Did you know the three-colored traffic light, now a staple in most of the world, was invented right here in NYC? The year was 1922, and special deputy police commissioner Dr. John F. Harriss tested his system of lights to save time for “both the pedestrian and the motorist.” Today, on the 94th anniversary of the lights’ installation, the Times took a look back at a historic article the paper published at the time. It described how Harriss “began experimenting yesterday with powerful signal lights which will be installed from week to week until traffic in most of Manhattan will be simultaneously started and stopped by red, green and yellow lights all operated by a single switch in Times Square.”
The test light was installed at 86th Street and the East River, at the Columbia Yacht Club, and could be seen from 6,000 feet away. The first actual lights were installed at Grand Central and then 14th Street and Fourth Avenue. The plan was next to go to Times Square and then the rest of Broadway from 34th Street to 110th Street. Once the system was fully installed at all other corners, “a traffic dictator seated in the centre of the city will press a button causing scores of red lights to flash and halting tens of thousands of vehicles at once on the most crowded streets of Manhattan, while allowing tens of thousands of other vehicles and hundreds of thousands of pedestrians to proceed.” The length of red lights at given streets was to be figured out through practice, but Harriss intended for the synchronization to allow cars to travel a good number of blocks uninterrupted.
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Traffic light photo via Driving Dilemma: What Do You Do When The Light Turns Red AND Green? via photopin (license)
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