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Florida Power discovers 1 more use for duct tape

By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 18, 2002

We have a friend who insists that the greatest invention in the history of humankind is duct tape.

We aren't exactly sure what duct tape does for ducts, but we know it is terrific at patching cracked Naugahyde and vinyl.

It will repair furniture and patch a leaky pipe to keep your kitchen from floating away until a plumber arrives.

It will hold drapes together as well as Velcro if you don't want the sun waking you up in the morning.

When your car's glove compartment door won't stay closed, where do you turn? To duct tape, of course.

Our friend claims to have made three cross-country motorcycle trips on a decrepit bike that he wouldn't have been able to hold together without duct tape.

Now we have discovered -- or rather, Florida Power has discovered -- a whole new use for duct tape: holding street lights together.

We first noticed this on a trip recently across the Bayside Bridge. We always keep an eye out for osprey on the streetlights. One reason is that we like osprey. They are cool birds. The other is that we once drove under an osprey which had arrived at what we shall call, for delicacy's sake, the end of its digestive cycle. It took a week to get the car clean.

We saw plenty of osprey on this trip. We also saw eight or nine of the big street lights held together with duct tape.

Okay, it was probably electrical tape, since it was black, but that's a close cousin of duct tape.

What happens is the lenses on the lights have latches that break more readily than they should. When a latch breaks, the lens falls open, exposing the light fixture inside. These covers can't fall to the ground because they are attached at the back end by two hinges. But we've all seen them gaping open like hungry pelicans.

When Florida Power, the company that maintains the lights, finds a broken cover, they duct tape it shut. You can find the tape jobs all over the county, we're told.

"There's no way to fix the latch, so you have to replace the whole cover, and they're expensive," said John Amiro, guru of Pinellas County highways. "So they are taped closed until replacements are authorized. It works."

We think this is good stewardship and fiscally responsible.

We also think it's pretty funny.

Okay, we have now learned that it is not legal to drive with your emergency flashers on. But we also have learned that the police don't seem to ticket folks who do, if the flashers are being used in a way that enhances traffic safety.

The question came up last week when I noted that during a crossing of the Howard Frankland Bridge in a gully-washer, I saw that some drivers had turned on their flashers, presumably to make themselves more visible to motorists coming up behind.

The flashing red or amber lights are much brighter than tail lights and less prone to be lost in a curtain of rain and behind the rooster tails of water thrown up by tires.

Some readers complained that they couldn't use their turn signals to warn that they were going to change lanes with their flashers on. That's true. You'd have to turn your flashers off for a moment to activate the turn signal.

Other readers complained that their brake lights couldn't override the flashers to warn drivers closing from behind that they were slowing down. That's not true. We tested several cars, and in all cases, the brake lights and the flashers acted independently.

We also talked to several police officers who said they didn't know it was illegal to drive with the flashers on even if the increased visibility also increased safety. In all cases, they said they had never ticketed someone for doing that and had never heard of other officers ticketing for that offense.

We are not suggesting that anyone break the law.

But we do think there should be some discussion about changing the law.

We have written a lot here about the crummy job that local drivers do when it comes to yielding to pedestrians. We don't seem to have made much of a dent in the problem, so the St. Petersburg police are going to step in.

And be forewarned, if they catch you not yielding to someone on foot, it's going to cost you big time. No excuses.

During the week of Aug. 19, police will be out in force, warning drivers who violate the law that pedestrians have the right of way no matter where they are. In crosswalks, out of crosswalks, in the middle of the block, it's all the same. Motorists must yield.

The week of Aug. 26, the ticket books come out. Failure to yield is considered a moving violation, and the penalty is a fine of $80.

Pedestrians, you aren't exempt from the crackdown. In an effort to convince those on foot not to step out from behind parked cars and not to cross against traffic signals, the same situation will apply. Warnings this week. Fines of $26 the next.

Let this be a lesson to us all.

Beware of the beating your car will take if you make a fast left turn to northbound First Street S from eastbound Fifth Avenue in St. Petersburg. We can't blame this one on the new construction there. It's just a piece of used up, worn out roadway.

And it is our nominee for the Eyeball Jiggler of the Week.

And finally, our Terrible Traffic Tidbits this week aren't so terrible after all.

Recreational boating fatalities declined to 615 last year, a 12 percent drop from 2002, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Hazardous material incidents on highways, in the air, on rail and on water were down 22 percent in March, compared to March 2001, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Well, huzzah. And huzzah again.

-- Dr. Delay can be reached by e-mail at, by fax at (727) 893-8675 or by snail mail at 490 First Ave., S, St. Petersburg 33701.

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