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Four-Corner Signal Light Arrives PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jack Money   
Sunday, 17 August 2008 22:59
Love them or hate them, this week in history marks the arrival of something new to Oklahoma City -- the four-corner traffic light.
In August 1928, the first four-corner signal system was installed by the Acme Traffic Signal Co. of Los Angeles at NW 4 and Broadway -- what probably was one of the busiest intersections of the day.
Harry Spaw, a traffic consultant with the Los Angeles firm, said the lighting system would bring proper routing and timing to traffic control.
That's something that had been lacking there, said The Oklahoman, which intoned that motorists and pedestrians alike had been used to holding their breath as automobiles made their way by "gryating through, around and all about that street intersection."
This new system, Shaw said, would be state of the art, with a light on each corner that motorists could see "by looking to their immediate front and right."
It would replace "mushroom" stop signs and traffic control signals that had been placed in the center of intersections.
It's timing also would be adjusted, running certain ways on Tuesdays through Fridays, and then differently on Saturdays when traffic was light before switching back to another time setting for the Sunday movie crowds.
On Mondays, it would be different yet again to accomodate what Spaw called "maniac traffic day" -- the first day of the work week and the day when women typically came down to shop after seeing weekend advertisements in their local papers. 
Spaw estimated the new signal systems would give Oklahoma City the ability to control traffic for up to 750,000 automobiles, eventually. (1)
After testing the new system for a year, Oklahoma City's City Council agreed to go with that type of signal across the city, and also to use pole-mounted, corner stop signs at intersections that didn't warrant the use of the lights. (2)
But before long, motorists were complaining about the new lights. At four lane intersections, it was difficult for motorists in an inside lane to see the lights if a truck was in the outside lane and blocking their view, they noted. (3)
And traffic problems continued -- the intersection of NW 4 and Walker was called the city's worst as far as safety in 1934 by federal officials who had been hired by Oklahoma City to evaluate its traffic system. (4)
In 1937, complaints about the lights were backed by Oklahoma City's chief of police, who said a better system would place the lights on the far side of the intersection the motorist would be traveling through. That way, they could see the lights, even in heavy traffic conditions, Chief Joe Watt said. (5)
Eventually, that change was made.
By 1941, a big concern was that there simply wasn't enough traffic lights.
Jack Hale, the city's traffic engineer at the time, said the city only had 40-percent as many lights as other cities of comparable size.
City Traffic Commission members agreed.
"We are no longer a hick village," said Charles W. Daley, a member of that group. "We need traffic lights." (6) 
By the end of World War II, Oklahoma City was on the case. Traffic Commission members recommended putting them in at 19 new locations -- many in downtown Oklahoma City. (7)
Lights went in, but the city discovered the newer models didn't work well with older ones. That led to traffic jams and delays all up and down Broadway, and for calls to get all the signals up-to-date. (8)
Over the decades, of course, Oklahoma City residents have routinely approved bond issues to widen and improve streets and to replace or add additional traffic signals.
Many of those lights are requested of the same Traffic Commission as the one from long ago by people who live in outlying neighborhoods and find it difficult to make it in and out of their neighborhoods without dodging the same kind of traffic that was a problem in downtown Oklahoma City almost 90 years ago.
As lights have been retired, they've been donated to smaller communities, such as traffic controllers that went to Blackwell in 1986. Others have been auctioned off to the highest bidder, like ones that had been replaced in the late 1980s and were auctioned off by the city in 1996. (9)
1) Four-Corner Traffic Light Will Be Tried, The Oklahoman, Aug. 21, 1928
2) City Moves to Use Standard Straffic Signs, The Oklahoman, Sep. 04, 1929
3) Letters from The People, The Oklahoman, Feb. 14, 1930
4) Fourth and Walker Called City's Worst, The Oklahoman, Jan. 07, 1934
5) Our Lights Are Wrong Too, It Seems, The Oklahoman, Feb. 05, 1937
6) City Lacks Lights to Control Its Traffic, Engineer Declares, The Oklahoman, Apr. 06, 1941
7) Traffic Body Votes 19 New Signal Lights, The Oklahoman, May 18, 1946
8) New Stop, Go Signs Mostly Stop First Day, The Oklahoman, Oct. 11, 1947
9) Traffic Equipment Auction Set Today, The Oklahoman, Dec. 13, 1996
Last Updated on Monday, 25 August 2008 03:19