If you tried to get anywhere in the vicinity of the south-west area of Montreal last weekend you are probably all too aware of the old concept of needing to break a few eggs to make an omelette. The much-needed revamping – reramping? – of the Turcot Interchange involves several temporary road closures, some long-term, some short, no doubt all leading to a few significant doses of traffic hell.
Last Saturday as I approached from the east an intersection near the work, I could see the line of cars traveling in the opposite direction that had been rerouted while work was carried out. As I sailed past I was sure the cars were backed up to about Ontario.
There was a time when a particularly busy intersection warranted the presence of a traffic cop. Clad in regular uniform with the addition of a whistle and bright white gloves that were visible from blocks away, these officers parked their motorcycles by the curb, stood smack at the junction of the two streets and directed traffic to ease the movement of cars. Some were flamboyant, outgoing sorts flailing their arms about like Bugs Bunny conducting an orchestra while others resembled Rudolf Nureyev, stretching and bending gracefully. Some who appeared to not enjoy the job quite as much as their colleagues relied on merely pointing at drivers to keep things flowing.
Rain or shine, cold or suffering on the heat-soaked asphalt, these men, and a few women, proudly did their best to get motorists to their destinations as quickly and safely as possible. Many worked for years at the same spot becoming known to the daily drivers. At Christmas or retirement they could be seen standing amid small gifts and tokens of appreciation.
There are still cops who handle busy intersections when needed. There was a suggestion that non-police could handle this task, but the union won’t give it up as the job entails overtime to the tune of $62 an hour. In yet another example of how technology has erased the personal touch, today’s officers park their cars on the sidewalk, lest they exacerbate the congestion, and take control of the actual traffic lights. Currently dressed in red baseball caps, Kevlar vests and camo pants (in protest, contract troubles with the city), using what look from a distance very much like old wired television remote controls, the cops manually determine the best sequence for the traffic lights. All is done from the sidewalk, no waving or whistling, no panache or contact with drivers.
I imagine the result is the same as the old-time traffic conductors, but the current traffic facilitators are far less entertaining for those of us waiting.