Traffic Lights. Who Knew?

Fun fact: The first three-colored traffic lights were installed in 1920. No one seems to have written down the exact day that these ubiquitous devices arrived on the scene, but it was sometime before October, at the intersection of Michigan and Woodward Avenues in Detroit. Happy 100th birthday sometime before October, traffic light! You’ve been annoying commuters ever since!

Actually, according to Wikipedia,

“The world’s first traffic light was a manually operated gas-lit signal installed in London in December 1868. It exploded less than a month after it was implemented, injuring its policeman operator. Earnest Sirrine from Chicago patented the first automated traffic control system in 1910. It used the words “STOP” and “PROCEED”, although neither word was illuminated.”

But the one the majority of us see today (and every other day of our lives, like it or not) is 100 years old. Before traffic lights, humans were placed at intersections to direct traffic. What could possibly go wrong? I can’t imagine a more tedious or more irritating job on earth, and this is coming from someone who opens drawbridges for a living.

Between the exploding gas light and our current tried and true one, several designs were tried out throughout the world, some with semaphore flags, which weren’t particularly effective at night. No two were alike, it seems, and that must have caused no end of confusion. I’m impressed that society survived.

The idea to control multiple intersections at once, and do so automatically, didn’t come about until March, 1922, in Houston, Texas. Traffic lights were not introduced to South India until 1953, and it seems they’ve been ignored ever since.

I also happen to know from personal experience working with the Department of Transportation that while most lights used to be encircled in black tubes to reduce glare and increase visibility, most locations have gotten away from that because birds would use them as nesting sites and block the light. Now if anything, most lights have a shade cover across the top for glare reduction and to reduce water intrusion.

While doing research for this post, I came across this article that discusses why the colors red, green and yellow were chosen for traffic lights. Basically, red is the color with the longest wavelength, so it can be seen from a greater distance than other colors. It was used to indicate danger long before traffic signals became a thing.

There’s no indication as to why green has been used for Go. Blue is on the opposite side of the color wheel from Red, and that’s the color Japan used for many years, but the rest of the world hopped on the Green bandwagon. Yellow was chosen because it has a shorter wavelength than red, but not as short as green.

So there you have it. Everything you ever wanted to know about traffic lights but were afraid to ask. You’re welcome.

Traffic lights

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Changing My Favorite Color

When I was little, if you asked me to choose a favorite color I would have said purple without hesitation. Purple, purple, purple. Everything around me had to be purple if possible. I didn’t care if it was a pastel or a dark rich shade, as long as it was purple.

Then, sometime around age 10, I began to get a more refined sense of color, and realized I didn’t really like just any purple. No. Lavender was my color, and that has been the case until very recently. A female who likes lavender. How cliché.

But in the past year I have been going through some changes that have caused me to get to know myself on a much deeper level, and all of a sudden a pale washed out lavender isn’t for me. No. I am a lilac woman. I think I have been all along. I just didn’t have the courage to own it.

But I suspect my life is about to be flipped upside down, and frankly, I’d welcome that. Things haven’t been ideal of late. So I started to cast about for ways to jump start some changes.

I began thinking about color. What if your color choice is based on your personality? But which comes first? Does your personality dictate your color choice, or does color influence who you are? I do notice that certain colors bring out certain feelings in me.

Recently I got a new laptop and had a choice of colors. I could have chosen purple, but I chose red. For some reason I really had to have red. And that surprised me because I’ve never liked red. I don’t wear red, and it’s not a big part of my life. Red actually makes me uncomfortable. It’s way too “out there” for quiet little me.

And I’ve been noticing yellow a lot recently. Yellow makes me smile. I think I need more yellow in my life. Again, this is a color I’ve always avoided. Not only because I look jaundiced when I wear it, but also because it’s a bit too perky, a bit too upbeat. Ironically I just realized it’s exactly opposite purple on the color wheel, too. Interesting.

In the process of writing this entry, I came across this website: http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com and it talks about the various personality traits that are associated with certain colors. Sure enough, the description for purple fits me to a T. It’s actually kind of eerie. All but two comments about purple people, for better or for worse, match me perfectly.

The website also mentions some other interesting theories. It says:

“If you have changed your personality color, or favorite color, try to identify the circumstances surrounding your life at that time as your new favorite will reflect qualities you need to attract into your life to help you deal with those circumstances.”

“The colors you dislike can tell you a lot about yourself as well, often reflecting your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Your most disliked color will relate to areas in your life that need to be given attention or past hurts that need to be healed. It is a good idea to try to incorporate a small amount of your disliked colors into your life by using them in clothing or underwear or in your home, to help balance your energies. Rejecting whole colors can create imbalances in your life.”

So next I looked at their descriptions of yellow and red, to find out what I need from them.

From yellow I need enthusiasm for life, confidence and optimism. It also brings clear thinking and quick decision making. Being drawn to yellow means I have a deep need for logical order. Amen to that. My dislike of yellow up to this point means that I’ve been unable to cope with change, and am not impulsive or spontaneous. Again, right on target.

Red is the color of extroversion and optimism. I could use both qualities. If I’m drawn to red right now it means I have a need for fulfillment and satisfaction and I want to experience life through the five senses. Yes! Yes! Yes! My aversion to it up to now means that I’ve been under stress and couldn’t cope with the excitement and high energy that red generates. It also means I find anger a difficult emotion to handle. God, yes.

It also says that if you dislike red, “You may want more excitement, energy and passion in your life but are afraid, for some reason, or lack the self-confidence, to get involved and open yourself to the possibilities red can bring to you.” And “You may have suffered rejection or defeat at an early age and don’t believe you can ever win.” Well, holy crap.

Okay, that’s it. I’m bringing more red and yellow into my life. Yes, I’m sure I’ll always be inherently lilac, but what would it hurt if I added a little contrast to my world?

Pillow Fight at Nathan Philips Square in Toronto. May 12, 2007.

[Image credit: http://wvs.topleftpixel.com/07/07/28/ ]