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Time to pause and reflect

New to the neighborhoods’ utility poles are bright-yellow grids that seem to have appeared out of nowhere with no clear purpose. PECO solves the mystery.

By Erica J. Minutella
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted Mar. 11, 2010

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Mysterious additions to area telephone poles — including the 2500 block of South 12th Street — have puzzled residents, but the reflector grids were installed by PECO to aid driver visibility and safety.

Over the past few weeks, a new feature on neighborhood telephone poles has been causing quite a stir. Observant residents could not help but notice the sudden and inexplicable appearance of yellow, metallic grids nailed onto the surface of the poles, hovering a little below eye-level when a person is seated in a car.

“I didn’t really know what they were,” Madeline Caputo, of Broad Street and Packer Avenue, said. “I thought that they were replacing some of the telephone poles and that was the way you’d know it was replaced.

“But every one I’ve ever seen has that yellow grid on it.”

Although they may not be hovering in the sky or forming crop circles, the grids’ prevalence has led many to question their purpose. Theories range from traffic-markers to termite-treatments — but the reason for their exsistance is surprisingly simple.

Michael Wood, Philadelphia Electric Co. (PECO) manager of communications, said these 12-by-8-inch aluminum mysteries are merely reflectors.

“We started putting them on utility poles as a safety measure a few years back. They are installed at almost eye-level, but they have become part of our engineering standard for utility poles,” Wood said.

PECO began installing the reflectors as early as 1996, as a result of an internal study concerning the visibility of telephone poles versus driver safety. About 11 years later, the decision was made to change to a more effective design. Standard variations include reflectors that completely encircle a utility pole that are usually rectangular and vary only in size and adhesion. It was not until 2008 the grid-style was released.

The grids, which so far can be found predominantly in the 19145 and 19148 ZIP codes, act as retro-reflectors that bounce light back to its source. They are installed about 4 feet above the ground and positioned to face oncoming traffic. Their display on each successive pole is an alignment of the road for drivers dealing with poor visibility or high-traffic areas.

“It’s more of a safety measure on busy roads, highly traveled roads, where there have been incidents of poles being struck by vehicles,” Wood said.

Local installation began a few months ago and got attention fast — curious attention. The first poles to receive them were new or recently replaced, but the grids soon will be standard.

The company responsible for manufacturing the reflectors is Almetek Industries Inc. in Hackettstown, N.J. According to its Web site, the grids are flexible and can be used for many different objects and surfaces, from trees to guardrails.

“There is a wide variety of pole reflectors and these reflector grids were chosen based upon what would be most visible in weather conditions and also when viewed at different angles, and what fits the pole standard,” Wood said of why they were selected.

For some, PECO’s move represents a much-desired step towards increased road safety.

“I work for an orthopedic surgeon, and I deal with people who do have motor vehicle accidents,” Caputo said of why she thinks the grids are critical to driver well-being. “The one-person accident into a pole or a tree is bad. They usually have fractured femurs, fractured legs, because of the impact. The dashboard comes forward and crushes your legs.”

According to a report by the Transportation Research Board, collisions with utility poles account for more than 5 percent of national traffic fatalities.

Still, not everyone feels the reflectors are necessary.

“If you’re a safe driver, you’re going to be a safe driver. You always have to look out for the other guy,” Peter DiForte, of the 2900 block of South Sydenham Street, said.

“They seem a little redundant,” Robert O’Brien, from the 2600 block of Rosewood Street, added. “I mean, we have street lights.”

Yellow remains the most effective color for safety markers and clothing due to its high perceptibility among the visible spectrum, as well as its greater chance of discernability for the color blind. For PECO, they remain the best choice for promoting citywide driver safety, but some believe the bright coloring may detract from the aesthetic value of their neighborhoods.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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1. Anonymous said... on Mar 12, 2010 at 01:37PM

“Thank you for your informative article, but I was surprised not to find a mention of the objects (four per pole) drilled below the yellow reflector grid, as evidenced by the sawdust left behind from the pole: drilling was not necessary to attach the grids. I neighbor told me that he had inquired of the workers as to why/what they were doing and was told that they were inserting some sort of substance into the pole as some of them were found to be deteriorating from the inside. I believed this because I witnessed one group striking the poles with some sort of sledge hammer and other workers coming by and inserting these objects into the poles. I'm not doubting the yellow grids benefits but wonder why the other part was omitted. Thank you for allowing me to comment.”

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2. geraldine grookett said... on Mar 15, 2010 at 08:24AM

“thank you for the interesting article-the next time i visit my old south philly neighborhhod i will surely take notice of the poles with the yellow reflectors. i think it is a good idea. maybe drivers will pay more attention when parking to avoid hitting the poles.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Mar 27, 2011 at 07:59AM

“My four-year-old says they look like waffles. He loves to point out every single one we pass.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Apr 28, 2011 at 08:15PM

“i thought they might be reflectors but i thought they couldn't be because not all of them are facing traffic. I've seen a lot of them on the wrong side of the pole. and some even facing into houses or sidewalks.”

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5. Jim Gallagher said... on Apr 25, 2012 at 07:13PM

“Thanks for solving this mystery. Before I found this article, I had been asking friends and acquaintances for the last 8 - 12 months what they thought was the function of the grids. Only one of the many people that I ask had the correct answer; and I did not believe that it was the correct answer because I assumed that the rectangular spaces must serve some designed function. I still do not understand the purpose of the rectangular spaces; however it is good to know the overall purpose of the mysterious grids.”

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6. Jackodog said... on Apr 23, 2013 at 07:41AM

“What do they do with the punched-out rectangles that are left over (the pieces that were in the middle)? It seems like a lot of wasted material and work for theses reflectors. Are they being used for something else or are the tax payers paying for the grids (which might just be the scraps left over from the small rectangular pieces that someone else is paying for?”

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7. Rjlemi said... on May 12, 2013 at 11:52PM

“It's kind of dumb to put them on streets where there are always parked cars on both sides of the street (like most of Philadelphia).”

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8. Anonymous said... on Feb 23, 2014 at 12:10AM

“What a complete waist of time and money. I wonder who's hands we're greased to get the contract to make the reflectors. They might make be useful on a dark country road but not in a well lighted city like Philadelphia. If you can't see a utility pole in the city your either blind or drunk.”

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