Safety cones documented in Erie, Niagara, and Wyoming Counties. Photos: Nancy J. Parisi
Safety cones documented in Erie, Niagara, and Wyoming Counties. Photos: Nancy J. Parisi

Story: Cones, Ubiquitous Cones

by / Jun. 3, 2015 3pm EST

Glowing in their distinctive, retina-searing orange or yellow, sometimes with additional reflective white strips at top, safety cones are suddenly cropping up on the Buffalo landscape like scattering, PVC dandelions. They appear solo or in passels, amid public green spaces, private residences, and along everyone’s causeways.

Some safety cones delineate just that: pending danger to safety-at-large, marking a new patch of asphalt or another walking hazard like cracked concrete. Around town a very popular usage is to mark busted metal streetlights, shoved either top or bottom first into gaping holes presumably teeming with live wires. A recent marvel was a safety cone resting neatly atop a lampless streetlight on Bidwell Parkway. It had gone missing before this reporter had a chance to document it.

There is a mysterious quartet of cones going down Main Street near Allen Street and the burgeoning Medical Campus. The line runs down the double yellow lines, there’s a small crack between the lines but there are wider cracks nearby. A beautiful yellow cone triangle appears on Delaware Avenue, augmented by CAUTION tape: no imminent danger appears visible to the untrained, commuter eye regarding the non-decorative light standard the triangle surrounds.

Of special note is the lone safety cone to either call attention to, or draw a boundary around, a display of small American flags in the ground near a park in Wyoming County. Another in Niagara County fended off those who might drive into a sedan-sized mound of gravel near a parking lot. A lovely trio of cones in various heights and styles stands at the edge of a parking lot in the Cobblestone District. There is a DOT employee, apparently, who favors pairing orange and yellow cones, lashing them together with electrical tape: one of these amalgamations appears not too far from Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Just as some see a glass half full, and some as it being half empty, some see safety cones as the markers of renaissance and development, others as cheap plastic eyesores calling to mind a crumbling infrastructure. For $8 – and up – anyone can purchase a safety cone at a big box store (or online) and let others know that one’s driveway is not up for grabs, that a busted sewer near the curb is best steered clear from, that a gap in the sidewalk is on one’s path.

The Public spoke to a union contractor working on a big project in downtown Buffalo near a big bank: he would not go on record but had a lot to say about safety cones, once he understood the questions about an item he uses daily on the job. He sees safety cones as being markers of progress, citing that the project we are standing next to is in the millions of dollars for streetside improvements. He does not find safety cones to be unaesthetic. He lives in the exurbs, far from these orange and yellow plastic weeds.