Four-way traffic signals save money, preserve historic atmosphere.
With the current push toward IVHS and other high-tech forms of traffic management, the preservation of old-time stoplights may seem to border on the sentimental. But Anniston, Ala., and a host of other small cities are finding that the use of four-way stoplights can save money and actually enhance the atmosphere of older districts.
Most four-way signals were manufactured before 1960, prior to the Federal Highway Administration’s traffic code revision calling for at least two stoplights at every signaled intersection. The double-signal requirement was intended to improve safety and protect cities from lawsuits by preventing collisions resulting from bulb failure in a single signal.
As a result of this requirement, cities began disposing of their four-way stoplights and replacing them with expensive new signals. In Anniston, however, the city retained its original stoplights and met code requirements using similar lights from surplus.
The federal traffic code permits the use of four-way, 8-inch lens signals wherever two lights are provided for each approach and vehicle speeds do not exceed 40 mph. To comply with the double-light requirement, cities may hang a pair of four-way signals on a span wire or use a variation such as one four-way signal surrounded by a pair of two-way signals.
Today, each Anniston intersection has two four-way signals hung on a span wire, 8 feet apart and 17 feet above the street. Natchez, Miss., Chapel Hill, N.C., and Selma and Bay Minette, Ala., have followed suit, recently upgrading intersections with the classic stoplights.
Although four-way signals may not be suitable for complicated suburban intersections, they are often ideal in historic districts and older urban neighborhoods, where speeds are low and intersections are simple. In fact, their compact scale and historic charm often complement such districts.
Classic four-way stoplights survive primarily on city streets in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, New York and Ohio. Teeco Safety of Shreveport, La., is the only remaining U.S. manufacturer.
This article was written by Barry Williams, president of the American Streetscape Society, Washington, D.C.