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.
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.