RULETA In Forest Hills

by Kevin Walsh

Since I began photography for FNY in 1998 I have chanced upon these small, ridged stoplight posts I dubbed “Olives” because they were inevitably painted olive green. They could still be found in some far flung city outpost here and there, but nearly all carried some variant on the Marbleite stoplight, which is rather more streamlined than this variety manufactured by the Ruleta Corp.

This configuration was once king of traffic control, as they were mounted catercorner, two to each interesection. On one-way streets, the lights were covered in one direction as they were not needed. Though there were three-light variations including the central amber light, the vast majority carried just two lights, with a simulataneous red and green standing for caution when the light was about to go red.

Ruletas seem to have first appeared in the mid to late 1920s and appeared first on taller posts resembling the longarmed Corvingtons, but with an auto wheel motif. Soon after, tens of thousands of Olives appeared. They ruled until the mid-1980s, when a massive Department of Transportation replacement program converted them to cylindrical aluminum poles and more often, the massive guy-wired stoplights that first appeared in the 1950s.

However, I didn’t know till recently that the Ruletas had a stronghold in Forest Hills Gardens, a semiprivate neighborhood in central Queens. There they were permitted to remain until the mid-1990s, just a short time before Forgotten New York began production.

The woolly mammoth didn’t survive long after humans began hunting them, and neither did the Ruletas survive the DOT. The FHG Ruletas were goners by 1998.

Photo courtesy Howard Fein.



Renee Neumann April 3, 2014 - 6:39 pm

OMG, Kevin! I wouldn’t have believed there were any of these still left anywhere in NYC! These stoplights were at intersections all over Staten Island when I grew up there in the 1950s and 1960s. I still remember the confusion when the three-light stoplights with an amber middle light came in, and the local newspapers had to print articles explaining to motorists what the middle light meant and how to drive and stop appropriately. As always, thanks for the blast from the past, and for preserving our history. From your Forgotten fan, RenĂ©e

Steven Gembara April 4, 2014 - 10:47 pm

The last two-section (red and green) Ruleta head in New York City could be found in Central Park. It is single-faced, and it serves as a pedestrian signal.

I visited this for the time last Summer, and I took some pictures of it up-close. You could see them in the links below…





The top section has a red L.E.D. insert in use, while the bottom section still has the original lamp, reflector, and lens intact. Unfortunately, the original General Electric signal controller that is still in use is dead, so the signals at the crosswalk set-up are stuck on an interval. The green signal indication of the Ruleta remains unlit to this day as far as I know.

Its Union Metal pole (a.k.a. “olive”) is still there, too.

Tom April 5, 2014 - 1:27 pm

A few remained into the late 90’s in Arverne in Rockaway, where the bungalows used to be, before they started the redevelopment down there.

Sanders Saltzman April 5, 2014 - 1:49 pm

I recall that until the late 50’s,the signal head was also painted olive green. During one painting cycle,the little “knob”on the top of the signal head was painted yellow. The next painting cycle made the whole signal head yellow. I also recall reading that the original light sequence was green,followed by a dark interval, then the red light came on. This caused a problem when there were bulb failures. Many intersections in Astoria,even major ones such as under the el on 31st street had only a single light for each direction. Changing the clearance interval from “all dark”,to red and green reduced the chances of accidents from burned out lamps. Going from the oldest to the newest,check out the new traffic signals where the B.Q.E. Service road eastbound meets Astoria Blvd.south(opposite the main entrance to Bulova). This installation was completed in December . It is the first use of overhead poles of the type used outside of N.Y.C.that I’ve seen. Is this an experimental installation,or is it the end of the line for the M2A traffic pole? Also interesting are the pedestrian pushbuttons that have a small led indicator that lights when the button is pushed.

nhu April 7, 2014 - 12:25 pm

I’d like to see a photo of this new type of traffic signal.

Steven Gembara April 12, 2014 - 9:21 pm

The new set-up in Queens is adequate, since there are multiple lanes in use. D.O.T. seems to be compliant with current standards, because, for multiple lanes of one direction, one head is required for each lane. Also observe the use of programmable visibility signals there. They are new to New York City even though other municipalities have been using them for years. Each one faces a dedicated lane, in where the signal indications appear clearly visible to motorists that are intended to see them. One would appear inoperable, though, if a motorist is not in a dedicated lane, because it is “masked.”

I do not believe this type of set-up is an experimentation, because of what I mentioned about the compliance with current standards in traffic control. Even so, D.O.T. continues to install the mast-arm/guy wire set-up to this day. I am for this 100 percent, because it is ideal to use at many locations throughout N.Y.C. Most streets are only two lanes wide (one for each direction), so it is totally acceptable to still use this. A modern mast-arm would take up too much space, since that is limited in N.Y.C. I doubt that this classic set-up will be eliminated.

Mike in fla via bklyn April 6, 2014 - 2:15 pm

The Classic traffic light. IMHO

nhu April 7, 2014 - 12:28 pm

Kevin, were the Ruletas replaced with modern mast & guy wire signals or removed entirely. Intersection in the photo looks pretty rustic for a traffic signal.

Steven Gembara April 12, 2014 - 8:53 pm

Many upgrades that first began around 1954 involved the removal of original signal equipment. This was true to an extent in Manhattan in particular, because visibility was a common issue. There were too many obstructions, such as lights from signs, large vehicles, and buildings.

Now, on the other hand, older two-section heads were removed, and newer three-section traffic signals manufactured by Marbelite were installed. Original poles and signal controllers were still used.


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