Bright little "helpers of humanity," standing at about 28 inches tall and weighing about 7 pounds, now can be seen around the clock on Market Street in Warren, performing the task they were designed to do almost a century ago.
They brave nature's elements, remaining on the job despite hot and cold temperatures, wind and rain, snow and ice, yet few stop to thank them for their steadfastness. People have gotten used to seeing this group of uniquely-shaped but identical, controlling creations, as they currently are demanding attention in almost every part of the world, with Trumbull County being no exception.
They are traffic cones. Also known as road cones, safety cones, construction cones and witches' hats, traffic cones are cone-shaped markers, twins of the dunce cap.
Photo illistration R. Michael Semple / Tribune Chronicle
Traffic cones were invented by Charles P. Rudabaker in 1914, around the time automobiles started rolling down roadways in the United States. Rudabaker's first cones were made out of concrete and used to divert traffic around a vegetable garden he was plowing over one snowy day in Buffalo, N.Y. The state highway commissioner passed by while Rudabaker was plowing and contracted with him on the spot to use his invention.
Traffic cones have evolved since 1914 and are now made of plastic or rubber for increased longevity and safety to motorists. They are easily movable and visible, as most are florescent "safety" orange, though they can be bright yellow or red. Traffic cones are put on a road to redirect traffic in a safe manner. Area traffic experts said road cones most often are used during road construction projects.
"Cones are used to provide guidance to traffic and define construction work areas, to provide separation and a safer environment for both motorists and workers," explained Paula Putnam, public information officer for the Ohio Department of Transportation District 4, serving Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning, Portage, Summit and Stark counties. "They can be very effective."
John V. Deane, highway superintendent for the Trumbull County Engineer's Office, said cones also are used when centerlines, edge lines and stop and turn arrows need painted on roadways.
They often mark a hazard area on a road as well, he said.
Traffic cones are equal-opportunity employees, providing service to cities, townships, counties and states. Every local municipality has their own and houses them in traffic garages, ready to be used at a moment's notice.
"Each ODOT county garage and outpost keeps cones stocked at their facility," Putnam said. "Additionally, there are usually a number stocked on ODOT vehicles regularly used in maintenance operations."
Even though traffic cone manufacturers boast their cones are resilient, standing up to heat, frost and car tires, local agencies have to replace a number of them each year. , However, this is primarily because people decide to cone-nap.
"We lose about 20 percent each year, some to damage, but most are taken," Deane said. "I am really not sure why the cones are taken."
ODOT does not track cone theft, but realizes it happens.
"Certainly there are some cases and likely they are taken as a souvenir or general prank," Putnam said. "Home improvement stores, some sporting goods stores and others sell more practical-sized cones for home use."
When local municipalities and agencies order cones, they do so with local vendors. However, the life for the average orange cone begins in China, the largest exporter of cones, according to area cone vendors.
In addition to China, a Warren-based safety supplier, United Safety Authority, sells cones from Illinois, Wisconsin, Mexico and Africa.
This year, ODOT purchased 309 traffic cones. It purchased 850 in 2007 and 900 in 2006, Putnam said.
According to Putnam, local agencies and municipalities can purchase traffic cones and other supplies from the contracts negotiated by ODOT with respective vendors through its Cooperative Purchasing Program.
ODOT purchased cones this year from Allstate Industrial Inc. of Cleveland at $13.05 for 28-inch cones and $24.90 for 42-inch cones. The cost went down from 2007, when ODOT contracted with A&A Safety Inc. of Amelia for $26.10 for 42-inch cones.
Deane said the last order he placed cost $7.25 for 18-inch cones and $14.54 for 28-inch cones.
ODOT sets the size municipalities and agencies are to use on their roadways.
"The two sizes that we use have basically stayed the same. They are the 18-inch and 28-inch cones. The only thing that has changed is the addition of reflective tape so the cone can be seen at night," Deane said. "The 18-inch cone is used when we do our centerline program (painting the roads). It is easier to handle. We use the 28-inch cone for our work zones or marking of hazards."
In some areas, skinny cones are replacing chunky ones. Deane believes the advantage to the thinner cone is more can be stacked on a truck at one time.
Putnam said the 28-inch cone is a standard size, though 42-inch cones are being used more in place of traffic drums. The standard sizes of cones are developed through national, state and local transportation officials, including industry and university studies.
In addition to partnering with traffic departments, cones frequently warn people of areas to stay away from, including a public restroom when the floor is wet, and can map out a soccer playing field at an elementary school, among other uses.
Because the traffic cone is so versatile, the satirical Traffic Cone Preservation Society, www.trafficcone.com, exists to praise its work, treating it like a celebrity. The group, which originated at the University of California, Los Angeles.
According to the TCPS Web site, "traffic cones were not thought worthy of scientific study, until the late 20th century. It is the society's mission to counteract these centuries of neglect. By preserving and studying these helpers of humanity, TCPS hopes to allow future generations the opportunity to enjoy these magnificent creatures in their natural habitats."