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Traffic Agents Walk Fine Line Evading Traffic

September 6, 2013
By Marc Bussanich

Vinny Ciancio directs traffic at some of the city's dangerous intersections
Vinny Ciancio directs traffic at some of the city’s most dangerous intersections

Queens, NY—Vinny Ciancio has been keeping traffic flowing for 26 years as a traffic agent and hasn’t been easy, even downright dangerous. A few years ago he was sideswiped by a speeding vehicle on Queens Boulevard and was out of work for four months with a broken ankle. But he doesn’t intend to retire soon. (Watch Video)

The job requires standing for about 7 hours at some of the city’s most dangerous intersections, regardless of the elements.

“It’s challenging work. But that’s how it is. A job is a job. Somebody’s got to do it,” said Ciano unpretentiously.

Ciancio’s first job when he joined the city workforce was walking the beat and writing parking tickets for illegally parked vehicles. Then he moved on in 2000 from writing tickets to directing traffic at intersections such as Times Square, 34th Street and the notorious confluence of Flatbush, Atlantic and Fourth Avenues in Brooklyn.

Traffic agents usually don’t incur the good graces of New Yorkers, but their wrath. Robert Cassar, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1182, the union that represents about 3,000 traffic and sanitation enforcement agents, said agents sometimes have had to defend themselves against irrational motorists.

“Agents have been threatened with gun violence just for requesting drivers not to block intersections and garage entrances,” said Cassar. (Cassar credits a dramatic drop in verbal and physical abuse directed towards agents when the agents were subsumed by the Police Department in 1996, which bolstered their image as law enforcement officers.)

Asked if he ever was physically accosted in his 26 years as a traffic agent, Ciancio said, “I just try to use my common sense, but nobody’s happy to get a ticket.”

Apparently, however, tired and angry New Yorkers behind the wheel go out of their way to greet Ciancio.

“Sometimes motorists smile at us, they wave at us. ‘Hey, Vinny, how ya doing,’ they say.”

But he doesn’t have much time to wave or talk back.

“I don’t look at motorists; I keep a close eye on cars!”

He considers himself lucky to be back at work after being struck by an oncoming vehicle on Queens Boulevard.

“The Lord saved me that day,” Ciancio said.

But when an out-of-towner, or an occasional hometowner, doesn’t know which highway ramp to enter or exit, they turn to Ciancio.

“A lot of times, people are lost. Which way is this way, which way is that way. People know the address, but they don’t know how to get to the address. They have a map, but they don’t know how to read it. We try to help them the best we can.”

After 26 years of service for the city, Ciancio says he’s not ready to hang it up.

“A lot of people say, ‘Hey, Vinny, when are you going to leave?’ I say I don’t know; maybe when I can’t walk up the stairs anymore.”

He often provides career advice to younger traffic agents.

“I tell them to pick up the experience, go to college and move on. We have agents who have left to go drive a bus, took a job in collections or the school authority. Some people move on, some stay. It all depends on the individual,” Ciancio said.

When asked how he would sum up his 26 years as a traffic agent, Cianci remains unpretentious.

“Just try to come to work and do the best I can.”

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