Pittsburgh crossing guards brave all elements to keep pedestrians moving

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It wasn't a morning for strolling or dawdling. And with rain falling off and on, and coming down hard at times, it certainly wasn't a morning for standing around.

But that's just what David Locke was doing Tuesday.

Mr. Locke, a 74-year-old Highland Park resident, is a Pittsburgh crossing guard, one of the 109 men and women tasked with standing watch at the city's intersections every morning and every afternoon.

He said the good part of the job he has held for a decade is the people he has met: the children and families who cross Hobart and Wightman streets in Squirrel Hill and greet him by name.

"The bad part is the weather," he said.

He stands at his intersection on hot summer days, on cold winter days and on rainy days, too.

The worst, he said, are the snowy days.

"This is nothing, no," he said, as pedestrians hurried through Squirrel Hill, many holding umbrellas in the rain showers.

But the service that Mr. Locke -- and his fellow crossing guards -- provides is something good for the city, said Elaine Alter, the supervisor for the crossing guards who is based out of the police department's Zone 5 station in Highland Park.

The city's crossing guards received a thank you Tuesday from Rite Aid, a company with headquarters near Harrisburg that is celebrating its 50th anniversary with 50 acts of wellness in 12 cities around the country.

One of those acts was to deliver wellness packages containing items including hand sanitizer, pain medication and gel shoe inserts to the city's crossing guards.

As representatives from Rite Aid walked through Squirrel Hill handing out the gift bags Tuesday, it was possible to get a glimpse into a morning in the life of a crossing guard.

Days start at 6:50 a.m. for Sis Lloyd, a 61-year-old Lincoln Place resident. Ms. Lloyd, who has worked for the University of Pittsburgh's housing services and as a receptionist, decided about a decade ago she wanted to work with children.

She takes her spot each day at Beacon Street and Murray Avenue, a busy intersection in Squirrel Hill, and sometimes she sees adults who she first met as kids 10 years ago walk by.

"Some of the kids are now out of school, out of college, or whatever, and they walk by and say, 'You're still here,'" she said.

A lot of crossing guards don't like her corner because it is so busy, with cars coming off of the Parkway East and with students and other pedestrians passing through. Ms. Lloyd says she prefers it.

"It keeps you busy, makes the time go faster," she said. Her morning shift stretches from 6:50 to 8:45, and she is back in the afternoon from 2:45 until 4:30.

Ms. Lloyd does not work other jobs outside of her shifts, but many of her fellow crossing guards do, such as Maureen Twigg, 54, of Greenfield.

A crossing guard since 1993, Ms. Twigg is stationed at Forbes and Murray avenues, and between shifts, she works as a cashier and a stocker at the Rite Aid that borders the intersection, a job she has held since 2004.

"I think she brings an added value to our business, as well rooted as she is in this community," said Rite Aid district manager Jeff Suriano, who oversees the company's 19 stores within the city.

Ms. Twigg, a grandmother with two adult sons, became a crossing guard in part because she thought her own crossing guard from when she was in grade school was "fantastic."

Many of the people who walk through her intersection greet her by name, she said, and she carries dog biscuits to pass out to the occasional dog walker.

"I think it's a great job, and it's definitely an important job," she said.

In the elements, though, it can be a difficult job, many crossing guards said on rainy Tuesday.

Tricia Brose, 25, of Carrick, in her third year as a crossing guard, was standing at Beacon and Wightman streets wearing her uniform waterproof coat, pants and shoes, plus sweatpants, big socks, a T-shirt and a sweatshirt.

Her roughly four-hour shift -- divided between morning and afternoon -- "seems a lot longer when it's snowing and you are standing in the snow," she said.

The job can also be dangerous, said Mr. Locke, who owned an engineering company but became a crossing guard in retirement at his wife's urging.

A few years ago, he was hit by a car and broke his pelvis, an injury that caused him to miss several months of work. He said he sees drivers distracted by talking on cell phones and said many are in a rush on their way to work.

Still, in rain or shine or snow, he returns to his intersection every morning and every afternoon.

"It's a good job," he said.

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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