Do All Traffic Lights in the United States Look the Same?

Every driver in America knows that red means stop and green means go, but if you visit Syracuse, New York, you might be tempted to do a double-take at one particular traffic light. It's not that the colors are different, but the positions are. Unlike every other traffic signal in the country, the one that sits at the intersection of Tompkins Street and Milton Avenue has the green light on top and the red light on bottom. Why is it upside-down? Because Tipperary Hill, where the traffic light was installed in 1925, was largely settled by Irish immigrants who helped dig the Erie Canal. They despised the idea that red -- symbolic of much-resented Britain -- was positioned above green, the proverbial color of Ireland. It didn't matter that the color settings were mandated by law: the light was vandalized and destroyed -- repeatedly. Every time the city tried to replace it, residents threw rocks at it. The city finally caved in 1928, and the new green-on-top light was put in place, which is how it remains to this day.

Lighting the way:

  • Cleveland, Ohio, was the first U.S. city to install an electric traffic light, as a traffic control device in 1914.

  • Some traffic signals employ differently-shaped lights to help guide drivers with color-blindness.

  • The world's first traffic lights were put in place in London in the 19th century; they were hand-operated by police officers.

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Discuss this Article

Post 1

Bigotry is still alive!! At least you mentioned color blindness in the addendum. A friend is color blind to greens and reds. He knows the red light is on top or to the left (in a horizontal light), so he stops when the top light is lit. I hope he never goes to Syracuse!

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