Vancouver's First Traffic Light

Posted by Daniel on Aug 22, 2009 - 3 comments

Our regular correspondent Chuck Davis writes:

Thanks to help from Andrew Martin of Special Collections at the main branch, Vancouver Public Library, we are now able to bring you the answer to one of the most frequently-asked questions on local history: when and where was Vancouver’s first traffic light installed?

Andrew found, on Page One of the Province newspaper for Wednesday, October 17, 1928, this story: FIRST TRAFFIC SIGNAL AT WORK.

“At noon today the first automatic traffic signal went into operation at Main and Hastings streets. The signal is the first of several which will be demonstrated and tested before any one type is accepted as standard. Chief of Police H.W. Long and Inspector George Hood point out that the installation is to primarily protect life and property, and secondarily, the speeding up of traffic. The safety of the pedestrian is considered paramount and to ensure this safety the pedestrian must obey the signal.

“Simplicity marks the signal system. A bell rings, then a green light flashes and a semaphore arm, carrying the word ‘Go’ swings out. There is a seven-second interval during which pedestrian traffic moves, then another bell, a red light and the semaphore signals ‘Stop.’ A caution light, amber in color, flashes between the ‘stop’ and ‘go’ signals. This light will remain in action throughout the night after the other signals are discontinued so that motorists will be warned of their approach to a busy intersection.”

The Sun had an article on the new phenomenon on Page 3 the next day, which includes this interesting excerpt: “During the afternoon moving pictures were taken of the old system, with Traffic Officer McTavish on duty after which the new one was filmed together with the streams of pedestrians at the crossing. Study of traffic volume will be made during the next few days in order that the timing of the bell and semaphore system may be brought to a point where the traffic can be handled without delay. It is pointed out by those responsible for the installation that when the signals are placed on a number of intersections throughout a city, a central control can be synchronized and signals at the various points along a line of traffic can be so set that an auto driven at a given rate of speed, will suffer no delay, each consecutive signal being at the ‘Go’ by the time the car reaches that point.”