Utility Silos

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The obstruction from utility silos

This spring, the electric company went around my neighborhood installing replacement utility poles where the existing ones were on their last leg.  Watching them do this for a pole just down the street from me, I drew some conclusions about the interaction between the various companies that supply the different technologies available at our fingertips.  The electrical company owns the poles and the electric wire, but other companies own the other fiber optics and cables that use the poles.  The electric company installs new poles when the existing ones are deteriorated.  Once installed, they transfer the electric lines to the new pole.  The old pole is left with all the other lines in place, until the companies that own the rest of the lines transfer them to the new pole.

This arrangement seemed relatively harmless as I watched it in action near my house, but then I found the example above.  In this case, the rigidity of the silos and jurisdictions of the various companies created a physical barrier in the neighborhood that will likely be in place for the next 35 years or so, until the pole is ready to be replaced.  This is in direct contradiction to the City’s initiatives for greater accessibility illustrated by the sidewalk curb ramps installed within the last year at the intersections on either side of this pole.

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Close-up showing the curb, the old pole, the new pole, the foot of sidewalk left, and the combined driveways

The choices were limited for siting this new utility pole.  There are driveway curb cuts immediately adjacent on either side.  Therefore, to place the new pole in line with the existing poles would have partially blocked someone’s driveway.  Apparently, the silos are so entrenched that even under unusual circumstances such as these the various companies cannot work together so that a new pole can be placed in the exact same spot as the old pole.  The sidewalk that was already narrow and could not accommodate the recommended 5-foot clearance around obstructions is now nearly impassible and requires pedestrians to cross partially on the driveways.

I do not know if anyone paused before installing this new utility pole to ask if there was a different or better way to approach the situation.  From my experiences at my office in trying to work with others to design an approach that looks at the organization as a whole while still respecting and acknowledging each area of expertise and specialization, it is difficult to get all parties at the table to apply creative thinking and openness to how we can approach our work.  No doubt, even if someone was able to get all relevant parties involved in this utility pole to the table, they would have encountered similar challenges.

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Evidence that the old poles eventually get removed and an example of where a new pole was placed next to the old along side the curb

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