Barbara Flanders herds traffic with a smile
Wanted: Woman with nerves of steel to stand in Five Corners traffic. Agile enough to clear paths for large trucks and run to meet off-loading ferry traffic in a single bound. Patient enough to shepherd dazed pedestrians across busy streets and to give directions to GPS-less tourists. And cheerful enough to top it all off with a dazzling smile.
That may not be the description that attracted Barbara Flanders to her job as a seasonal Tisbury traffic officer, but it's certainly one that fits her.
Watching her in action at Five Corners and on Water Street was a study in motion as she choreographed the ebb and flow of the Island's worst summer traffic. Seldom standing still, she scanned the streets and sidewalks constantly in 360-degree surveillance.
With Day-Glo gloved hands and a whistle in her mouth, she brought order to five-pronged chaos and motion to gridlock. Diminutive yet effective, she could stop behemoth trucks with one finger held delicately in the air.
Ms. Flanders said she first became interested in the job after watching twin female traffic officers in Tisbury several years ago. After she was laid off from her job at Baynes Electric last winter, Ms. Flanders stopped by the Tisbury Police Department and asked about becoming a traffic officer. In April she applied and got hired.
Ms. Flanders said she trained for two weeks by watching veteran traffic officers Jay Clark and Eloise (Ellie) Boales direct traffic.
"You have to be conscious of VTA buses and pedestrians and everything going on around you, I learned," Ms. Flanders said. "And always make eye contact with drivers before helping people cross the street."
Her initiation in directing traffic started with an arriving freight boat. When Ms. Flanders first began her job, she said she found it difficult to make judgment calls.
One time she told a driver to move his car at the corner of Union and Main Streets. Afterwards, Ms. Flanders realized he was trying to let an old man with double-walking canes out of the car, and the incident weighed on her mind, she said.
However, some offenders made it easy to know when to draw the line. One woman who parked in a handicapped space told Ms. Flanders, "We don't have a permit right now, but we applied for one."
The traffic officers' primary job at Five Corners is to get ferry traffic unloaded and moving as quickly as possible, Ms. Flanders said. "We're actually are not supposed to direct Five Corners traffic unless it gets backed up, and then we empty it out, and get out of the way," she explained.
Her traffic directing experiences ranged from funny to fearful. One time a car stopped next to Ms. Flanders in the middle of Five Corners. A woman got out on the passenger side and came around to ask her where to park for the day.
"People are definitely in a daze in August," Ms. Flanders said. "That's when we were told to be sure to use a whistle."
Another time, an elderly lady bumped into the back of Ms. Flanders's legs with her car. When she turned around, the woman put her hands in the air, shrugged, and just kept rolling forward. Ms. Flanders said that experience left her shaking and she had to sit down for a minute afterwards.
Ms. Flanders likely became the patron saint of truck drivers, earning their gratitude by stopping traffic in the other direction when they needed room to swing out on a wide turn from Beach Road onto Water Street. "The guys always waved and thanked me," she said.
When not directing traffic, Ms. Flanders walked up and down Main Street, answering questions and watching traffic flow. She also issued parking tickets and patrolled the Water Street lot next to Stop & Shop.
To keep that parking lot from going to gridlock, Ms. Flanders said she and the other traffic officers told drivers to keep moving unless they pulled up behind a car in a parking space with its back-up lights on. She told of one Islander who tried to beat the system by standing in a parking space to save it for her daughter. It didn't work.
"I really enjoy this job tremendously," Ms. Flanders said. Asked about the perpetual smile she wears like it is part of her uniform, Ms. Flanders said she always tries to be upbeat, no matter what is going on in her life.
Although her traffic officer job ends on October 3, Ms. Flanders may be seen around town in her new full-time temporary position she started Tuesday with Tisbury's department of public works.
Ms. Flanders moved to the Island in 1985 and has lived in Vineyard Haven since 1996. Her son David, 18, attends a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) program in Washington State, and Josh, 20, is a student at UMass Amherst.
Ms. Flanders and her co-workers earned many accolades for their skillful traffic management from Acting Chief Daniel Hanavan and the Tisbury selectmen through the summer.
Other traffic officers not previously mentioned include Dan Tanner, Taylor Eppers, Bob Merritt, Andrew Silvia, Brittany Strelecki, and Ken Soule.