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April 10, 2009

Binary Stoplights

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

They were all (or nearly all) gone in Seattle by the time I started driving. But there were quite of few of them when I was a little kid being hauled around my my parents. In some respects, we were lucky to have survived.

I'm speaking of something that I'll call the "binary stoplight", though in 1945 or whenever, it was simply a "stoplight." Early stoplights would show either red or green; it took years for the idea of amber caution lights to be implemented.

So my Dad would be cruising down a street and Bam! the light would switch from red to green. The he would stop if he could or else continue through the intersection hoping that that figurative Bam! wouldn't be a real one. Drivers stopped at a red light would have to exercise caution before entering an intersection upon the light changing to green.

So civilization can indeed progress at times.

Here's a photo of one taken in New York City that I found on the Web. It might have been taken in the 1970s or early 80s, to judge by the cars.


Binary stoplights are still found today, but mostly as freeway on-ramp control devices.



posted by Donald at April 10, 2009


New York may still have a few in the Far Rockaway section of Queens.

Posted by: Peter on April 10, 2009 4:40 PM

In the county where I learned to drive there was only one set of traffic lights, so every driving test had to use them.

Posted by: dearieme on April 10, 2009 7:30 PM

I remember those lights very well here in the rural South.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on April 10, 2009 8:31 PM

"In the county where I learned to drive there was only one set of traffic lights, so every driving test had to use them."

Yeah, what "colours" were they? Was this light located in the "centre" of town? Let me guess, you probably drove on the wrong side of the road too. Warm beer drinking weirdo...

PS, It is called a trunk. A boot is something you put on your foot, you fuzzy foreigner.

Posted by: 4x4 on April 11, 2009 2:35 PM

Yellow lights are a good first step, but they still have the problem of requiring you to do some instant mental math to determine if you should stop or continue through. This is complicated by the fact that you may not know how long the yellow will last.

Thus the next step in traffic safety is pretty obvious - put a dashed white line across the road at a distance from the intersection such that a person traveling the speed limit who has crossed the line before the light turns yellow can safely make it through. Someone who hasn't yet crossed the line has to stop, or else they'll be running a red light. Obviously you would build in safeguards to account for different reaction times & stopping distances, people over the speed limit, weather conditions, etc. This would be extremely easy and cheap to implement - can anyone think of a reason why this is not done?

Posted by: Evan on April 12, 2009 7:11 PM

Ah, yes, hard to imagine life without the yellow light.

Posted by: omw on April 15, 2009 11:05 PM

As far as the next step goes, I've seen lights where there is a number displayed until the light changes. That way you know how long you have before yellow goes red and green goes yellow. This seems to work pretty well.

Posted by: Steve Johnson on April 15, 2009 11:32 PM

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