Guest Column: Getting cross with a crossing guard

I've had reason to consider the role of the crossing guard recently. There is a particular crossing guard here in town who has developed some bad habits regarding the treatment of motorists. Habits unbecoming the job. There are stern admonishments for encroaching too near the lines, obnoxious eye-rolls or even outright screaming at the cars as they roll past.

Drivers, in the mind of this one individual at least, have become enemies — naughty violators to be chided and reprimanded. I've witnessed repeated incidents and it's caused me to ponder the purpose of the crossing guard. It would be easy to conclude that these shepherds of the pedestrian pathway, in their orange vests and rubber rain coats, are there solely to serve those on foot — to protect their safety against oft-distracted drivers.

This one-sided view of the job has plagued many a sophomoric guard of the yellow lines. Indeed, pedestrian safety is paramount, but the job is so much more than that, and a deeper analysis reveals a complex truth. The professional guard considers motorist and pedestrian equal among those whom he or she serves. They are mediators of the space where school children and commuters commingle.

The top-of-the-line stop-sign wielder must take traffic flow into account and consider the impact that their presentation has on the attitude of the motorists in order to fully affect a safe environment for pedestrians. To be of the highest order, a guard must consider him/herself an “arbiter of the intersection,” not merely a “stopper of traffic.” This is no easy task.

An artful sense of timing is required to decide just how many anxious teenagers should accumulate on the sidewalk before stepping out in front of a Suburban driven by a triple-latte-sipping mom late for a PTA meeting. Stop traffic too often: gridlock, panic, mayhem, adding to the danger for all. Wait too long: tardy 10th graders. It is a skillful dance on the edge of disaster, repeated daily for as long as the school year might last.

Consider this, friends and neighbors, as you navigate the areas near schools, either on foot or behind the wheel. These curators of the crosswalk have a hard job — harder than you probably imagined. But, we can help. Slow down, smile, cooperate, follow the rules. Make the crossing guard's job easy. It's for the safety and well-being of everyone. Consider it a daily opportunity to positively impact the lives of those around you.

As for my friend who spends her mornings escorting uniformed students somewhere in the eastern end of town, perhaps she needs a refresher course. Or perhaps she needs help from us, the drivers. Or just a hard candy.

BOB MEEKER is a resident of La Cañada Flintridge who freely admits that he has never been a crossing guard. He can be reached at

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