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The guy in the chair? He just counted you

Kicked back in a beach chair on the sidewalk at the corner of Sixth Street and Central Avenue with two cans of Shasta cola, his skateboard and backpack at his side, 18-year-old Westin Hill watches cars stream by.

As each vehicle passes, Hill punches a button on an intersection-shaped keypad, recording the movement for city traffic engineers.

While the recent South Medford High School graduate hopes to earn money for college and maybe for a car of his own, the city will use the data to keep traffic moving smoothly and safely across town.

The information collected by a team of car counters — seven hired so far this year — will help the city set times on traffic signals, determine where stop signs and signals are needed, and even gauge when major construction projects such as additional lanes might be called for, Medford Public Works Director Cory Crebbin said. They also track what effects construction projects have had on traffic flows.

In odd-numbered years, the city hires a flock of college students to fan out across a selection of Medford's 5,000 intersections to manually count cars and enter their turns and direction of travel in an electronic device. In even-numbered years, counting crews use air hoses to record each vehicle that rolls by, a method that provides only a count without information about turns, Crebbin said.

The city maintains 110 traffic signals and those busiest intersections are counted most often, he said.

The city usually gets a few calls reporting suspicious people watching intersections and holding strange devices, Crebbin said. Officials reassure callers they haven't spotted nefarious plotters targeting intersections, just temporary workers collecting information that will help make getting around town easier.

"It's the easiest job I ever had," Hill said. "I get paid $10 an hour to sit on my butt."

While he likes sitting in the shade, listening to underground metal music on his headphones, he said the work keeps his brain busy through his shift — 6 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. Another counter will work the same intersection from 12:30 to 7 p.m.

A block away at Sixth Street and Riverside Avenue, Nathanael Feliciano, 25, has a seat in the blazing sun, recording the traffic that zips by.

"You see how recklessly people drive," he said. "People are in a hurry to go nowhere."

He said he likes a job with no office politics, no manager breathing down his neck and his closest co-worker barely even in sight.

"I thought I saw someone up there, but I didn't know if it was one of us or a homeless person," he said with a laugh.

Hill expects to count cars at about 50 intersections over the course of the summer.

"I might get tired of it in a couple of weeks," he said, noting that Tuesday was only his second day on the job.

"It's great entry-level work experience," said Crebbin, who has done counts himself in other cities.

People interested in a job counting cars apply for the temporary post at the city's human resources department. Usually, 10 to 12 people are hired as students come and go through the summer, he said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

Westin Hill, 18, counts cars on the corner of Medford's Sixth Street and Central Avenue on Wednesday.