Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Traffic control aides
By John Greenfield
[This piece also runs in Time Out Chicago, www.timeoutchicago.com.]
Q: What’s the deal with traffic control aides - are they trained experts or just ineffectual masters of the obvious?
A: Chicago’s 610 traffic aides may seem like a waste of taxpayer dollars – about $10 million annually – ordering us to walk or not when a signal says the same. But these civilians in safety vests keep traffic flowing during rushes, emergencies and special events, says Traffic Management Authority spokeswoman Jennifer Martinez. They can override stoplights, like waving a stranded vehicle through a red so it doesn’t “block the box.” Their numbers have been steady since 2005 when TMA took over the program from the police, and they still train on-street with cops. Aides can’t ticket for moving violations or jaywalking but sometimes cite illegally parking. Last year CBS 2 videotaped several in the Loop slacking, using confusing gestures and ignoring dangerous driving. The city ordered a week of additional training for all aides and disciplined eight. But Martinez says most are hard-working professionals. “I give them credit – it’s a dangerous job.” Active Transportation Alliance’s Rob Sadowsky says aides should do more to protect peds and pedalers from speeders. “The TMA’s motto is ‘Moving Chicago Faster,’” he says. “It should be ‘Moving Chicago Safely.’”