With our frustrations rising during construction season, don’t forget the people behind the orange cones
A few years back, I spent months trying to get authorization to do a stint working as a flag person on a road crew on a local street. The construction was forecast for most of the year, and I offered to report back a piece regardless of weather. I thought it would be insightful. I thought it would be tiring. I thought it wouldn’t be that hard to set up.
I was wrong.
I’d convinced a friend who worked for the region to help me find my way to a reflective vest and that all-empowering stop/slow sign. I wanted a column; he wanted people to find out indignant drivers endanger workers’ lives every day.
It never came to pass as we ran afoul of rules and regulations over and over, but when I get jammed up in construction – ’tis the season – I hear my friend’s words in my ear anew: “You wouldn’t believe how close drivers come to hitting us every single day.”
And sometimes it’s more than close. The most recent numbers available for Ontario from the Ministry of Transportation reveal that, in 2013, there were 1,694 collisions in construction zones. Seven of those resulted in eight fatalities, and 341 resulted in injuries. While the data doesn’t specify whether the fatalities and injuries were to workers or those in the cars, you can conclude who is the most vulnerable: those inside the car or those standing next to a live lane of traffic.
Every province is currently undertaking its own version of summer hell as it repairs roads. That 150th birthday the country is celebrating? Some of our infrastructure is almost that old. Politicians may be torn between bare maintenance and making jobs depending on the election cycle, but the fact is, sewers must be replaced, bridges must be restored and you can only knit together so many pothole plugs before you finally have to resurface.
If your commute or quest takes a ridiculously long time, take it out on anyone but those tasked to do the job. Remember these five tips to make your journey through construction hell safer for everyone.
Use your tech
You can check at home before you leave, you can have updates every few minutes from most radio stations and you can use apps on your phone like Waze and Google maps to plot your course. Most construction is announced long in advance, and any and all of these things will alert you to the current conditions. Believe them; find a way around, or at the very least, add time to your plan.
Be the worker
Just for a moment, consider those conditions and standing on concrete or hot pavement all day. The person who flips the sign around right as you get there is working in tandem with someone else. They’re not making the call, so cool your jets and consider how much abuse they take for doing their job. Site supervisors have to take into account traffic flow, worker safety around massive equipment and, oh yeah, getting the job done.
Obey the cones
They’re no protection, simply orange suggestions that can mean life or death for vulnerable workers. If you’re worried you can’t navigate them, lift your eyes up and look towards the end of the augmented lane. Your brain will signal to your hands the necessary positioning for your car. If you stare at the cones, you’ll hit them. If you drive outside the cones, be prepared to pay the cost. In downtown Toronto last week, I watched a low-slung car decide it couldn’t wait any longer. The driver pulled out of line to take an apparently empty centre lane workers had sectioned off. Maybe it was the road angle, but the five-inch drop where the pavement had been cut came as a rude surprise. Your appointment, your schedule, your kids and your bathroom break are just as important – and disrupted – as those of everyone else.
Watch the officer
If a cop is on point duty, that takes precedence over the lights. Pay attention. That advanced turn signal is not for you unless the officer points at you. They make eye contact for a reason. Workers and police know to never turn their backs to a live lane of traffic, but that’s a difficult thing to do in the three-ring circus of a four-way intersection.
Slow down – slow down – slow down
This is the answer to virtually every collision, every weather related traffic mess, and the needless injuries and deaths that occur involving workers on roadway construction sites. I’ve written about zipper merging in the past, and the most effective way to do it. I continue to get feedback saying it’s wrong, though science has proven it is correct; science apparently has a very distant relationship with human behaviour. Don’t take out your rage at being held up on other drivers, and please don’t take it out on the people you believe are wrecking your day.
They’re doing their job, and a neon vest and a hard hat is no protection against a speeding, angry or oblivious driver. They deserve to go home to their families in one piece.