#TIL: Green over red: a traffic light’s tale
By Yash Narain
Nestled between Tomkins Street and Milton Avenue in Tipperary Hill district in the city of Syracuse, New York, a humble traffic light offers a curious exception to the otherwise dreary and monotonously certain world of urban transport infrastructure. It is the only traffic light in the United States- and by some accounts in the whole world- which is inverted, with green on top of red; and the story of how this came to be is incredibly fascinating.
Traffic lights installation in the city started in the 1920s. Being home to a large community of Irish immigrants, a bunch of local Irish youth could not stand the prospect of the “British” Red being perched on top of the “Irish” Green at an intersection of their neighbourhood. As a form of protest, they hurled stones to break the light. They repeated the deed every time a conventional traffic light was re-installed. Eventually, the city administration relented and put up the country’s first upside-down traffic light with green on top of red.
We presuppose our public sphere to be a value neutral realm populated by ideologically sterile objects. Urban transport infrastructure can be stultifying in its conformity. But as this example shows, visceral notions of nationhood, belonging and communal identity can pervade even the most routine aspects of our civic life.
Infrastructure both reflects the inside lives of the community that surrounds it and fashions the way individuals think about the world around them. The traffic light at Tipperary Hill is a call for us to invert orthodox ideas about how urban infrastructure ought to be perceived. Maybe there’s an analytical pot of gold hidden at the end of the next traffic light intersection.
Today I Learnt (TIL) is a weekly series by OMI that brings you interesting nuggets of information that you didn’t know you needed.
Follow us on Twitter for regular updates.