The latest mysterious case of vanishing pedestrian flags

That’s 13-year-old Liam Etheridge. His dad Mark Etheridge, an Admiral resident, sent the photo with this note:

After seeing how effective the crosswalk flags are at some of the crosswalks in West Seattle, my son Liam and I decided to try and make the very dangerous crosswalk at California Ave SW and SW College St in the Admiral District safer. This is a busy traffic area and also a heavily used pedestrian crossing.

We investigated the local website for pedestrian news, bought the safety flags ourselves, designed a mounting system and bought the hardware.

On Sunday, 12/28, we mounted the holders and installed the flags. Within an hour we watched people using the flags and showing obvious approval of the new addition.

On Monday, 12/29 two of the eight flags were already missing. My son and I had learned from the pedestrian website to expect some attrition of the flags so we weren’t too concerned. By Tuesday, 12/30, all of the flags were gone except for one that we found thrown in the Blockbuster parking lot across the street.

I have to say I expected far better of the West Seattle community. This was supposed to be, among other things, a lesson for my 13 year old son on the benefits of community service. Instead, it became a lesson on the less fortunate aspects of human nature.

Liam and I have resolved to try again with one more stocking of the crossing flags. I cannot afford to continue to buy flags just so a few idiots can steal them and spoil things for the rest of the community.

And what possible use would anyone have for seven small orange flags? Are they practicing semaphore signals at home?

We received Mark’s note this morning; before we could publish it tonight, he sent this followup:

In a strange update to the story, two of the eight flags have returned, and highly decorated. One has a pretty good sketch of a bus almost running a guy down, complete with the “55” on the bus (correct route) and the caption “Don’t be this guy.” The other has a really messy green painted peace sign. Now my son and I are intrigued with what may happen next.

Here’s a map of the intersection in question. The city supplies flags for several crossings in West Seattle (including Yancy/Avalon, California/Dakota, and California/Dawson), and this is now one of several more where flags have been privately supplied by citizens trying to do a good deed.

37 Replies to "The latest mysterious case of vanishing pedestrian flags"

  • Free Lunch December 31, 2008 (6:20 pm)

    The east flag holder is posted directly outside one of West Seattle’s hardest-drinking bars. (Yen Wor Village.) When people get drunk, they steal things, plain and simple.

    I’m sure some dude woke up the next morning with flags scattered on his floor, thinking, “Hmmm. Seemed like a good idea last night.”

  • sethook December 31, 2008 (6:21 pm)

    Right next to two local bars. YES, very dangerous crossing that needs permanent fixed crossing lighting that is activated by crossers to notify drivers. Alcohol makes people do stupid things that now includes stealing orange flags. I’ll keep my eyes open for culprits, but odds slim.

  • dana. December 31, 2008 (6:45 pm)

    @free lunch, you pretty much summed up my thoughts exactly.

    i do hope more flags are returned with art, though!

  • AlkiRagdoll December 31, 2008 (6:49 pm)

    Mark & Liam — you are to be commended for your contribution to our community. This is a great Dad/Son project and all lessons are well learned. Too bad you are experiencing what many in West Seattle view as a their “right” to steal and misbehave.
    I noted the messages on the blog about the dog poop on snow…. for years many of us have put up plastic bottles on trees/signs as holders for bags to encourage those who walk through our neihgborhood to “bag their poop”. In front of my house, someone keeps taking the bags and using the containers for putting out their cig butts…. Guess people just dont get it.

  • JoB December 31, 2008 (7:25 pm)

    good for you for doing this…

    i love the idea of artfully tagged crossing flags.

  • c.c. December 31, 2008 (8:15 pm)

    maybe the wind blew them out of the holder and away

  • homesweethome December 31, 2008 (8:20 pm)

    we live right on CA Ave – looked out our window yesterday noon time and saw a teenage boy strolling down the street twirling a flag…could not get outside fast enough to investigate. I’m not saying bar patrons couldn’t have been involved but there may be other culprits perhaps.

  • Bob Loblaw December 31, 2008 (9:39 pm)

    Last year I built a similar system under the WS Bridge, where Mrs. Loblaw has to cross to the bus stop after parking her car and has had numerous close calls. Within two weeks all the flags and the buckets that contained them (chained to posts) had been ripped up, broken up, and finally just cleaned up I assume.
    So, I feel your pain. Just trying to do something to help and we get pooped on.

  • mellaw6565 December 31, 2008 (9:46 pm)

    What a great way to be a role model for your son and your community. I like the idea that someone decided to make the flags artistic, but the stolen ones are a bummer.

    Don’t give up on the community – your efforts are appreciated. Another good lesson for your son to learn.

  • kevin January 1, 2009 (12:45 am)

    They have flags and flag holders all over the place in Kirkland. Maybe we could get a WS group together and go steal all of their flags? :)
    Seriously though, on the rare occasions that I visit Kirkland they always have plenty of flags waiting to be used at each crosswalk.
    Maybe we should ask them how they their flags available.

  • Scott B. January 1, 2009 (8:28 am)

    I am embarassed now by my adolescent long-hairedness. Live and learn, I guess.

  • billybob January 1, 2009 (9:41 am)

    there was an article in the papar a few months ago that they spend hundreds every month replacing MOST the flags, so why not spend hundreds every month adding ONE CROSSWALK SIGNAL!!?? the reason people get hit here, is that they walk in crosswalks like its an invisable shield without looking for cars, and cross outside crosswalks. In most cites you cross at corners only, or at crosswalk signals, if not and you get hit you are at fault.

    flags would be great if we lived in a an honest society, but that does not exist so they will always get stolen.

    use common sense when crossing, and look both ways, dont cross between cars, ect.

    flags!!!??? WTF anyone who thinks they wont be gone every week is a fool.

