Highway 20 safety effort temporarily slowed by thieves
By Ann McCreary
After hearing reports from Twisp residents about near misses with vehicles while crossing Highway 20 in town, Twisp officials have installed new bright orange flags at four locations in town for pedestrians to carry while crossing the road.
The flags are intended to make pedestrians more visible to motorists and increase pedestrian safety.
But shortly after the flags went up, they began to disappear — and then began to be found again.
“We have not had those flags out for more than a week and already we’ve had 20 stolen,” Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said Monday (Aug. 22).
That’s more than half of the 36 flags that were distributed among the four locations, nine flags at each, at the intersections of Highway 20 and Second Avenue, Third Avenue, Glover Street and Canyon Street.
The flag holders at the intersection of Canyon Street and Highway 20 next to Hank’s Harvest Foods were completely empty early this week.
Twisp Police Chief Paul Budrow said Tuesday that he had recovered the flags from a clothing donation bin next to Hank’s. “They just collected them and put them in there,” he said.
The flags are labeled with a sticker that reads “tracking device installed.” Budrow said the town took the precaution of installing tracking devices after talking with other jurisdictions that have used the flag system and experienced theft.
“We knew the first ones were going to get stolen,” he said. He said the tracking devices emit a signal that can be detected in close proximity.
Ing-Moody said town officials “want to give the people who did take the flags the opportunity to return them without criminal prosecution and without questions asked.”
Stealing the flags is third-degree theft, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail, Budrow said.
If a pedestrian were injured while crossing an intersection where flags were stolen, the person who stole the flags could face more serious charges such as reckless endangerment, Budrow said.
“The flags being stolen is a criminal act,” Ing-Moody said. “These resources were put out to improve community safety. Any tampering with these will not be tolerated. The actions of a few are undermining the needs of many.”
“We want the community to please watch out for their resources, and report anybody they know who has taken a flag or is in the process of taking a flag,” Ing-Moody said.
The flags were installed at the direction of the Twisp Town Council to improve pedestrian safety. “As we have more traffic on Highway 20, it’s become an increasing concern,” Ing-Moody said.
Twisp’s public works department mounted holders and flags earlier this month. Pedestrians can pick up a flag and carry it across the highway, and place it in a holder on the other side. Using the flags is voluntary.
“There have been reports of many close calls” on Highway 20, said Andrew Denham, Twisp public works director. “We have been fortunate not to have any pedestrian/vehicle accidents.”
Other cities and towns, including Chelan, Leavenworth, Seattle and Edmonds, have adopted the safety flag approach, Ing-Moody said.
She said Chelan experienced theft of the flags, and city officials thought boaters in the lakeside community might have taken them to use as red warning flags that are raised when water skiers are in the water. As a result, Chelan changed the safety flag colors to green, Ing-Moody said.
Denham said the town has spent about $1,000 on the new flag system and is seeking a public safety grant to cover the cost.
Twisp officials hope “the community with catch on and feel free to use them to be more visible when out in the middle of the street,” Denham said. “Safe movement of pedestrians is just tremendously important to the town. Anything we can do to make pedestrians more visible on State Route 20 is really important.”
The new safety measures may also help the town qualify for additional grants through a program of the state Transportation Improvement Board called “Complete Streets.”
The program is geared to projects that improve pedestrian safety and non-motorized travel, such as sidewalks, trails and bicycle facilities, Denham said.
If Twisp is selected for the program it could mean up to $500,000 in funding for nonmotorized infrastructure, he said.