Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How to make street crossing flags as a family service project

Welcome to the November 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family Service Projects

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about what service means in their families.

Brightly colored pedestrian flags make crossing the street safer for walkers of all heights. Children especially can benefit from a waving pennant to attract the attention of car drivers at busy and dangerous intersections and crosswalks.

As the signs on some of the tins near here read: "Pedestrians struck last year who were carrying crossing flags: 0." (I can't find exact statistics, but I can testify they sure do encourage cars to stop for you!)

Seattle, where we live, installed street crossing flags at various intersections a few years ago. However, the flags too often go missing or get vandalized (the dowels broken or fabric ripped). Plus, the city no longer refills empty containers, relying instead on community sponsors.

A helpful service project for any family or group that favors walking and safety (and walking safety) is to help restock the flag bins. If you want to get truly guerilla, you could even secure your own tins or buckets to handy telephone poles or street signs, though I'm going to refer you to your local laws as to whether that's a good idea. (Seattle's policy is currently that all flags are community-sponsored — flags must be placed only at legal crossings, the container must be attached to a pole with zip ties or other mounting hardware, and flags must be at least 10x10 inches and made of orange or fluorescent yellow-green fabric.)

Seattle photo by kenudigit, on Flickr,
showing a city-sponsored bucket

Some locales allow you to sponsor a crosswalk, which would be a great family project — the city provides the flags, and you make sure the bucket stays full and clean!

This photo by Brett VA, on Flickr, shows the nearby city of Kirkland,
where flags are manufactured by the city
and citizens can adopt local crosswalks to keep them stocked.

It's easy to make a load of flags in a dedicated evening if you have a willing group, and it's kind of fun to sneak around placing them in empty tins around town!

Much of this project is best performed by adults, unfortunately, so you might want to make the flags beforehand and then let your children place them with you. However, older children can help with portions of the work: cutting out the fabric, potentially pushing the staple gun (avoid fingers!).

You can even skip the following work and buy street crossing flags (such as these for $87.50 for 25, or $3.50 apiece), particularly if you have a group kicking in funds for the purchase. I know it might sound silly, but it was nearly as expensive making them ourselves — we just needed something more involved for our small group Bible study to do for a service project! However, if we'd made our flags smaller, the DIY version would have been more cost-effective. And you might be able to find certain materials cheaper, so it's worth researching to see how much this project might cost you either way.

Here are the instructions on how to make the flags at home!


  • Bright orange or yellow outdoor fabric (or consult your region for the preferred color) — We bought this Phifertex 54" Orange Polyester Weave from Fabrics Central — we used a coupon to get the price down to $12.12 a yard, and we bought 6 yards. I'm having trouble finding a coupon online, but you could contact Fabrics Central at their Facebook page to see if they'd offer one for a good cause! I also found this cheaper nylon fabric at Fabric.com for $7.98 a yard, although I'm a little concerned that it reads "very lightweight." You might contact the store to ask if it's recommended for pedestrian flag use — or just take a chance. You can also check your local fabric stores for their outdoor fabric selection or repurpose safety vests if you have an unused stash.
  • Wooden dowels — We bought 1/2" to 1" in diameter dowels from Home Depot similar to this that are a default 48" long. We then sawed them in half to make flags that were 24" (two feet) in length. That's really as short as you want to go. A more ideal height would be two and a half feet, but it's hard to find dowels that divide into those dimensions. I can't remember what price we paid, but you can find a selection of inexpensive dowels at any home improvement store. You could use any sanded wood you had around that was an appropriate length and diameter (easy to hold in a hand), and it wouldn't need to be round necessarily.
  • Saw — If you need to cut your dowels down in length, grab a saw, as well as a suitable location and support — we used a balcony railing, because that's how we roll.
  • Sandpaper — If you've sawed your dowels, sand down the rough ends so you don't splinter up your pedestrians' hands.
  • Staple gun and staples — This doesn't need to be anything fancy for this purpose. You can find staple guns, sandpaper, and saws easily at home improvement stores as well, leaving just the fabric potentially to order beforehand.
  • (Optional:) Reflective Tape — You could decorate the edges of the flags to make them more visible in twilight and at nighttime.
  • (Optional:) Rust-proof metal or plastic container plus zip ties or other securement method — if you want to place the flag bucket yourself


Cut your orange fabric into squares. You can go as small as 10 by 10 inches, according to Seattle's regulations. With our 6 yards of 54 inch material, 10 x 10 would make 105 flags, 12 x 12 would make 72, and 18 x 18 would make 36. We made 36 of the 18 x 18 variety.

(P.S. I'm obscuring our group members' faces because they're too fabulous for the internet, and also because I didn't ask permission to post their pictures. But, suffice it to say, they're awesome.)

Measure and cut your dowels (if necessary). If you have a big enough group, you can split into teams to work on all the tasks simultaneously.

Sand smooth the rough ends.

Wrap the dowels with a layer of fabric and staple into place. Watch for fingers!

Optional: Tape one or more edges with reflective tape for nighttime visibility.

Pile them around the 3-year-old.

Keep piling!

C'mon, keep going!

Now we're getting there!


Now, go on a family or group walk to distribute flags to containers in need!

Photo by Silus Grok, on Flickr

Optional: Secure your own bucket to poles on both sides of a legal crossing. (Typically any intersection, whether marked or not, or official crosswalk is a legal pedestrian crossing.) Consult your local regulations about whether pedestrian flags are welcome. If pedestrians are unfamiliar with the concept, post a sign on or near your container.

Now, do you feel a little goofy waving a flag as you cross the street? Sure enough. And I rarely see adults who are alone using them.

