South Charlotte

X marks the spot on the road. But for what?

This X in front of the Mint Hill Fire Station warns motorists not to block the driveway.
This X in front of the Mint Hill Fire Station warns motorists not to block the driveway.

Folks in Mint Hill were surprised several weeks ago when the North Carolina Department of Transportation painted a giant white X with a box around it in the road in front of the Mint Hill Fire Station on N.C. 218.Not even the firemen knew what it meant.

Turns out, X marks the spot to let cars know not to stop in that stretch of road so that the fire trucks and ambulances can pull out of the station unimpeded when called.

“The markings are installed where traffic may back up in front of a fire station, blocking their way out to the road,” said NCDOT District 10 spokesperson Jen Thompson. She said there are currently no plans to install X’s at any other locations in the area.

“Basically, the markings are used to indicate to traffic where not to stop, accompanied by signs directing motorists not to block that area. The signs may not yet be up at this location if the marking have just been put there recently.”

NCDOT spokesperson Steve Abbott says residents that have moved here from out of state may recognize the markings as “don’t block the box” warnings, used in other states to keep traffic from blocking intersections and areas such as fire department driveways. The signs can help reduce gridlock, and motorists can be fined in New York City, Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Austin, Texas, if they “block the box.”

Thompson said there are several other X’s in the area including one along Polk Street near N.C. 51 in Pineville, one along N.C.115 near Catawba Avenue in Cornelius, and one on Old Charlotte Highway near Rocky River Road in Monroe. There are none in Iredell County.

But are they effective? The Mint Hill station has a caution light on Fairview Road that can manually be changed to flash red if a truck is coming out of the station. Mint Hill Fire Chief David Leath says the department was surprised when the X appeared as they did not request the pavement markings and were not informed about them ahead of time

While the added markings may make motorists a little more aware of potential fire department traffic, he says residents are already doing a pretty good job of giving the trucks the room that they need to exit safely.

“Coming out of the station can be tricky at times, but people are pretty good at yielding to us and letting us out,” said Leath.

Cornelius-Lemley Fire and Rescue Chief Neal Smith says their station has had an X in front for about a year, but road construction on nearby Hickory Street has made it difficult to determine its effectiveness.

Since the Hickory Street/N.C. 115 intersection will be signalized, they must wait for that project to be complete and then coordinate the timing of the Hickory Street traffic signal and the caution light in front of the station.

Pineville Deputy First Chief Jason Klemowicz says the X at their station is a little farther down the road at North Polk and College Street, but seems to make little difference in traffic.

“It’s there but nobody pays attention to it. There’s a flashing light above it but people block it. Traffic gets backed up during rush hour because there’s nowhere else for it to go,” said Klemowicz.

Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: