Red means stop; green means go: It’s just about the only thing that people across North America can wholeheartedly agree upon. They are such a structuring element of our environment that it’s hard to believe that some of our grandparents have been around for longer than our traffic lights.
On November 16th 1927, The Montreal Gazette reported on the first traffic signal in Montreal, in front of the Craig Street Terminal, on what is now the corner of Saint-Antoine and Saint-Urbain. Each day, 25,000 pedestrians crossed Craig street to enter the terminus during evening rush-hour and 256 street cars would leave the station during between 4:30 and 6:30 pm.
Naturally, juggling pedestrian, automobile and transit traffic in downtown Montreal was a complicated task from the start:
“In this case it is not east-west traffic versus north-south traffic, but street cars versus automobiles,” the Gazette reported, “Lights, bells, traffic constables on Craig street, and tramways officials inside the terminus collaborate on the system.”
“When street cars are ready to move out, bells ring and two red lights go on, giving traffic officers outside the signal to change the traffic movement. An officer on the sidewalk turns on the Craig street red light, which is also the signal for three traffic constables to stop motor traffic. As every second is valuable and the periods of time for each flow of traffic vary…automatic signals are said to be not feasible”
However, it seems that Westmount was ahead of Montreal in the traffic light department: earlier that year, a Gazette article about attempts at creating uniform traffic laws throughout Canada included a mention of traffic lights on Sherbrooke street:
“At present, red, green and amber are the colors uniformly used in the United States, and these colors are to be retained. These are familiar to Montrealers because of the light signal experiments being conducted in Westmount on Sherbrooke street.”
“An endeavor is now being made to have pedestrians observe the light signals just as do the drivers of vehicles…Jay-walkers are almost as bad as jay-drivers.”
I guess that when it comes to actually respecting traffic signals, some things have never changed…