Traffic cones, also called pylons, witches' hats, road cones, highway cones, safety cones, channelizing devices, construction cones, or just cones, are usually cone-shaped markers that are placed on roads or footpaths to temporarily redirect traffic in a safe manner. They are often used to create separation or merge lanes during road construction projects or automobile accidents, although heavier, more permanent markers or signs are used if the diversion is to stay in place for a long period of time.
Traffic cones were invented by Charles D. Scanlon, an American who, while working as a painter for the Street Painting Department of the City of Los Angeles, was unimpressed with the traditional wooden tripods and barriers used to mark roads which were damaged or undergoing repainting. Scanlon regarded these wooden structures as easily broken, hard to see, and a hazard to passing traffic. Scanlon's rubber cone was designed to return to an upright position when struck by a glancing blow. The patent for his invention was granted in 1943.
Traffic cones were first used in the United Kingdom in 1958, when the M6 motorway opened. These traffic cones were a substitute for red lantern paraffin burners being used during construction on the Preston Bypass. In 1961, David Morgan of Burford, Oxfordshire, UK believes that he constructed the first experimental plastic traffic cones, which replaced pyramid-shaped wooden ones previously used.
In the United States on May 1, 1959 the Pacific Gas and Electric Company in Oakland, California adopted the policy of placing the orange safety cones at the left front and left rear corners of their service trucks while parked on the street to increase visibility and safety for the workers. This policy was implemented as the result of a suggestion by their employee, Russell Storch, a cable splicer. He was awarded $45 for his suggestion. This policy is still in use today.
Although originally made of concrete, today's versions are more commonly brightly colored thermoplastic or rubber cones. Recycled PVCs from bottles can be used to create modern traffic cones. Not all traffic cones are conical. Pillar-shaped movable bollards fulfill a similar function.
Traffic cones are typically used outdoors during road work or other situations requiring traffic redirection or advance warning of hazards or dangers, or the prevention of traffic. Traffic cones are also used to mark where children are playing or to block off an area. For night time use or low-light situations traffic cones are usually fitted with a retroreflective sleeve to increase visibility. On occasion, traffic cones may also be fitted with flashing lights for the same reason.
In the US, cones are required by the US Federal Highway Administration's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) to be fitted with reflective white bands to increase night-time visibility. Reflective collars, white strips made from white reflective plastic, slip over cones snugly, and tape or adhesive can be used to permanently attach the collars to the cones.
Traffic cones are designed to be highly visible and easily movable. Various sizes are used, commonly ranging from around 30 cm (11.8 in) to a little over 1 m (39.4 in). Traffic cones come in many different colors, with orange, yellow, pink and red being the most common colors due to their brightness. Others come in green and blue, and may also have a retroreflective strip (commonly known as "flash tape") to increase their visibility.
Types and sizes
Typical traffic cones are fluorescent "safety" orange or lime green, but in some countries a range of other colors are used depending on context. Traffic cones also commonly come with reflective striping around them, to increase visibility.
In the United States, they come in such sizes as:
- 12 in (305 mm), 1.5 lb (0.68 kg) – for indoor/outdoor applications
- 18 in (457 mm), 3 lb (1.4 kg) – for outdoor applications such as free-way line painting
- 28 in (711 mm), 7 lb (3.2 kg), (also called Metro cones for their use in cities) – for Non-highway applications e.g. Local street,
- 28 in (711 mm), 10 lb (4.5 kg) – for free-way/high-way applications (With reflective stripes)
- 36 in (914 mm), 10 lb (4.5 kg) – for free-way/high-way applications (With reflective stripes)
In New Zealand, they are compliant in two sizes for use on all roads; these are:
- 35 in (900mm), up to 16.5 lb (7 kg) - for all activities on all roads. (with two reflective stripes)
- 17.7 in (450mm), up to 16.5 lb (7 kg) - for the protection of wet road markings only. (with one reflective stripe)
Cones are easy to move or remove. Where sturdier (and larger) markers are needed, construction sites use traffic barrels (plastic orange barrels with reflective stripes, normally about the same size as a 55-US-gallon (46 imp gal; 208 L) drum). When a lane closure must also be a physical barrier against cars accidentally crossing it, a Jersey barrier is preferred. See also Fitch Barrier.
In many countries such as Australia or American states such as California, traffic barrels are rarely seen. Devices called bollards are used instead of cones where larger and sturdier warning or delineation devices are needed. Typically, bollards are 1,150 mm (45 in) high fluorescent orange posts with reflective sleeve and heavyweight rubber bases. Larger devices such as barrier boards may be used instead of cones where larger areas need to be excluded or for longer periods.
Indoor and non-traffic use
Cones are used to lay out courses for autocross competitions.
Cones are also frequently used in indoor public spaces to mark off areas which are closed to pedestrians, such as a restroom being out of order, or to denote a dangerous condition, such as a slippery floor. They can be used on school playgrounds to limit areas of a playing field, and on ice rinks to define class, private party, or private lesson areas. Some of the cones used for this purpose are miniature, as small as 5 cm (2.0 in) tall, and some are disposable full-size cones made of biodegradable paper.
Being distinctive, easily portable and usually left unguarded, traffic cones are often stolen. Students are frequently blamed, to the extent that the British National Union of Students has attempted to play down this "outdated stereotype".
In popular culture
In 2007, artist Dennis Oppenheim commemorated the traffic cone with a monumental sculpture of five five-metre-tall cones. They were installed temporarily in Miami, Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Park, and Seoul, Korea.
Traditionally, but unofficially, the Wellington Statue in Glasgow is decorated with a traffic cone. The presence of the cone is given as the reason the statue is in the Lonely Planet 1000 Ultimate Sights guide (at number 229) as a "most bizarre monument".
Giant traffic cone in Seattle, Washington
Duke of Wellington statue, with cone (and reserve cones on standby)
Prank in Raglan, New Zealand
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PVC recovered from bottles may be used in traffic cones
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bottles can be used to create modern traffic cones
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