In Parliament Square in London in 1868, the first traffic signal was fashioned. Two signs (stop and go) were placed on levers under a gas lamp. A police officer manned and operated the levers, essentially doing the same job he would have done standing in the middle of the intersection, but doing so from the safety of the side of the road. Tragically, the lamps exploded during the first months of the signal’s operation, killing the attending officer.
Color can be universal.
Other early traffic signals borrowed from the railroad system. Nearly all contemporary traffic signals include the three colors: the sequence is red (stop), green (go), yellow (prepare to stop). But even “universal” colors can be problematic.
Traffic lights get cultural.
In the Tipperary Hill neighborhood in Syracuse, NY, the traffic light at the corner of Tompkins Street and Milton Avenue was repeatedly vandalized after its initial installation in the 1920s. The Irish community objected to the British “red” appearing over the top of the Irish “green.” The city, after repeated attempts to keep the signal operational, gave in and turned the traffic light upside down, so that the green lamp is on top. It is the ONLY green-above-red traffic signal in the US.
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