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SI1980

Vintage Traffic Control Memorabilia

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You might have come across a pedestrian push button at one time or another. Below, is an example of one that I have in my possession, in which I legally acquired.

 

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It dates back to 1969, and it was removed in 2011. It lacks electrical continuity, since the actual push button itself was pushed countless times in its years of useful service. Many pedestrian push buttons that are in existence throughout the boroughs are completely inoperable, since a large percentage were disconnected from service in the 1980s. In spite of this, there are some that are still functional. One that I am aware of exists in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

 

Nevertheless, original pedestrian push buttons are slowly dwindling. Despite that, new pedestrian push buttons are occasionally installed by D.O.T. at various locations throughout New York City. Several were installed in recent years near Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

 

 

My second item is a vintage pedestrian signal that shows "DONT WALK" and "WALK," in which I also legally acquired from the city. Some of you may remember that it was common to see on the streets of the city from the early 1960s until the early 1980s.

 

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It was manufactured in 1975, and it has a decal inside of the housing that states it was once the city's property, the manufacturer (Marbelite), two identification numbers, and a year of manufacture.

 

This particular pedestrian shows a red "DONT WALK" and a green "WALK." Although it also used Portland orange and lunar white for both signal indications. This kind of pedestrian signal in New York City is now extinct, so it's an interesting piece of the city's traffic control memorabilia, and worded signal indications are no longer in existence throughout the boroughs as well.

Edited by SI1980
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I never fully understood the purpose of the push button, always felt like something of a novelty when the vast majority of intersections worked without them. The West Side Highway is absolutely filled with them -- are those originals or recently installed? I'd err on the side of original, as I can remember them there for at least the past couple decades...

 

As for the Don't Walk sign, truly a trip, always wanted one of those. Personally more used to the later variety with the black bars over them as this look was before my time for the most part, but still fascinating to see.

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I never fully understood the purpose of the push button, always felt like something of a novelty when the vast majority of intersections worked without them. The West Side Highway is absolutely filled with them -- are those originals or recently installed? I'd err on the side of original, as I can remember them there for at least the past couple decades...

 

As for the Don't Walk sign, truly a trip, always wanted one of those. Personally more used to the later variety with the black bars over them as this look was before my time for the most part, but still fascinating to see.

 

 

Realize that a pedestrian push button is merely a form of actuation solely for pedestrians. An actuated pedestrian signal would not change from "DONT WALK" to "WALK" unless a pedestrian pushed a nearby push button at an intersection. New York City first began to install pedestrian push buttons in the 1960s, and, with that said, vehicle actuation was also in use. I recall that D.O.T. was particularly fond of loop detection at the time, which is basically made up of individual loops of wire that are embedded in pavement. A vehicle that drives over a loop would trip its magnetic field (when energized), which, in turn, would activate the signal controller wired to it, so that a motorist could receive a green indication. Pedestrian push buttons work in a similar way. Prior to the introduction of solid state signal controllers, New York City, of course, used electro-mechanical signal controllers for many years. With the presence of actuation, many of them were semi-actuated, since they were wired to pedestrian and vehicle detection. A signal controller dwelled on main street green, and the side street remained red (and "DONT WALK") unless either form of detection was activated. When either form was activated, an electrical relay inside of the signal controller forced a circuit to close, which, in turn, activated its actuated cycle. This circuit would open once the actuated cycle terminated, and the signal controller, once again, dwelled on main street green until another activation occurred. 

 

Actuation was commonly in use in the city for fairly long period of time. It was not until by the end of the 1970s, though, that traffic volume significantly increased throughout New York City. Semi-actuated signal controllers were no longer adequate, so D.O.T. disconnected countless pedestrian push buttons and vehicle detection systems from service in the 1980s. With that said, signal controllers were now pre-timed. Despite this, some are still functional in certain locations, and D.O.T. continues to use actuation (both forms) in certain locations that are adequate. A rather long comment, but hopefully you have a general idea of how actuation worked in the city.

