Younger neighborhood folks, if they notice it at all, may be perplexed by this olive-colored post at the corner of 69th Road and 110th Street in Forest Hills. It used to be a stoplight, and thousands of posts of this type controlled traffic at NYC street corners from the 1920s until the mid-1980s, when almost all of them gave way to modern designs. In some cases, they were replaced by small cylindrial poles of the same size, but much more often, busier traffic warranted large guy-wired lights.

In 2009, I covered the death of this post. Unusually the city has simply left it in place with its disconnected wires exposed, which makes it one of the very few, if not the only, “olives” allowed to remain in place outside of Central Park.


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  1. Renee Neumann says:

    Were the old “olive” stoplights the same ones that had only a red and a green light, or were these “only two-light” stoplights an even earlier version than the olives, or did they exist simultaneously? I clearly remember 1950s and 1960s stoplights in Staten Island that had only red and green. The red would come on with the green still lit (so that was the equivalent of the current yellow) and the red would stay on for a few seconds along with the green, then the green light would go out. After half a minute (or however long it was) the red would go out as the same time that the green would come on. When did the old two-light stoplights finally disappear completely, and in which borough? Thanks.

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      Most had a red and a green originally. A few were fitted for 3 lights. In their later years they had three.

    • Steven Gembara says:

      The Ruleta company mainly provided two-section (red and green) traffic signals of its own to New York City. Other providers were Horni (presumably) and General Electric. The poles (a.k.a. “olives”) they were mounted on were manufactured by Union Metal in Ohio.

      These traffic signals first appeared in areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn in the mid 1920s, and they eventually spread throughout the rest of New York City by the 1930s, since the police department approved the usage of red and green signal indications there. Thus, the abandonment of the amber signal indication (until its revitalization in the 1950s). The Ruleta traffic signals are before my time; however, I remember the newer two-section heads that generally replaced the older traffic signals throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The overlap (red and green both lit at the same time) is what I remember well. It was first introduced and experimented at various signalized intersections in each borough in February of 1952. It ultimately replaced the first form of caution that was in use, and it was what is known as a “dark out” period. Basically, both signal indications appeared unlit for a handful of seconds (3 seconds the maximum) prior to when the red signal indication then appeared illuminated.

      The 1950s in New York City marked the first removal of two-section traffic signals, because the amber signal indication was revitalized (as I mentioned earlier). As a result, three-section traffic signals began to replace the older heads at a rather steady pace. Most of New York City’s signalized intersections were upgraded by 1970; however, there were still some signalized intersections in certain areas of the boroughs that still had two-section traffic signals in use. From what I was told a while back, the last two-section traffic signals on Staten Island were removed in the early 1970s. So, that was the first borough to successfully complete the conversion. It is understandable from my point of view, since Staten Island is the only borough in New York City that has the least amount of signalized intersections.

      As time continued, other original signalized intersections were modernized, and, by the 1990s or so, Queens was the only borough in New York City that still had signalized intersections in some areas there that were still unaffected. Some of them remained untouched until the 2000s believe it or not. They continued to dwindle, though. Alas, in 2008, the last survivors were removed. They were in the Rockaways. About a year or so earlier, the last survivors from Liberty Av. in Richmond Hill were finally removed, too.

      It is amazing to think that the removal process took N.Y.C. slightly over 50 years to successfully complete.

      • steve says:

        The “dark out” during transition from green to red also happened during the transition from red to green. You can observe the latter during the opening credits of the movie Miracle on 34th Street (1947 version). I’m too young to remember the “dark out” but I do recall the few seconds of “both lit” when going from green to red. Unlike “dark out”, “both lit” did not happen from red to green.

  2. Sandy Saltzman says:

    Also almost gone are those short aluminum poles that had the traffic control box mounted on the top. The last one I know of is on the corner of astoria blvd.south where engine 263 and ladder 117 are located. This short pole had the controller removed and mounted on the adjacent pole about two years ago.

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