Road Wor­ri­ers

Traf­fic aides per­form un­der de­mand­ing con­di­tions, con­cerned for safety

Times of the Islands - - Departments - BY CRAIG GAR­RETT Craig Gar­rett is Group Edi­tor-in-Chief for TOTI Me­dia.

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


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.

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