 

 

With regards to the pedestrian signal, I remember it quite well. It was in use throughout the five boroughs for a long period of time. D.O.T. removed them from service in the early 1980s, and they were ultimately replaced by what you described in your comment. Those were manufactured by a company named Winkomatic, and they had those louvers that protected the signal indications, which were made of glass. They were generally protected from vandalism, and the louvers themselves were fire retardant as well. D.O.T. has since retrofitted them with L.E.D. module inserts that show the hand and man nowadays.

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With regards to those pedestrian push buttons on West Side Highway, many of them, for the most part, are fairly new (probably between 12 to 16 years old). Despite that, many are not functional. Although I believe a couple may still work on that segment.

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Here's a video of the pedestrian signal from the Marbelite company in its cycle. This is wired to one of my New York City electro-mechanical signal controllers, in which you could hear in the background of this video. It operates the way it did in New York City over thirty years ago. Great pedestrian signal.

 

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As for the Don't Walk sign, truly a trip, always wanted one of those. Personally more used to the later variety with the black bars over them as this look was before my time for the most part, but still fascinating to see.

 

 

I'm sure you remember this particular pedestrian signal, right? From the Winko-Matic company. It was introduced in the city in the early 1980s.

 

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I'm sure you remember this particular pedestrian signal, right? From the Winko-Matic company. It was introduced in the city in the early 1980s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was exactly the one, right. As an aside, I was reminded of this thread after stumbling across two pieces of Department of Traffic history today: one, a mechanical control box; and another, a sign instructing one to push a button for the Walk signal to appear. Both were in Astoria, something of a gold mine of older memorabilia. 

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I have these two vintage pedestrian push button signs in my private collection.

 

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The one to the left is from the mid 1960s or so, and it is perhaps the earliest version of a pedestrian push button sign from New York City. It saw service somewhere in Ozone Park, Queens. The one next to it dates back to 1969, and it was actually in use with the pedestrian push button that I provided pictures of when I originally established this thread. I'm not sure where it saw service in New York City.

 

Note, too, that each sign uses the original D.O.T. label, which is "DEPT OF TRAFFIC." Various street signs throughout New York City once used this label prior to the name change of the department, which happened sometime between 30 to 35 years ago.

Edited by SI1980
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The one on the left is what I saw, still attached to a street lamp on 35th Ave in Astoria. Funnily enough, the button is long gone, but the sign is still there.

 

In regards to the the Department of Traffic nomenclature, I looked into this to try to understand the change after spotting a bunch of Department of Traffic signs around town. The Department of Traffic was created in 1950 and lasted until 1977 when it became part of the Department of Transportation. I had assumed the change occurred during Mayor Lindsay's reorganization, but that wasn't the case. Anyway, your number of 30-35 years is quite accurate, as it will be 36 years this year since the change occurred. The old signs are always an interesting find though, and there are tons of them about town, with one major stronghold being the Central Park transverses. 

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Those small, green pedestrian push button signs still linger in various locations of New York City today, and, for the most part, many are in bad condition. The one that I have is actually in very good shape.

 

Along the lines of inoperable pedestrian push buttons, they are seldom removed. It is rather costly for N.Y.C.D.O.T. to remove one. It would cost the department in between $300 to $400, and, from what I recall, there are well over 900 throughout the boroughs that are inoperable to this day. The grand total for the removal process would be a lot, and I could understand that the folks want to conserve money.

 

And, yes, there are a lot of goodies hidden in various locations of Central Park today. If memory serves me right, there are at least two original "WAIT" and "WALK" pedestrian signal lenses in service. They were common at one time, but most were replaced over the years with red and green signal indications. Though most of them are L.E.D., some are still incandescent, in which they are still illuminated, while others have been burnt for quite a long time. Along the lines of vintage traffic control memorabilia, there are quite a handful of pieces still in service, in which some of these I believe are currently preserved for historical intentions by the city of New York. 

Edited by SI1980
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