Those grids on utility poles throughout the region are hard to miss.
Call them waffles, nets, checkerboards, or even a Connect Four stand, the 12-by-8-inch bright yellow lattices have many wondering — what are they, exactly?
Howard Frysinger, 66 of Glenmoore, is one of several readers who took to Curious Philly, The Inquirer’s question-and-answer forum, to find out.
“It’s just weird that some of them have them and some of them don’t," he said.
Frysinger’s right. The grids are affixed to poles within 15 feet of a street, and can be found on more than half of Peco’s 400,000 poles in the five-county Philadelphia region, said Richard Cornforth, director of engineering in Peco’s technical services department.
They’re reflectors, and the utility company’s been using the panels since 2007 — a switch from smaller white reflectors used before then.
“In the city, it’s probably less of an issue than, say, a dark country road," he said.
While the grid may be easier for drivers to see from varying angles, it wasn’t exactly manufactured for that purpose. They are what is leftover from the manufacture of reflective ID tag digits that also go on poles and equipment, Cornforth said.
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The reflectors last about 10 years and get swapped out during inspections. New poles get them too, and any that are damaged, faded, or missing are replaced.
Cornforth said no one, such as the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission or PennDot, is asking the utility company to put up the reflectors.
There may be a reason curiosity about the grids is so prevalent in the Philadelphia area. Cornforth said he’s not aware of any utilities using them outside the mid-Atlantic region, but it’s becoming a shared best practice among Exelon companies, including Atlantic City Electric, Baltimore Gas & Electric, Commonwealth Edison, Delmarva Power, and Potomac Electric Power. Public Service Electric & Gas, which services much of New Jersey, said it does not use reflectors.
Cornforth said the grids are meant to make poles visible at night so drivers do not hit them, but added he’s not aware of any statistics showing if they are effective.
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“My common sense would say, probably," he said when asked whether the grids are effective. "Now, if you have an intoxicated driver that’s going to hit something, I don’t think it matters at that point.”
The answer came as a bit of a surprise to Jay Lipschutz, 73, of Northeast Philly, who also asked Curious Philly what the yellow grids were for.
His wife, Ruth, he said, had insisted they’re reflectors for drivers to see. She was right.
“Oh, my God," he said. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”