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TinotopiaLog → Police Can’t Direct Traffic For Toffee (27 Aug 2003)
Wednesday 27 August 2003

Police Can’t Direct Traffic For Toffee

At around 5:00 p.m. today, a strong thunderstorm moved through the area around Tino HQ, and knocked out power to some areas. Traffic signals work on electricity, so this meant that a lot of intersections were without signals. This gave me the opportunity to once again note that cops, by and large, don’t know how to direct traffic any more.

I think the police academy spends one afternoon on directing traffic, and then, because most cops don’t do it very often, they forget what’s necessary. The main thing is for the cop himself to be visible to the drivers of cars, and for his signals to be visible, clear, and unambiguous.

The cop-visibility thing they’ve got down, with their flashing lights and reflective vests and all. But the rest they don’t seem to care too much about.

Tonight, I came upon one intersection where a two-lane street crosses a four-lane divided highway with left-turn lanes on both sides. There were two cops there. Each one had parked his car at the far end of a left-turn lane, and had turned on the full complement of flashing lights. This conveniently blinded drivers arriving from either direction on the four-lane highway.

That the drivers were blinded by all the blinking wasn’t particularly important, though, because these two jokers were standing out in the middle of the street, waving their flashlights at people. The cop would, from about fifty feet away, shine his flashlight in your face, and then aim it in the direction he wanted you to go. Of course, you couldn’t see this, and since he was just swiveling his wrist around and moving a black flashlight — and this at dusk — it didn’t work very well.

When the police are directing traffic, traffic should actually move more quickly than it does when the electric signals are working. Even the signals with magnetometer car-detector loops in the pavement seem to make silly decisions; a human being on the scene should be able to do a much better job. Instead, though, cop-directed traffic usually seems to move at a snail’s pace, and I think it’s primarily because the drivers are squinting through their windshields, trying to read the cops’ minds — because their hand signals are hardly visible.

Directing traffic effectively means waving your arms around in big movements, not making covert little hand gestures or waving flashlights. It’s possible that the police are just afraid of looking silly, windmilling about in the middle of the road. Since these are people with more stuff hanging from their belts than Batman, you’d think they’d have got over the fear of looking silly a long time ago.

Posted by tino at 21:49 27.08.03
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