‘…and I want to paint it black…’

Speaking of traffic lights, apparently there’s a movement afoot to paint them black.

Reports The Birmingham News:

“Several states along the West Coast’s Sunbelt: California, Arizona and Nevada, use traffic signals encased in black housing to reduce glare, especially at sunrise or sunset. The black paint absorbs the sunlight instead of reflecting it back into the eyes of the driver.”

And a refreshingly frank assessment from the city’s engineer:

Birmingham Traffic Engineer Greg Dawkins said the black signal heads look better. “I found no compelling reason to keep the yellow, except that is the way it has always been done,” he said.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 5th, 2009 at 6:52 am and is filed under Traffic Engineering, Traffic Signals. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

10 Responses to “‘…and I want to paint it black…’”

  1. Bossi Says:

    Black signal heads are an increasingly common trend throughout the country — including states in the northeast. They really do make an impressive difference when combined with LED indications.

  2. Mase Says:

    At least here in Houston, most traffic lights are black, not yellow. One particular quirk of Texas for traffic lights is that they are mounted horizontally, not vertically. Is there a reason vertical is the norm? Is it just custom or is there an inherent benefit to vertical vs. horizontal?

  3. MikeOnBike Says:

    With vertical lights, both the color and the position indicate the meaning. As the light switches from green to yellow to read, it also goes up.

  4. Mase Says:

    The positional information is also conveyed horizontally; as the light switches from green to yellow to red, it goes to the left. Not sure vertical is, over time, an inherent benefit.

  5. MikeOnBike Says:

    Does it always go left, or sometimes go right? Is a horizontal shift as obvious, or meaningful, as a vertical one?

  6. Eric Says:

    I first noticed horizontal traffic lights when I visited Miami, FL. I figured that it was to secure the traffic light better to the horizontal pole and reduce the air “footprint”, because Florida is subjected to high winds during hurricanes. If the light just dangled there, it would catch more wind and be secured only at one end.

  7. Mrs. Davis Says:

    This is a great human factors question. I cannot find any evidence that there is a preference for either direction other than user expectation. Horizontal lights seem to be prevalent in TX, WI and FL.

    One reason advanced for horizontals is that when they are attached to an arm they provide less wind resistance. But it is hard to believe that the additional wind resistance of the fixture would have a significant impact on the masts they build these days.

    There are standards for light placement and I believe the red went on the left in the horizontal. What was interesting was lights in Quebec where not only color, but lens shape indicated the signal, round, red, stop; amber, diamond, caution; greed, square, go.

  8. Larry Robinson Says:

    Black and other dark colors are wrong for signal heads. In a power failure at night, dark colors hide the fact that a traffic light is present.

  9. Lyndell Says:

    Cleverly after Ike, some locations in Houston put up temp stop signs at unpowered intersections.

  10. Jon Says:

    Horizontal is probably used when overpasses obstruct the view.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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