  • ML January 1, 2009 (11:17 am)

    Mark and Liam – Thank you!!! I use this cross-walk daily and really appreciate your efforts

  • mark Etheridge January 1, 2009 (12:40 pm)

    Thanks for all the comments everyone.

    Here is a little update on the story. King 5 News did an interview with Liam & me this morning. It will probably be aired at 5 PM this evening.

    Liam and I understand the challanges of getting something like this done at the community level. We don’t think we are fools, but we are not naive about the possibilities of the flags being stolen.

    I will say that the flags REALLY do improve your chances of being seen. The flags, of course, do not make you car proof, as we wrote on the flags.

    Liam and I would also welcome and encourage a cross walk signal at this intersection, but we cannot do that ourselves, so we opted for the flags.

    Best to all, Mark Etheridge

  • CB January 1, 2009 (4:36 pm)

    Seriously, I’m hoping that the terrific winds on that Monday would account from some of the loss. And does anyone have a clue what rbj meant???

  • mark Etheridge January 1, 2009 (4:52 pm)

    Regarding the strong winds, Liam and I looked all over the immediate neighborhood for any wind-blown flags without luck.

  • Bill T January 1, 2009 (5:20 pm)

    I own a small shop on California with a public restroom. Anything I have ever put on a shelf – votives, air freshener, even a small plant, has been stolen. As is pretty much anything else that’s not nailed down. West Seattle is not Kirkland – get it straight – but we love our community!

  • AlkiRagdoll January 1, 2009 (5:24 pm)

    Mark & Liam — just saw the King5 coverage. Glad you got the recognition and I hope that this coverage prevents further theft (hopefully some will be returned). Giving back to your community should be celebrated and certainly many like me appreciate your work. Grow up rbj you dont speak for me.

  • WSB January 1, 2009 (5:41 pm)

    Looking at RBJ’s comment history, it’s hard to tell whether he/she meant to insult those posting comments here, or perhaps the people who stole the flags. But it reads like the former, which is a violation of our rules, so I’m nuking it – TR

  • WSB January 1, 2009 (5:56 pm)

    KING followup can be found online here:

  • rbj January 1, 2009 (6:13 pm)

    Actually WSB, I was referring to everyone.

  • rbj January 1, 2009 (6:26 pm)

    Any media group that pretends to preach journalistic ethics yet deletes comments before asking for clarification is really just a “wanna-be” fox news and in your case just shrouded behind a shade of blue.

    Is that part of the “process” wsb?

  • WSB January 1, 2009 (6:41 pm)

    You’re right, I should have sent you a note first. However, as per WSB policy, we reserve the right to delete any comment at any time for any reason. We exercise that sparingly. And when flagged to a comment or forum post, we evaluate it and decide whether to take action. As for the “process” — everything is process.

  • rbj January 1, 2009 (6:51 pm)

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  • WSB January 1, 2009 (7:11 pm)


  • AlkiRagdoll January 1, 2009 (7:30 pm)

    Sorry — I only read a couple languages, and latin is not one of them… tho’ silly/stupid me, I get the gist given some similarity to Italian. WSB thanks for dropping the comment, it was not fair to the good will and work of Mark and Liam.

  • JH January 1, 2009 (7:45 pm)

    I can swear in Finnish, but that probably won’t help.

  • WSB January 1, 2009 (7:58 pm)

    Wow, my co-publisher would be handy there too. He studied Latin AND is second-gen Finnish-American.

  • miws January 1, 2009 (8:17 pm)

    Heh, I study Google! ;)



  • c.c. January 1, 2009 (8:46 pm)

    I am wondering what the status of the flag count is at the crosswalk by the california street Rite Aid?

  • JH January 1, 2009 (8:52 pm)

    Good one Mike!

  • WSB January 1, 2009 (9:20 pm)

    CC – There were several in the baskets when I drove thru late yesterday on the way to check out Liam and Mark’s installation in person before publishing this.

  • c.c. January 1, 2009 (10:00 pm)

    case in point WSB, maybe everyone should have a little more faith and trust in our community?

  • WSB January 1, 2009 (10:15 pm)

    The yellow ones supplied by the city at that spot and several others have been replenished by city crews … The morning of June 26, we reported on three new locations where the city put in flag baskets, Yancy/Avalon, California/Dawson, California/Dakota
    By that night, a commenter reported, the Avalon/Yancy flags were ALL gone. A few days later, the city came back to replenish them:
    As for private flag baskets – besides the one in this story, there was one put up by Java Bean on Avalon after that crosswalk was removed by the city in summer of 2007:

    and of course there’s the one at 47th/Admiral put up after Tatsuo Nakata was hit and killed in 2006:

  • Bill T January 1, 2009 (11:16 pm)

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes = “who watches the watchmen?”

  • Ms Pam January 2, 2009 (11:35 am)

    Mark & Liam, you guys ROCK!! Thank you for caring about your fellow man/woman!

  • Rick January 2, 2009 (4:11 pm)

    I was recruited a few months ago By Erin Harris of the SDOT to be the unofficial “monitor and flag replacement specialist” at the
    RiteAid crossing since my shop is so close. I usually keep ’em at 8 but just checked minutes ago and there’s only 5. Butter get on the ball and run 3 more over lest I jepoardize my “unofficial” pension. There’s only been six missing in over almost 4 months so I don’t feel that’s too bad.

Sorry, comment time is over.