August 18, 2015

PD_trafflt-162387666_LICA.jpgTechnology & Infrastructure: Past, Present & Future by LICA Chairman Jim Pratt  

The marriage of technology and infrastructure can sometimes arrive unannounced. That’s how it was 101 years ago when the first traffic light signal was installed at the corner of 105th Street and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio.

Prior to that landmark day, pedestrians, bicycles, horses and streetcars all competed with motor vehicles for right of way, creating quite a chaotic, and often fatal, situation.

Despite a number of variations, the system installed in Cleveland this month in 1914, is widely regarded as the first electric traffic signal ever to be installed on a public road. It consisted of four pairs of red and green lights that served as stop-go indicators, each mounted on a corner post.

According to an article in The Motorist, published by the Cleveland Automobile Club in the summer of that year: “This system is, perhaps, destined to revolutionize the handling of traffic in congested city streets and should be seriously considered by traffic committees for general adoption.”

Obviously the traffic signal has come a long way, with the DOT Long Island region receiving more than 1,000 requests each year for traffic controls, including signals. More importantly, it reminds us that technology continues to shape, alter and direct our public infrastructure, advancing it beyond asphalt and concrete and increasing its capacity for commerce. The question now is whether there is political will and public support to invest in 21st Century transportation advances that will sustain the vision of that first traffic light.

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