Mikko, however, loves them and takes his flag bearer duties quite seriously, and I set a good example by making sure we always grab one when available. I'd rather we all be safe over cool!

We got a thrill when we were using them at a previously empty flag station and overheard other pedestrians commenting that they were glad the tin had been refilled and that they hadn't seen this style of flag before and wondered what Good Samaritans had placed them there. It was us, it was us!

They came from our hard work and civic dedication. Score.

Does your town have crossing flags? Have you ever participated in any other guerilla-style service projects?

Tweet me!

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon November 13 with all the carnival links.)
  • Acts of Service: The Great Neighborhood Clean Up — Sarah at Firmly Planted shares how her daughter's irritation with litter led to eekly cleanups.
  • Running for Charity — Find out how Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction uses her love of running and a great new app to help feed the hungry.
  • 50 Family Friendly Community Service Project Ideas — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares a list of 50 family-friendly community service project ideas that are easy to incorporate to your daily, weekly, monthly, or seasonal rhythmn.
  • Volunteering with a Child — Volunteer work does not need to be put on hold while we raise our children. Jenn of Monkey Butt Junction discusses some creative options for volunteering with a child at Natural Parents Network.
  • Family Service Project: Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina — Erika at Cinco de Mommy volunteers with her children at the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, where 29% of the recipients are children.
  • Family Service Learning: Advent Calendar — Lyndsay at ourfeminist{play}school offers her family's approach to some holiday-related community service by sharing their community focused Advent Calendar. She includes so tips and suggestions for making your own in time for this year's holidays.
  • How to make street crossing flags as a family service project — Lauren at Hobo Mama offers a tutorial for an easy and relatively kid-friendly project that will engage young pedestrians.
  • Pieces of the Puzzle — Because of an experience Laura from Pug in the Kitchen had as a child, she's excited to show her children how they can reach out to others and be a blessing.
  • Appalachian Bear Rescue — Erica at ChildOrganics shares how saving pennies, acorns and hickory nuts go a long way in helping rescue orphaned and injured black bears.
  • Volunteering to Burnout and Back — Jorje of Momma Jorje has volunteered to the point of burnout and back again... but how to involve little ones in giving back?
  • How to Help Your Kids Develop Compassion through Service Projects — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares service projects her family has done along with links to lots of resources for service projects you can do with your children.
  • Involving Young Children in Service — Leanna at All Done Monkey, the mother of a toddler, reflects on how to make service a joyful experience for young children.
  • A Letter to My Mama — Dionna at Code Name: Mama has dedicated her life to service, just like her own mama. Today Dionna is thanking her mother for so richly blessing her.
  • 5 Ways to Serve Others When You Have Small Children — It can be tough to volunteer with young children. Jennifer at Our Muddy Boots shares how her family looks for opportunities to serve in every day life.
  • When Giving It Away Is Too Hard for Mommy — Jade at Looking Through Jade Glass But Dimly lets her children choose the charity for the family but struggles when her children's generosity extends to giving away treasured keepsakes.
  • Community Service Through Everyday Compassion — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children calls us to Community Service Through Everyday Compassion; sometimes it is the small things we can do everyday that make the greater impacts.
  • School Bags and Glad RagsAlt Family are trying to spread a little love this Christmas time by involving the kids in a bit of charity giving.
  • Children in (Volunteering) Service — Luschka at Diary of a First Child reminisces on her own experiences of volunteering as a child, reflects on what she thinks volunteering teaches children and how she hopes voluntary service will impact on her own children.


Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I have never seen these - what a fantastic idea! I wonder how hard it would be to get a city to agree to install them initially . . .

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura said...

@Berean MOPs

Whoops. I'd like to comment as myself and not my moms group :)

I think this is a wonderful idea... so different and something my town could benefit from in a few intersections.

Erica @ ChildOrganics said...

I've never seen any thing like this. I've never lived on the West Coast, but I've lived in the Midwest, East and South- I've never seen these flags in any of the large cities I've visited. This is a very cool idea! We recently had a relative hit by a car and I'm sure these flags would be a great preventative.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Dionna @ Code Name: Mama: Yeah, I can't even imagine the red tape that might be involved there! I'd hope that a lot of cities might be open to having them even if they don't want to dedicate city resources to them. The trick would be making sure volunteers keep the containers stocked with flags instead of used as de facto trash cans!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Laura: Cool, I was wondering who you were at first. :) This is random, but the Bereans are one of my favorite groups in the Bible.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Erica @ ChildOrganics: Huh, I guess it's more a West Coast thing, then! When I was looking on Flickr for images, most were from the west, though I did see one from Florida. Maybe the idea will spread! I'm sorry about your relative — that's one of the dangers I'm well aware of, walking frequently with small children.

Anonymous said...

I have never seen these before - what a great idea! Now I'm curious about how to get started with them in my city. Thanks for sharing this!

Deb Chitwood said...

I've never seen street crossing flags before, either. Awesome idea, though! I'd love to see something like that spread throughout all the states. I pinned your post to my Make a Difference Board at http://pinterest.com/debchitwood/make-a-difference/

Momma Jorje said...

This is SO.COOL! I've never seen anything like it! We don't have those here. Wow, so. many. intersections!

Shannon said...

The way they phrase the safety statistics on the Kirkland ones always irked me. "This many pedestrians hit by cars in this year in Kirkland, NONE of them were carrying flags."
Well of course not, because they hadn't implemented the flag system yet!
That being said, I was wondering why the buckets around here were so empty. Now I know, and we will have to make our own (and maybe see if we can add buckets to a few intersections). Moira is always a proud flag carrier when they are available. And I am a fan of anything that makes my little ones easier to see.

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