until each side can learn to look at the other not as obstacles on their commute, but as human beings trying to get home to their families (insert "leftover Chipotle" for "families" if you'd like) we probably won't see much progress in terms of safety on our streets. Instead, what we'll have are pissed of cyclists, irritated drivers, and ridiculous looking pedestrians beating each other with electric flags.