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Left on White: 1926

January 5, 1926. Washington, D.C. "Traffic Director Eldridge inspecting new lights." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

January 5, 1926. Washington, D.C. "Traffic Director Eldridge inspecting new lights." National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Hard Left Turn

The evolution of the left turn, as reflected in the articles Dave added, is amazing. Each of the earlier variations seems like a prescription for gridlock. But Republican administrations like those in place in the Roaring Twenties never did know how to turn left.

Confusion and Comedy

Washington Post, January 6, 1926.


Many Tie-Ups Follow the Automatic
Flashing of Lights on Sixteenth Street.


The major segment of Washington's synchronized automatic electric light traffic signals in Sixteenth street northwest, from H to U streets, was placed in operation yesterday at 2 o'clock, after many postponements. Confusion, comedy and lack of ceremony characterized the occasion.

President Cuno H. Rudolph, of the District board of commissioners, under fire from a battery of cameras and moving picture machines, connected the lights with electric current at a switchbox in Scott circle.

Motorists and pedestrians, suddenly confronted with the lights, found themselves unprepared with information as to what to do. Traffic tieups occurred at many intersections, left turns affording the most fruitful source of uncertainty. K.W. Mackall, engineer, and F.W. Clary, publicity manager for the Crouse-Hinds Company of Syracuse, N.Y., the concern that sold the District the lights, expressed themselves as gratified and said that the confusion would be only temporary, until drivers were accustomed to the signals.

Mule Flouts Policeman.

A practical joker utilized the situation to turn a horse-laugh on Traffic Director M.O. Eldridge's regulation forbidding horse-drawn vehicles to travel in Sixteenth street and three other boulevards.

Ensconced in an ancient cabriolet drawn by an equally ancient mule, the jester, who later gave his name as William K. Conway, drove up to Scott circle, while 100 or more persons of prominence were witnessing the proceedings. A policeman stopped the coupe.

"Don't you know that horse-drawn vehicles are forbidden on this street?" he demanded, and added, with official scorn, "Read the signs."

The passenger leaned out and said: "Officer, I read the sign. This is not a horse-drawn vehicle. It is mule-drawn. Drive on, James."

The policeman scratched his head and let the vehicle proceed. Later a police conference was called on this flouting of the law. Assistant Corporation Counsel Ringgold Hart was consulted.

What the Courts Hold.

"The courts have held," said he, "that mule-drawn and horse-drawn are the same thing."

Despite this ruling, however, the mule-drawn equipage drove up and down Sixteenth street for some time unmolested by the policemen.

All the District commissioners were among the participants in the turning on of the lights. There were no speeches, music or decorations.

Cooperation of the public with traffic regulations was requested by Traffic Director Eldridge in his address, "Stop, Look and Listen," at the Wapiya club luncheon at the University club yesterday.

No violations of the new traffic signals on Sixteenth street were taken to traffic court last night.

Red means Stop

Washington Post, January 3, 1926.


Officials to Test System With
Practice Runs Tomorrow Morning.


All Autos Must Go to Curb and Stop
When Fire Alarm Sounds.

Final touches are being placed on the Sixteenth street system of electric automatic traffic signal lights. First operation has been delayed again. It was planned to take place tomorrow, but will not occur until Tuesday. The hour has not been named. Meanwhile, traffic officials plan to try out the lights, dashing up and down Sixteenth street tomorrow at 3 a.m., when there is little traffic, in a series of experiments to determine how long to let traffic run in each direction without change of lights.

The lights are three colors. Red means stop. Green means go. Amber, in the language of Director of Traffic M.O. Eldridge, means "caution — clear intersection.":

"Do not start on amber, wait for green," said a memorandum issued by Eldridge yesterday. The note continues: "Turns are made on green only. In making a left turn, proceed into the intersection and draw up along the right hand crossing in front of standing traffic. Wait in this position until green appears on the left and then complete the turn ahead of the traffic that is now allowed to move."

Pedestrians Have Right-of-Way.

"In making right turns, motorists should remember that pedestrians moving with the signal have right-of-way at crossing. Red in all directions indicates approach of fire apparatus and motorists should draw toward the curb as quickly as possible. Pedestrians should move with traffic and not cross it."

The direction for the left turn is new. Heretofore the instruction has been to turn left only on red signals. The change is in the instruction to proceed into the intersection and stop. When "green appears on the left" red is showing in the direction from which the turn originates.

The memorandum does not say what motorists intending left turn shall do if there are more cars waiting to turn than can be accommodated in the intersection "in front of standing traffic."

The clearing of the street for fire runs is new, also. It is planned to throw on red lights in all signal lamps when a fire alarm rings that requires an apparatus to travel on Sixteenth street. The red lights will stop all traffic on that street and on all other streets approaching it for four minutes, the intention being to clear streets so the fire engines will have no obstructions to avoid.

The police department is planning to assign several policemen to Sixteenth street, six of them at Scott circle, on the first day of operation of the lights, to direct attention of autoists to them.

Assistant Director of Traffic I.C. Moller said yesterday that the operation of the lights would necessitate trimming of trees when the foliage comes out in the spring. He said not much trimming would have to be done, as much has already been done in connection with the running of double-deck motorbuses.


That's the spikiest traffic light I've ever seen. That should deter the 100 lb. pigeons.

Turn on the white signal

Who were those people a while back who were telling us that the real world was always in color?

Synchronous Signals

Washington Post, May 20, 1925.


