Road markings, such as the double yellow lines in the middle of some streets, are incredibly important for drivers across the country. In Mahwah, New Jersey, though, an additional blue line was painted between those markings in October 2016. However, despite the important meaning behind that move, controversy struck when federal officials got involved.
The double yellow lines found in the center of roads up and down America separate vehicles traveling in opposite directions. Additionally, the markings also indicate that drivers aren’t allowed to pass the car in front of them on that particular stretch of road. But while all vehicle owners should be familiar with the meanings of various road markings, a town in New Jersey introduced something new.
In October 2016 the town painted a thin blue line between the double yellow lines on a stretch of road in Mahwah. Usually, blue markings on the street indicate something very specific, such as parking spots for handicapped drivers. However, this particular gesture had a very different meaning.
It turned out that a local resident had sent a request to Mahwah officials to paint the blue line outside the town’s police station. The marking itself was roughly the length of three football fields, covering a significant stretch of the street. The message behind the blue line, though, was simple.
You see, the Mahwah resident wanted to honor the local police officers, with the blue line representing their appreciation for keeping the town’s community safe. Before long, several other towns in Bergen County, New Jersey, followed suit, adding the blue markings outside their respective police stations. It didn’t stop there, though.
In Dumont, New Jersey, for instance, red lines were painted to thank the local fire department, and green lines appeared for the emergency medical services. However, this seemingly simple gesture kick-started a highly controversial debate. It all stemmed from a letter written in December 2016.
With more blue lines being painted across the state, an official from Somerset County, New Jersey, contacted the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Seeking clarification, the official questioned whether the markings were actually allowed on the roads. The FHWA subsequently confirmed that they weren’t, citing the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways.
Mark Kehrli, a federal highway chief, then informed Mahwah officials of the situation in a letter written on December 8, 2016. The FHWA further clarified their position on the matter with an official statement a month later. “We appreciate and understand the efforts by local governments and others that convey support for law enforcement officers,” a spokesman told NBC 4 in January 2017.
“However, the yellow lines down the center of a road are meant to control traffic and modification of that marking could cause confusion, accidents and fatalities,” the spokesman continued. “Our number one priority is the safety of all drivers.” Despite those words, though, Mahwah residents believed that the blue line wasn’t an issue.
“In the middle of the street in front of the police station, I wouldn’t think for a second it’s a handicapped spot,” resident Stephen Soria said of the markings to NBC 4 in January 2017. “If they’re showing support for the police, it should be no big deal.” Mahwah mayor William LaForet further backed that sentiment and stood his ground against the federal ruling.
“Mayors don’t usually do things that are also illegal, but if you want to call this line illegal, that’s all right with me,” Mayor LaForet told NBC 4. “We will repaint [the line], and it will remain until I have to go out there and physically have to remove it myself.” However, the drama didn’t end there.
Mahwah police chief James Batelli also had his say on the matter, noting the impact that the blue line had on his officers. “If you look up the word ‘bureaucracy,’ you will find the (standards manual),” he told NBC10 in January 2017. “This should be very low on the list of priorities, and it probably shouldn’t even be on the list.”
“[The blue line] means a lot to our officers, who see it every day as they drive by,” Batelli continued. “I’m not saying it’s a game-changer, but it has an impact. I don’t think someone sitting in an office in Washington or Trenton may get that.”
The pushback continued, as transportation chiefs in New Jersey revealed that they weren’t aware of any accidents caused by blue lines on the roads in their state. The debate even reached Washington, with James Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police responding to the federal government’s stance.
“Any driver who gets confused by the color of the line is a confused driver,” Pasco told NBC10. “It’s a lot safer to have a blue line in the middle of the street than it is for police officers to get shot at.” Then, as discussions continued to rage on, two congressmen from New Jersey took matters into their own hands.
Republican Leonard Lance and Democrat Bill Pascrell went to Congress to propose a bill that allowed the markings to be used on the road. Known as the Blue Line Use Exception (BLUE) Act, the duo passionately outlined their hopes for the bill. “One hundred and thirty five police officers died in the line of duty in 2016,” Lance explained in a news release in January 2017.
“Seeing those faces on the news has been heartbreaking,” Lance continued. “And events like the mass killing of Dallas police officers last year are sickening and outrageous. Local communities should be able to honor law enforcement without the federal government’s telling them no. We should honor police personnel all year. Our bill will let local New Jersey communities keep their ‘blue line’ dedications.”
Pascrell echoed those thoughts while also suggesting that locals clearly understood what the markings on the road meant. “I can assure the U.S. Department of Transportation that there is no confusion on the meaning of the painted blue line across many communities in New Jersey,” he added.
“In addition to being a daily reminder of the dangers our brave law enforcement officers face, it is a small show of support to honor their hard work and dedication to keeping our community safe,” Pascrell concluded. Before the controversy, too, reports suggested that residents from Ohio and Arizona had also followed Mahwah’s example, while a road in Ocean City, Maryland, had adopted the blue line as well.
