As anyone who has driven a car in Edmonton this summer knows, you can scarcely go around the block without running into construction. It aggravates everyone, but I look at it as short-term pain for long-term gain. When the freakin’ Anthony Henday is completed (est. completion date: 2027, if it doesn’t rain), it will be a seamless connector from one end of town to the other. In the meantime, enjoy the view, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time looking at it.

Construction mania has come to my backyard (and front yard) with my long neglected road getting a new topping. And not a moment too soon: the potholes on my street have been filled in with Smart Cars. I’m happy to have the road repaired since it is, quite literally, crumbling to the point of total failure. Thank you, city of Edmonton, for finally sending some of my tax dollars my way.

However, city of Edmonton, I could do without the flag girls.

We’ve all seen flag girls (and yes, they are female in 99 per cent of the cases). They are the people who stand (or, quite often, sit, and, quite often text) for hours in the sun, holding a sign that says either “slow” or “stop”. It’s clearly complex, demanding work. Should you just warn cars to slow down, or make them stop entirely? These are critical decisions that only a highly trained flag professional can make.

Now, there are, of course, situations where a flag girl is necessary. High traffic locations, highways, situations where the heavy equipment has to move into traffic. It’s not hard to see where and when flag girls are necessary.

It’s also not hard to see where flag girls are entirely superfluous. Take the work being done on my quiet residential street. During the day, there might — might — be 20 cars on the street in an hour. The equipment on the road is huge, and impossible to miss. And yet, with virtually no traffic and machinery that you could see from space, a flag girl has been assigned to the job. I had the opportunity to watch this highly-skilled professional at work for a while today. She stood, gabbing with a fellow flag girl who was lounging on the ground, for some time without so much as a single car driving by. I have to give her props for at least standing. Earlier in the week, a different hard-working flag girl sat during her shift, and spend some of the time texting.

The city of Edmonton is spending hundreds of million on road construction this year, and admittedly the portion of that money going to underemployed flag girls is low. But when I see my tax dollars being flushed down the crapper, I get annoyed. All I ask is that the city employ a tiny bit of common sense in when to require a flag girl. Busy road: yes. Non-busy residential street: no. I challenge any member of city council (I’m looking at you, Kerry Diotte) to ask the administration to come up with the total spend on flag girls, and to evaluate the policy on this sometimes important, most often useless, position.

And yes, I know there are some guys who do the flag job. And yes, I don’t want anyone to get hurt on the job. But all I’m asking for is a little common sense.

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8 thoughts on “The flag girl: your tax dollars at ‘work’

  1. Agreed, but I wonder if the City of Edmonton has any control over this? My first reaction was that it probably has something to do with provincial policy. I don’t know though!

  2. I think flag girls somewhat serve a purpose, but it’s one that could be eliminated by more effective signage.

    Construction sites have caution signs every few meters, often mentioning something like “Workers Present.” Very often, however, there are NO workers present. And yet the signs stay up.

    I have an entirely hunch-based theory that drivers become conditioned to ignore these signs. There’s frequently nobody on a construction site, despite kilometers of warning signs.

    Having a flag girl blocking the road is one of the only ways to get a driver’s attention and say “hey, there actually ARE people working here right now.” They wouldn’t need to do this if the warning signs weren’t lying to drivers so often.

  3. seriously??? Flag people make under 20 an hour and have a dangerous job. It was only a couple years back when a flag person was killed by a vehicle. Your assumption of quiet streets = safe streets is wrong. All it takes is 1 bad driver to take out several construction workers. A flag person is the warning system for the entire crew on dangers fron incoming cars. Remove the flag person at any site and all workers become alot more vulnerable to accidents. If we started removing safety positions like this we woyld see a rise in workplace accidents costing taxpayers way more through medical costs, wcb, and work delays. I think its disgusting that you would put your own visual prefrences above the safety of the working class. This blog post reeks of white suburban privelaged complaining.

  4. I believe I live in the same area as you, by your description of the road conditions I assume you are living on or near 99st/Scona Road. If that is not the case please disregard this comment.

    The only place I have seen the so called “flag girls” is at the bottom of Scona Road where traffic is being redirected up Conner’s Road, which is a busy street where slowing or even stopping traffic at times may be necessary.

    I have yet to see any flag girls in the residential area, and I walk the area quite frequently, and usually stop at the Wild Earth Bakery in the morning for coffee. Given the low level of traffic along 99th I wouldn’t expect there to be any flag girls, so from my perspective money seems to be well spent.

    Again, maybe you don’t live in that area, which renders my point moot. However, I don’t suspect construction companies would just pay these traffic controllers if it weren’t necessary, anyway. They’re in this for profit like any other business, and if flag girls were not necessary I’m sure they’d be cut.

  5. Condescension is a poor man’s humor. What a tactless article. “Flag girls,” as you so crudely call them, are indeed a necessary part of roadway construction safety. You’re putting way too much faith in drivers. I work in construction and I can tell you people do not slow down unless someone stands there with a sign.

    I don’t know what you do that’s so great, but I’m sure any monkey can do it.

    Please blog better.

  6. A flag girl is there to protect the contractor as well as the public. Why should you slow down or stop for those large manuverable machines with blind spots. We should have them tied together with a colourful rope and pictures of the finished product and we may be able to see the full picture. You should live in ontario and have them build an over pass 4 lanes wide and take 2 years..Enjoy while you can

  7. As always, a number of readers miss the point. Take a look at the “work” these girls are conducting. There is no work being done at all. Feminists and bleeding hearts really at work. Myles, you’re a fool. If you’re worried about construction worker safety, perhaps your concern would be with these girls texting and not paying attention in high traffic areas.

    And if the term “flag girls” is crude to you, you really gotta put things in perspective.

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