M.O. Eldridge, director of traffic, and Col. I.C. Moller, his assistant, undertook yesterday a survey of the congested district to determine where to place synchronous light and semaphore signals to regulate traffic automatically. An item of $250,000 will be required in the 1927 budget to install these devices.

Washington Post, June 2, 1925.


Question of Whether Lights Shall Be
In Center or on Side of Street

A synchronized system of light signals on towers to regulate traffic may not decorate Sixteenth street northwest as far out as U street, despite the plans of M.O. Eldridge, director of traffic, backed by the unanimous decision of the traffic council of the District of Columbia, an advisory committee of citizens named last week by the director.

Cuno H. Rudolph, chairman of the District board of commissioners, yesterday stated he was opposed to the project.

The director of traffic cannot install the signals without approval of the commissioners.

Meanwhile, Director Eldridge yesterday advertised for bids. The proposals sought are for unit prices on the different types of towers, since the director does not know how many he can buy with the funds to be available between now and July 1, 1926.

The question of whether they will be placed in the middle or at the sides of the street also has not been finally decided. The traffic council was unanimous in its choice of towers in the middle of street intersections, but commissioners Rudolph and Bell oppose such a plan. Notwithstanding this opposition, bids were asked on types for the middle of the street.

"There will be much opposition to installation of light signals in Sixteenth street," said Commissioner Rudolph. "I, for one, am opposed to it. As to the placing of the lights, if they are to be installed, both Colonel Bell and myself think it would be a mistake to put them in the middle of the street."

Washington Post, June 16, 1925.


Changes Opinion as to Signal Type
Best Suited for Sixteenth Street.


Western Cities Ahead of East
In Solving Problems of Motor Control.

Installation of a mechanically controlled electric signal light at every street intersection and elimination of crossing policemen is the modern tendency in traffic control, said M. O. Eldridge, traffic director, yesterday upon his return from a tour of cities from Atlantic City to St. Louis.

Another result of his trip was to change his opinion with reference to the type of signals appropriate for such boulevard highways as Sixteenth street. Mr. Eldredge, supported by a unanimous vote of the citizens traffic council, before his journey favored signal lights in the center of the street.

Opposed by Rudolph.

The commissioners opposed the idea and Commissioner Rudolph announced opposition to trying the lights first in Sixteenth street at all. Director Eldridge is now considering the matter anew and has not framed definite recommendations, but he said that what he saw in other cities convinced him that Sixteenth street is not wide enough for lights in the center of street and if he recommends that signals be tried first in Sixteenth street, they will be of the overhanging type, on arms reaching out over the street from posts at the curb.

"If they were placed in the middle of a street like Sixteenth street," he said, "reckless drivers would knock them over and in addition they would eliminate one entire traffic lane. In Detroit last week, a motorist ran into the concrete base of a signal light, the base weighing a ton. He overturned it and his machine dashed on and plunged into the basement of a house."

West Ahead of East.

"The cities of the middle West are far ahead of us in development of signal lights to control traffic. Detroit, for example, is now installing signals that will eliminate 150 traffic policeman and release them for other traffic duty than at street corners.

"Syracuse now has no traffic police in sight. There are no horns and there is no noise. When you see the green light you don't feel you are going to hit anyone. You just 'step on it' and go through until stopped by the red light.

"I saw an interesting development in Columbus. On a through street there were four traffic lanes, the two at the curbs for slow traffic and the two in the middle for through fast traffic."

Washington Post, June 20, 1925.


Eldridge Will Recommend Equipping Sixteenth Street


"Stop," "Go" and "Get Ready" Will Show;
Turns to Be Made on "Go" Only.

Washington's first contract for automatic electric signal lights to control traffic by machinery was let yesterday by the District commissioners to the Crouse-Hinds Company of Syracuse, N.Y. One hundred and one signals were ordered at a cost of $25,000.

The commissioners did not pass on the question of where the lights will be installed, but M.O. Eldridge, director of traffic, will recommend that they be placed on Sixteenth street northwest, from Lafayette park to Irving street.

Both center lights, mounted on concrete bases, and lamps overhanging from posts at the curbs have been abandoned, and the installation will consist of four posts, with lamps, at each main street intersection, one on each corner, the posts to be 10 feet high.

Will Alternate.

From Lafayette park to N street they will be placed at each intersection. Beyond that point boulevard stop signs, lit by reflection from approaching vehicles' lights, will be placed at O, Church and Corcoran streets, Riggs place, Swann, Belmont and Caroline streets and Crescent place. Automatic light signals will be installed at all other intersections.

Each post will bear red, green and amber lamps. The green light signals "go", the red one "stop" and the amber light flashes between the other two for five seconds to indicate the coming change.

North and south traffic will be permitted to proceed for 1 minute and will be stopped for 25 or 30 seconds while east and west traffic enjoys the right-of-way. The regulations for turns will be changed. All turns will be made only on the green signal.

Washington Post, July 14, 1925.


Erected to Accustom Autoists
To Use; Eldridge's Salary
Is Raised to $5,400.

Two of the new synchronized electric traffic light signals were erected temporarily yesterday at New York avenue and Eighteenth street northwest by order of Director of Traffic M.O. Eldridge to let motorists and others become accustomed to their appearance. They were not connected with electric wires and were not operated.

Mr. Eldridge yesterday received notification that his salary has been ordered increased from $5,200 to $5,400 a year, effective July 1. This occurred as a result of the new efficiency ratings just completed in the District building.

Eighteenth street was designated yesterday as the next boulevard highway for which "boulevard stop" signs will be prepared to protect the right-of-way of through traffic.

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