Traffic aides perform under demanding conditions, concerned for safety
It’s one of the gateway jobs to a patrol car. But the dues paid for one position before climbing into a police vehicle can be tough. The job of a public safety traffic aide― those keeping Sanibel’s roads and crosswalks safe for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians― can lead to a promotion within the department. The city’s police chief, for example, started with the Sanibel Police Department as a traffic aide in the 1980s. Aides can view the position as an observable job application, as testaments to tolerance and endurance, which are character features in recruiting a good cop.
But an aide’s job can be amazingly difficult, certainly a hot one, standing under the blazing sun on a steaming tarmac. The hourly position can be about impatient drivers, anxious groups waiting to cross those snarled streets, birds shooting between cars, a knucklehead ignoring an upraised hand to stop, the disoriented visitor demanding directions― in traffic.
The job gets even crazier with fender-benders, bicyclist spills and the occasional gesture or glare from a motorist.
In short, very few of us are pleased with the eight or so traffic aides stationed at five intersections on Sanibel at the height of season; that number dips to two full-timers in off-season. Our displeasures have little to do with a traffic aide’s performance, police chief Bill Tomlinson says. Absorbing a driver’s frustration and reflecting back a good nature goes with the gig, he says. “It’s the hardest job in the police [force],” he says. “People are cussing, and everyone has an opinion. You need eyes in the back of your head. It’s tough. The key is to have fun.”
A Sanibel traffic aide performs really more as a matador— gesturing and coaxing us with day-green or evening-orange gloves to move more quickly, an authority figure motioning or barking to pedestrians, conveying urgency while swallowing the impulse to grimace. It’s not a job for the timid or the angry, for sure.
Because the position is high profile, traffic aides must keep a professionalism and decorum; otherwise, someone
A SANIBEL TRAFFIC AIDE PERFORMS REALLY MORE AS A MATADOR— GESTURING AND COAXING DRIVERS TO MOVE MORE QUICKLY.
in city hall will hear about it to the smallest detail, the chief says, especially if the aide is more of a showboat or expresses harshness.
Like any trade, though, there are good moments in traffic. Motorists often hand off bottled water like a football in an intersection, even ice cream. All aides have regulars who share passing pleasantries. Though some islanders may demand traffic lights, few question the value of a trained professional to keep the flow in an increasingly intolerant society.
Ultimately, however, Tomlinson says it’s up to drivers and pedestrians to manage safe travel, to be more lenient with one another. “The more courteous, the better the experience,” he says.
Sanibel traffic aide Joel Howard employs gestures, body language and even humor to ensure our safety while managing busy streets.