Road markings are naturally hugely important for the safety of drivers up and down America. However, the thin blue lines that spread across New Jersey had an entirely different purpose. And while police officers certainly have their critics, these markings evoked a feeling of appreciation from local communities commending them for their service.
These blue road markings are, however, one of the many symbolic marks that you may come across on your travels. And you might not need to glance too far from the road to spot another, either. Some people, you see, have noticed their house numbers painted on the curb outside. And if you see this, then you may have a problem to deal with.
It’s not exactly clear whereabouts in the U.S. the problem first appeared. After all, residents from as far afield as California and Georgia complained of being targeted way back in 2012. Now, however, police are warning communities all over the country about this growing concern. The problem is centered around house numbers being painted on the curbs outside people’s homes – and, more worryingly, what happens after this has been done.
The matter is in fact causing such widespread anxiety that it has now found its way onto message boards and forums online. One commenter said, “Today I came home early, as I am not feeling too well, and noticed all houses except [for a] few have their house number painted [on the curb].”
The commenter from California seemed to think this somewhat odd, adding, “Every house has [its] number illuminated at night so anyone that [would] need to find [their] house can easily do it.” And looking at it, the person decided that it was strange enough to appear suspicious.
As it turns out, the commenter may well have been right, too. In essence, the new curb painting spree is part of a common scam making the rounds. Let’s break down what happens. Okay, so if you find that numbers have been freshly painted onto the curb in front of your house, sometime soon someone could be knocking at your door.
The scam is alarmingly simple and has already fooled many into parting with money on their doorsteps. It starts with the scammer posting a flyer through your door, stating that they are in the area to carry out curb painting. The flyer goes on to say that the person will return to paint your house number – unless you tape the flyer to the curb outside your property.
In reality, though, the painting itself is nothing more than a bit of a nuisance. The problem – indeed, the scam itself – only really kicks in after your house number has been daubed on the curb. You see, once the number is down, the scammers will arrive and demand payment for the “service” they have provided.
Obviously, no one is keen to pay for a service that they have not asked for. Unfortunately, though, the scammers frequently pretend to be a “community service” or some sort of official organization. And as a result, people all too often end up paying out just to settle the issue.
That’s because, in a further push to persuade residents into paying up, scammers will post a bill through each of their letterboxes. Subsequently, the con artists will return to the given addresses to demand payment for the painting, pressuring residents into handing over money.
Some residents will, moreover, follow the instructions on the flyers and leave money in their letterboxes. Chief Gielink from the Mentor-on-the-Lake Police Department said, “This week they are going around to houses that didn’t leave any money and telling them they want money for what they did.”
Many police departments across the country have therefore been quick to explain that homeowners should never feel like they have to pay for a service that they didn’t request. Chief Gielink said, “We are here to make sure people know they have no obligation to pay for this.”
As an illustration of the scam’s growing influence, one area actually issued a warning to locals through its Facebook page. The city of Alpharetta, Georgia, posted an image of a flyer that residents had been receiving. It also outlined how the flyer was advertising on false pretenses.
The city highlighted the fact that the flyer contains no company name or phone number. Notably, the only real piece of information on it states, “[Curb painting] is an important service as the police, fire department, and paramedics look at the curbs first for your address.”
The city of Alpharetta was, however, quick to debunk this claim. A spokesperson wrote, “Having your address numbers painted on the curb in front of your house is completely unnecessary.” They also went on to assert that first responders look for the house number elsewhere.
Now it’s important to remember that curb painting can be a legitimate business. Companies carrying out such a service will, however, always seek a homeowner’s consent before undertaking any painting work. The jobs can be lucrative, by the way, with speedy painters potentially able to earn $200 a day.
Writing on personal finance website The Penny Hoarder, one entrepreneur recommended curb painting as a good way to make cash. “Any pizza delivery driver will tell you that people regularly get their pizza late because the driver can’t see their address,” he wrote. “That’s your sales pitch.”
It ought to be remembered that bona fide curb painting companies need to jump through some hoops in order to begin trading. In addition to having significant public liability insurance – upwards of $100,000 is normal – they each need a permit and a surety bond. Significantly, they have to provide customers with proper contact information, too.
Meanwhile, consumers should be aware that the curb painting scam is not the only one of its kind. From time to time, communities are plagued by companies offering to do yard work and other chores in exchange for cash. And unfortunately, they may use the same tactics as the curb painter con artists.
One community in Springfield, Missouri, fell foul of this related scam. In short, a company was going around people’s houses offering services such as tree trimming and lawn care. Local resident Julie Davis was one of its victims. “I just paid him and wanted it done,” she lamented. “I have no recourse once I hand cash over to somebody.”
Again, the company offered no contact information other than an email address. And when Davis then wrote to complain about the poor job that had been done, she received nothing but abuse. The Springfield resident said, “He cursed at me. He wrote me horrible emails. He was just a jerk to me.”
Having followed the instructions and taped an envelope containing cash to her door, Davis realized all too late that it was a scam. “I should have at least gone out and watched him do it, stayed with him and approved it, paid him afterward,” she said. “But I didn’t. I paid him ahead of the job. It was dumb on my part.”